2008-09: 45-30-7 (5th in the East – Eliminated in Conference Finals by Penguins)
Pre-season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 7th
General Manager: Jim Rutherford (12th Season)
Head Coach: Paul Maurice (2nd Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
After a trip to the Conference Final last season, the Canes remained relatively silent this summer, choosing to tinker with the lineup rather than add or subtract any major pieces.
Carolina kicked off the off-season by rewarding Jussi Jokkinen for a solid playoff performance - signing the shootout specialist to a new two-year deal. Happy to be back in Raleigh, Erik Cole also re-upped for two more seasons, as did Chad LaRose. Tuomo Ruutu then signed on for the next three campaigns.
Dennis Seidenberg was allowed to walk, while Frantisek Kaberle was bought out. The Hurricanes added defensive depth via free agency in Andrew Alberts and Jay Harrison and toughness and defensive awareness from the forward position in Tom Kostopoulos and Stephane Yelle. Patrick Eaves was shipped to Beantown in exchange for Aaron Ward, who returns for his second tour of duty.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
While many have already handed the Southeast Division title to the Washington Capitals, the Canes could also be standing atop the division when the smoke clears.
This is a very deep team with a solid mix of youth and experience that can roll four lines with offensive punch on any given night. The defensive unit is a largely anonymous, yet incredibly versatile group that understands their role and can chip in offensively when the opportunity presents itself. They have a solid penalty killing unit that should be boosted thanks to the acquisition of Yelle and Kostopoulos, and if all else fails; they can depend on Cam Ward to come up with a big save at key times.
What may prove most important factor is that the Hurricanes enter the season with Paul Maurice at the helm. The team was noticeably improved after Maurice replaced Peter Laviolette in December, as the team posted a 33-19-5 record and fought their way back to the Conference final, knocking off the Atlantic Division champion Devils and the top-seeded Bruins along the way.
It wasn't so much the results under Maurice, as how he was able to get the job done. He was able to come in and wipe the slate clean. He did not allow the team to dwell on their numerous injury concerns and was able to motivate career enigmas Ruutu, Cole and Samsonov to turn in solid performances. Most importantly, he helped transform Eric Staal from an offensive juggernaut into a dependable two-way player, as the Thunder Bay native posted a career high plus-15 last season, the first time in his NHL career that he had been in the positive margin.
Maurice displays a calm confidence that his team is able to pick up on and puts his players in a position where they are able to succeed. On top of everything, he is obviously very comfortable in a non-traditional hockey market and has a sense of humour about himself and his career in hockey. In short, he may be the perfect coach for a team that will likely fly under the radar yet still finish the season among the upper echelon in the East.
Player to watch:
There has always been the notion that you have to be slightly crazy to be a goaltender. The history of the NHL is littered with quirky netminders who have been able to translate their on-ice personalities into post-retirement gigs as broadcasters. Cam Ward would appear to be the exception to this rule.
Ward will never make headlines with outlandish quotes or peculiar antics; he prefers to let his play speak for itself. Unfortunately, this may be why he is often overlooked in discussions of the elite goalies in the league. Many finally acknowledged the 25-year old's greatness during last season's playoff run.
Along with being level-headed, the Saskatoon native may be the most technically sound goalie in the league. He plays his angles perfectly and has razor sharp reactions to go along with a solid glove hand and his fierce desire to win. These traits will help greatly as Ward is set to become a restricted free agent at season's end. Pair that with the possibility of a roster spot on the Canadian Olympic team and you have the makings of a player on the verge of a career year.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
The Carolina Hurricanes return a veteran-laden roster, a team that experienced some playoff success last season and has enough depth and talent to expect a playoff run again this season.
Leading the way for the 'Canes, Eric Staal may never be the 100-point scorer he was in 2005-2006, but he's put up at least 30 goals and 70 points in every year since, so there's still a lot to like about the consistent level at which he's been performing.