Man, is it painful watching the Carolina Hurricanes these days.
You can sugarcoat it all you want. The Hurricanes suck right now. This past week-end put an excalmation mark on that sentiment. No doubt, Jeff Daniels' Charlotte Checkers would have put up a better fight. At least the effort would have been there.
But, hey. Maybe now that Jim Rutherford is a part-owner of the Hurricanes, he will get serious about fixing the Canes and stop waiting for someone else to right the ship.
It all goes back to the off-season. While other teams in the Conference were busy strengthening their line-ups, JR did nothing to solve the Canes major weaknesses, the lack of a running mate for Eric Staal and the dire need for a top tier D-man to build the defence around. His solution was inking former, battle-weary Leafs, Tomas Kaberle, a bust with the Bruins after his trade from Toronto, and Alexei Ponikarovsky, a whopping seven goal man in LA, where he spent most of the year on the third line. Good job, JR! The result has been a revolving door of players auditioning for the first line, including Chad Larose, Jiri Tlusty, Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Tuomo Ruutu, Jeff Skinner, and Ponikarovsky, all with limited or no success. The Canes erstwhile captain, Eric Staal, has been in a funk the entire season, scoring a paltry three goals, and amassing a league leading -17. I’m being kind, when I say “funk”. On many a night, he has been simply awful. Where are Erik Cole and Corey Stillman when you need them? Where is Ray Whitney for that matter? Obviously, no where to be found. When the best you've got is Chad Larose, you know you're in trouble.
The search for a 2nd line center has proved to be equally troublesome. For the time being, Jussi Jokinen is handling those duties, but he is much better-suited to the wing, where he can focus on scoring goals, a commodity in short supply these days with the Canes. Tuomo Ruutu, like Staal, is off to a horrendous start and, not surprisingly, the trade rumors have started to swirl around him lately. He was expected to center the 2nd unit, but his face-off acumen is sorely lacking. He was tried on the top line with Staal, and came up short there, too. Canes' poster boy, Jeff Skinner, has thus far avoided the sophomore jinx and has been effective on the 2nd line despite excruciatingly tight coverage most nights. He is definitely not ready for center in this league nor the first line but will be just fine, thank you, as long as he stays on the wing and on the 2nd line. Stop tinkering with him, Mo.
The third and fourth lines of the Hurricanes compete hard every night and can chip with offence, on occasion. Larose/Dwyer, Sutter, and Tlusty, form an acceptable 3rd line and Tim Brent, along with Anthony Stewart form two thirds of a solid 4th unit.
The D is inconsistent, at best. Pitkanen, Gleason, and Allen should be able to pull their weight and do most nights. Jay Harrison, a low-cost, free-agent signing by JR in the summer, has been the best of the bunch. Youngsters Jamie McBain, Justin Faulk, and Derek Joslin have potential but will need time to develop. That is unlikely to happen with the Canes, unless they are given quality minutes. Kaberle has done nothing to solve the powerplay woes and defence has never been his long suit, so he is easily expendable.
In goal, Cam Ward is, well, Cam Ward, simply one of the best this league has to offer. And, Brian Boucher has shown signs he will finally solve the need for a quality back-up.
All-in-all, not a bright picture. The best you could hope for with this team is to sneak into the play-offs, but with the emergence of the Maple Leafs, Florida, and New Jersey, you can forget that idea. The highly-promoted youth movement has been a bust. But , then again, what would you expect with Paul Maurice at the helm. He has always leaned towards playing his veterans and left promising prospects sitting on the pine, literally wasting away. Highly-regarded talents Zach Boychuk, Zac Dalpe, Drayson Bowman, Brett Sutter, Faulk, and Joslin, and even highly-touted newcomer Anthony Stewart, have seen limited ice-time and have been shunted between the Hurricanes and their farm team in Charlotte. Meanwhile, players like Larose, Ponikarovsky, Dwyer, and Kaberle, play big minutes. A tough way for the kids to develop, wouldn't you say.
So, what next? A wholesale make-over? Fire the coach? Let the kids play?
Let's hope Mr. Rutherford has something up his sleeve.
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