Winds of Change Blow Through Carolina
When the Carolina Hurricanes took the NHL by storm in the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a new sense of accomplishment could be seen throughout the southeast portion of the country. A hockey club had made it in the deep south, something most people around this area thought impossible when the Canes landed in Greensboro in 1997. Five years of hard work, sweat, and blood were poured in North Carolina in that span. Now, fast-forward to the present day. All of that hard work to build up a supportive fan base has been wasted in 53 games of lackluster (and often uninspired) play.
What is the cause of the transformation that the Canes have undergone? Nobody, not even GM Jim Rutherford, can adequately explain the answer to that question. “What’s most important is to try to fix the chemistry of this team,” said Rutherford in a report from the Raleigh News and Observer. “We don’t have the chemistry and determination we had last year.”
That is an understatement of epic proportions. The Canes have seemed lost in most games this year, prodding along without the same hard-hat, lunchpale work ethic that we have come to know from this team. Even on nights when we see that effort, the weakness that has dogged the Canes since the move from Hartford shines brighter than a lighthouse on Emerald Isle. Has Carolina gone as far as they can without having to add more players with actual skill?
The Hurricanes do indeed possess such players. Names like Ron Francis, Jeff O’Neill, Rod Brind’Amour, Bates Battaglia, Sami Kapanen, and Arturs Irbe have been synonymus with the term ‘skill’ at some point in their careers. But after you get past those players, the skill level drops of considerably. There are at least ten players who basically just grind and bang, scoring the occasional timely goal. That combination worked tremendously in last year’s run to the Cup finals. The question is, can a team be consistently in the running for a playoff berth with those aforementioned components? That question has to be answered, and it will be if the latest rumblings out of Raleigh are any indication.
Many rumors have been swirling overhead like vulchers in Caniac Country. The key players in this rumor mill are Kapanen, Battaglia, Irbe, Aaron Ward, and to some people’s surprise (myself included), Coach Paul Maurice. Many within the organization expect changes will be made in the coming days. The extent of those changes is anybody’s guess at this point. Philadelphia is said to be courting Kapanen, St. Louis may have an interest in Ward, and several other teams have inquired about the availibility of Irbe.
“I might have to change one or two players; not necessarily an upgrade, but just as a change,” Rutherford said. “It’s not like anybody’s trying to upset the apple cart. It’s just not the same apple cart.”
At present, the Hurricanes sit with a 17-25-6-5 record, good for fourth in the Southeast Division and 13th overall in the Eastern Conference. They are only four points ahead of the lowly Thrashers and cash-strapped Sabres, both of whom sit tied for 14th in the Conference. They are 9-11-5-3 at home, 8-14-1-2 on the road, and most importantly, have lost 15 of their last 18 games. If moves are going to be made, now is the time to make them.
I am a die-hard, end-all Caniac. I hate to see what is happening here in Raleigh night in and night out. I once thought that this team had the ability to stay consistent and be a force in the NHL for years to come with their present core of players. Now, all I see is the need for change. The Canes have to make some moves now, before the fans start staying away in mass quantities.
Quotes used from the Raleigh News and Observer