Over the Next 30 days I will be Previewing each of the National Hockey League Clubs heading into the 2011-12 season starting from the Anaheim Ducks. Day 5 of the series belongs to the official AarifDeenReport Carolina Hurricanes Preview.
Please resort to myhockeybuzz page for previews of teams falling before this team.
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Doesn’t it seem like the team down in Raleigh, Carolina is perhaps overlooked every season? Never really hyped up or talked about even though they hold perhaps one of the best franchise centermen and goaltenders in the league? Erik Staal has the 4th highest cap hit in the NHL, but is sometimes overlooked playing in Carolina. The oldest, and perhaps the best of the Staal brothers has all the tools to lead a Canes team to the finals sometime in his career.
When last season began, recently drafted 18 year old Jeff Skinner was looking to make the best of his opportunity during his nine game tryout. Recording a respectable 3 goals and 4 helpers in those 9, Canes decided to keep him around for the year.
While Skinner was moved to play the wing instead of his natural position down the center, Skinner took full advantage and put together a Calder Trophy winning performance. The surprise play of Skinner has given the Hurricanes and head coach Paul Maurice options to role multiple threats. With Skinner becoming a star in the making so soon, opposing teams no longer can focus on just Staals line. Carolina now has options. If Staal and his linemates are having trouble, 2nd line winger Skinner will come flying with Jokinen and Ruutu.
Carolina played a respectable season in 2011, and were able to fight to the very end falling one win short of playoff hockey. Had they won their season finale, Carolina would have had a date with the Capitals in the first round with hopes of playing as the upset team. However, things didn’t fall into place as the Lightning single handedly destructed the Canes playoff hopes with a 6-2 win to finish off the season. It was another season for Hurricane fans being without hockey come mid-April.
Major Players Added:
General Manager Jim Rutherford headed into this summers off-season with two important pieces in need of a new contract before unrestricted free agency came to fruition. 32 year old top line winger Erik Cole, and 27 year old top pairing defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Both play vital roles in the Hurricanes roster.
While Rutherford was able to lock-up Joni for 3 years worth $4.5 million per year just days before Canada day, Erik Cole’s agent team and the Canes management were unable to come to terms on a contract to keep “the other Erik” in Carolina as the top line winger.
Brian Boucher: While Cam Ward will be starting in Carolina for years to come, the play of Justin Peters last year was clear evidence that a serviceable cheap veteran backup was needed in Carolina. Brian Boucher, who has played a total of 88 games in his latest two year contract with Philadelphia signed on with the Canes on the 1st of July. For just a mere $1.9 million over two years, Boucher will provide respectable numbers for Carolina when in need to cover for stalwart goalie Cam Ward. Boucher will earn $900,000 in the first season of his contract.
Alexei Ponikarovsky: Rutherford went out on July 1st and took a chance on under-achieving winger Alexei Ponikarovsky. Last year Alexei finished off his season in Los Angeles lighting the lamp just 5 times through 61 games. While Ponikarovsky will not necessarily be replacing Erik Cole, he will be used as a depth scorer who management is hoping will score a serviceable amount of goals given the amount of ice-time he will receive. He will be making $1.5 million during his one-year deal with Carolina.
Anthony Stewart: Perhaps one of the most overlooked free agents this season, Anthony Stewart fell into Rutherford’s lap on the 2nd day of Christmas (better known as unrestricted free agency). Last year in Atlanta (RIP) Anthony, the older brother of Blues powerforward Chris, scored 15 goals and added 24 assists playing a very limited role for the Thrashers. If any of the newly signed free agents is going to get a chance to replace Erik Cole, Stewart will be counted on. Granted that is if one of the upcoming rookies don’t impress at camp and end up playing on a line with Eric Staal. Anthony’s two year contract comes for an average of just $900,000. Which could prove to be a steal if Anthony takes advantage of the role he is given.
Tomas Kaberle: Here is the big signing. GM Rutherford used whatever power he had to convince Tomas Kaberle that Carolina (the team his older brother Frantisek spent the best years of his career with) is the right place to sign. Tomas was signed to a 3-year deal worth an average of $4.25 million. A number Tomas is very familiar with. While he has been the big name in Toronto for a long time now, Kaberles short tenure in Boston didn’t go as planned. Actually, he did end up with a Stanley Cup ring. So yes, it was perfect. But Kaberle was playing a limited role hovering around 12 minutes a game. Tomas will bring plenty of offense to Carolina’s blueline, and Jamie McBain will utilize Kaberle’s experience to continue toward building his career. Kaberle will also be a great help for the 24th ranked powerplay.
The Others: Carolina added checking forward Tim Brent from Toronto. He will certainly play a big PK role in Carolina. Journeyman Chris Durno, who didn’t see much action last year with Tampa Bay was signed by Carolina to provide depth for the bottom 6.
Who Was Lost:
Erik Cole signed on with the Montreal Canadiens for 4 years worth $18 million
Bryan Rodney signed on with the Anaheim Ducks for 1 year worth 525k
Justin Pogge signed on with the Phoenix Coyotes for 1 year worth 525k
Joe Corvo was traded to the Boston Bruins
Sergei Samsonov is currently an unrestricted free agent
Cory Stillman is currently an unrestricted free agent
For a team that was 13th in scoring last season, Carolina doesn’t hold as many fire power guys like the Sharks and Red Wings of the league do. However, they were able to score consistently and role 4 lines that played with great chemistry. This year will be no different. Even with the major loss of Erik Cole, Carolina will surely receive good play from their forward group this year.
With the right amount of ice-time and responsibilities, Anthony Stewart can become a consistent 20 goal scorer. The biggest change regarding the Hurricanes offense will be the play of upcoming forwards Zac Dalpe, Drayson Bowman, and Zach Boychuk. All of which will be given every chance to crack the opening night lineup.
The Hurricanes defense will hope to play a more consistent game this year. After allowing a 21st ranked 239 goals against this past season, Jim Rutherford added Kaberle to the mix. While he won’t necessarily add a lot to the defensive game, he certainly will help provide offense and start the rush up the zone. Without any problem, Kaberle can easily hit the 40-point and possibly 50-point plateau this season playing alongside Tim Gleason.
Manning the net this year, and for many more years to come in Raleigh is Cam Ward. He’s not given as much press time as he deserves, however, Cam Ward is one of the bright young goaltenders in the National Hockey League. His regular season play has been great his whole career, but it has been his playoff series record of 6-1 that has stolen the show. If Carolina manages to squeeze into the playoffs, it’ll be because of Cam. And every game they win in the post-season, Cam Ward will certainly have something to do with it.
Deen’s Projected Lineup:
Jussi Jokinen - Eric Staal - Anthony Stewart
Jeff Skinner - Tuomo Ruutu - Zac Dalpe
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Brandon Sutter - Chad LaRose
Pat Dwyer - Tim Brent - Jiri Tlusty
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain
Tim Gleason - Tomas Kaberle
Bryan Allen - Derek Joslin
While Jeff Skinner will try his best to not fall into the “sophomore slump” trap, Carolina will once again miss the playoffs. They are a few big name players short of the post-season. Carolina will finish 10th in the Eastern Conference. Expect Eric Staal to eclipse 80 points once again.
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