Carolina Hurricanes 2005-2006
TEAM PAYROLL: $26,471,145
GENERAL MANAGER: Jim Rutherford. Entering 12th season.
HEAD COACH: Peter Laviolette. Entering 2nd season.
FORGOTTEN MOVES: GM Jim Rutherford chose to stay quiet when entering the off-season prior to the official beginning of an atrocious lockout. In that era, the Canes signed forward Matt Cullen who was left unsigned as a RFA by the Florida Panthers.
TEAM MODE: The Carolina Hurricanes won’t cause the same amount of damage that this year’s hurricanes have done, but they remain a competitive young team. After trading Jeff O’Neill, by his request, to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canes remain in a gray area where they signed free agents Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney, but played the off-season quite conservatively by keeping the youth. Do not expect much out of this year’s Hurricanes. Long time NHL’er Ronny Francis retired, and defenseman Sean Hill left the Carolinas to go further south in Sunrise, Florida. Rod Brind’Amour earned the C on his jersey, and he will lead the way for young forwards Eric Staal and Andrew Ladd to show a bright future for the franchise. The key additions to the Canes are Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman. Both have played under two great coaches, and both played in the Stanley Cup Finals. They bring experience and solid depth to the line-up.
TO TAKE CHARGE!: It is all up to Peter Laviolette to turn this team around, as he did with his former team, the New York Islanders. The USA native does not have that much to work with, but he took over last year’s Hurricanes midway through the season and in 52 games he put up a record of 20-26-6. Laviolette is a well determined coach and he earned a lot of respect back on the Island. He works the players hard, but also pushes them to win. This is exactly what the Hurricanes needed. His predecessor, Paul Maurice, was also a hard-nosed coach, but changes are needed, and this is a fairly young team with hard working players that should feel accustomed to Laviolette’s coaching methods. He has to push this team to perform the best they can, and having veteran experience in Brind’Amour, Ward, Whitney, and Stillman should help him motivate and teach the younger players on how to win and play competitive hockey.
ON THE RUSH (OFFENSE): Aside from the well-known names in Stillman, Whitney, and Erik Cole, the Hurricanes should be looking at two young Europeans who should make a difference on the offense. Josef Vasicek and Radim Vrbata. The gigantic European forward scored career highs in the last played season netting 19 goals and feeding 26 assists. Still young at age 25, Vasicek may become the big difference for the Hurricanes with his size and exceptional skills. He also played a solid season for HC Slavia Praha, Czech league, and appears to be ready for this coming season to lead the Hurricanes in scoring. Radim Vrbata may be a stolen gem when the Canes traded Bates Battaglia to the Colorado Avalance in order to land him. Though he has not shown his name on the scoreboard often, there is a significance in his game. This guy shoots the puck like a rifle fires bullets. Always on pace to shoot 200 times, Vrbata shows willingness to put the puck in the back of the net, and with the new rule changes, and more room to shoot at with smaller goalie equipment, he should start netting more pucks. If he can find the right ways to get the puck behind the goalie, expect Vrbata to have a very good offensive season. And maybe, he could become a top scorer for the franchise. Eric Staal is expected to have a better season. Though he needs to add more muscle to his 6’3 frame, Staal has the offensive capabilities to make his line-mates perform as well. He is till projected to become a franchise player. Erik Cole has not been much of an offensive threat, but his gritty style of game with speed and strength could make Cole a more valuable all-round player and a factor on special teams. Also expected to make an impression is Justin Williams. The long time Flyer was expected to meet expectations offensively, but never quite reached that mark. This is the year where he too could finally make that jump to the next level.
COVERING THE D-ZONE: Carolina’s defense remains solid as usual, but this time it is also quite skilled offensively. What could be a major bargain, and steal, in the off-season the main focus on defense is three time 50 point scorer Oleg Tverdovsky. After exiling himself in his native land of Russia, Tverdovsky decided that an NHL comeback with the new rules could be a good idea. Always considered as a well-skilled defenseman, Tverdovsky should become the power-play specialist that the Hurricanes hoped to see in David Tanabe, traded to Phoenix. More offense from the blueline is expected to come from veteran Bret Hedican. Although he never put up impressive numbers, Hedican is one of the leagues most reliable two-way defensemen. Mike Commodore should be able to make the squad. The heavyweight defenseman gained a lot of experience in Calgary, and should be of great use for Carolina’s penalty kill. The only problem is whether or not Commodore can find room when veteran defensemen Aaron Ward, Niclas Wallin, and long-time NHL’er Glen Wesley take up the other defensive slots. Also looking to add more offense to the team from the blueline corps is Frantisek Kaberle, acquired from the Atlanta Thrashers this year.
GUARDING THE NET: This is where the Hurricanes may have problems. After losing their two starters in the past decade, Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes, the Canes find themselves taking a gamble in Martin Gerber, acquired from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Maybe GM Rutherford took a page out of Flames GM Sutter by acquiring a skilled back-up goalie who could turn out as a big time starter. Mikko Kiprusoff, anyone? If that does not work out though, the Canes have nothing to lose as they are looking for their goalie prospect, Cam Ward, to guard the net in their future. Picked in 2002, Ward’s numbers steadily improved since playing his first year with the Red Deer Rebels and in his first pro year with the Lowell Lock Monsters of the AHL. This makes Gerber’s job challenging as he could easily lose his spot to the highly touted youngster.
TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION!: The one name that comes to mind last year’s 4th overall pick Andrew Ladd. The young power forward has a good shot at making the line-up this year with his strong skating abilities and physical presence. He has a lot of scoring potential and may be a player to hope for in the future, and likely a fan favorite if he makes a team as he would be used for his energetic game.
PROJECTED LINES: Possibly:
EXPECTATIONS: With a questionable offensive and goaltending, the Hurricanes are expected to not make the playoffs this year. The offense has to be more than just Vasicek, Stillman, and possibly Staal. Other players must contribute well. The power-play will be a key factor this year in the NHL, and if Carolina’s offense does not perform on the power-play, then the team may finish as far down as 12th, and if the goaltending becomes a problem, the Hurricanes may be in a position to finish 14th in the Eastern Conference.
PROJECTED: I like Peter Laviolette’s as the coach. He handled the Islanders very well and he can do the same with the Hurricanes. He’s got a solid defensive core and that is where he will most likely try to take advantage of to win games. He will have a lot to work on for the offense and he’s got to have Williams and Vrbata produce points. If he can accomplish that, then the Hurricanes will be racing for a playoff spot. Goaltending remains the only issue then. If goaltending becomes decent, I project the Canes to battle for the 8th seed, but fall short and finish 9th in the Eastern Conference.