Steve Kerley checks in with another scouting report:
How could a team that beat out two top seeds in last year’s playoffs (New Jersey and Boston), have fallen so far, so fast?
Tobacco Road, indeed.
Any high hopes that Carolina might have had for this year have Staaled indefinitely as the Hurricanes are now the cellar dwellers of the NHL. It appears that the team has gone to the well too often as many of its players have seemingly aged overnight.
It may well be time for a total rebuild in order to take advantage of the youthfulness of the team’s two main stars, Eric Staal and Cam Ward.
• Carolina finally won a game on Sunday against Minnesota, but it’s still a pretty dismal picture right now. A 14-game losing streak that just ended, dead last in the NHL, 72 goals against, and crippling injuries that have their two top stars (Staal & Ward) on the sidelines. Even when they were in the lineup, Staal and Ward were in the middle of terrible slumps. The Canes weren’t as good as everyone thought last year (33-19-5 under coach, Paul Maurice) and probably aren’t as bad as they appear right now. Regardless, GM Jim Rutherford, is faced with a major decision. Does he wait it out and add a few new players (the Canes are also up against the cap) or face the fact that his team is too old (average age is 30) and needs to be rebuilt? It’s a tough call in light of the fact that the Hurricanes are in a soft market that may not be able to handle a few years of missing the playoffs.
• An inability to score goals was a big part of this year’s tough start. In fact, up until the Minnesota game, the Canes’ PP was 0-26. They also have been out shot 23-10 during the 2nd periods which put many games out of reach even before they were half over. The core of the offense is underperforming and aging quickly at the same time. Ray (Wizard) Whitney (6/7/13) still has some gas left in the tank but is now 37. He relies on his speed so he can’t afford to lose a step. Rod Brind’Amour (2/5/7/-16) is 39 and is starting to really breakdown. He was -23 last year and isn’t quite the factor in games that he once was. A great face-off man, his role is changing as he drops down the depth chart. Matt Cullen (3/5/8-10) is a good, consistent two way player but really wouldn’t be part of any rebuilding project. He’s being actively pursued by the Blackhawks. Eric Cole (one goal in 9 games) is 30 going on 40 but would be an attractive pick-up for a playoff team at the deadline. He’s one of those players who’s reputation is greater than his performance on the ice. Same goes for Scott Walker (2/2/4) who is 36. Then there’s the player who’s name I can’t bare to type. The great enigma has 2 goals and 7 points (-11) and gets tons of time on the top lines. He was just re-signed in 2008 so I’m not sure if he will be going anywhere soon. He’s not the type of player you can trust or rely on. Memories of his time in Montreal still brings out the dark side of me.
• Eric Staal (3/2/5) is obviously the heart and soul of the team and is a franchise player. He will bounce back once he returns from the injury list. I also hope that he will be able to nail down a spot on Team Canada. Tuomo Ruutu (5/5/10) is a solid two-way player who has yet to reach his full potential. He now appears to finally have beaten the injury jinx and is also showing signs of utilizing his teammates. He is a solid physical presence who can score and play top six minutes. Jussi Jokinen 4/7/11) was a hero in last year’s playoffs but needs to be more consistent in the regular season. The jury is still out on this guy but he did score the winning SO goal against Minnesota. Believe it or not, he passed through waivers twice last year without being claimed. Both Ruutu and Jokinen are 26.
• The changing of the guard also means that new younger players are getting ready to take over. Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk, and Drayson Bowman are all ready to step in and play. Phillippe Paradis (an off the wall 1st round pick this summer) and Zac Dalpe (2008 2nd rounder, playing at Ohio State) are long term projects. Sutter (son of Brent) is my player to watch tonight. Only 20 years old, Sutter was the 11th pick overall in the 2007 draft. He comes in at 6’3″/185 and shoots from the right side. He only picked up one goal and five assists last year in 50 games but has already surpassed that mark this year (4/3/7) even though he has only played 10 games. He has good size and is a responsible two way player who also displays the legendary Sutter family leadership skills. He needs to add more weight and muscle and play with greater grit. That should happen as gets older and fills out more. He logged 21 minutes against Minnesota and was 10-11 in the face-off circle. He is currently playing with Whitney and Cole and wears sweater #16.
* The bottom of the line-up is filled with guys who can forecheck the opposition to death but can’t really score. Chad LaRose is the best of the bunch but he hasn’t even scored a goal so far this year after potting 19 last season. TTB is familiar to everyone on HIO and Stephan Yelle is a solid 4th liner but he’s also on the clock, age wise. Tim Conboy is the resident cementhead in charge of pugilistic endeavours.
• Another reason for Carolina’s atrocious start to the season is their defensive corps. Anton Babcock, Frantisek Kaberle, and Dennis Seidenberg are gone from last year and some of the holdovers are really showing their age. Joe Corvo (3/5/8/-11) logged 32 minutes on Sunday and is an offensive force. He’s 32 and tends to run hot and cold but he may be great trade bait at some point in February. He usually plays with Tim Gleason (Jack Johnson trade) who has developed into a physical, defensive specialist. Aaron Ward is back to add some muscle as is Andrew Alberts. A lack of muscle was an issue for Carolina last year, a deficiency that was exploited by Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Ward is solid but also 36 years old. Niclas Wallin is 34 and is logging 23 minutes a game. I’m not sure how much the Canes can keep squeezing out of these guys. Joni Pitkanen (1/4/5/-11) really came into his own last year and was the bright spot on the blueline. He usually gets tons of ice and leads the PP. He had knee surgery last year so it’s difficult to know what impact that might have on his play. I somehow sense there might be a “Vaclav Prospal” aspect to this guy. The undersized Bryan Rodney has made the team after being called up from Albany and is seeing some PP time. The fact that there aren’t that many good, young defensive prospects in the system has to be an area of concern. Using Jay Harrison earlier in the year speaks volumes.
• Goaltending, a team strength since their Cup win, has now turned into a major weakness. Cam Ward is the backbone of the team along with Staal and was in the running for a spot on Team Canada. He was off to a rough start but nobody expected that to last long. Then he got injured. Rutherford went to the bargain basement bin and came up with Manny Legace, but that’s not much consolation to Hurricane fans. The rusty Legace gave up 8 goals in two starts, losing both games. Spare part, Michael Leighton, has only appeared in 4 games and has less than stellar stats (4.68/.833). In fairness, he did make the stops in the SO which helped the team end their losing streak. Regardless, goaltending is going to be a major concern for Carolina until Ward can come back and regain his form. In all likelihood, the playoffs will be out of reach by then.
* Stat Pack – GF: 28th, GA: 30th, GD: -30 (ouch), GAA: 3.68, PP: 25th, PK: 21st, FO: 48.5%, CS: $910,000.
* Injury Report – Staal (late November), Cam Ward (early December), Aaron Ward (day to day), Pitkanen and Walker both left the game on Sunday and did not return.
I’m kind of glad that Carolina won their game on Sunday to end the losing streak. All streaks eventually come to an end and I was worried that we might be taking on the role that Minnesota did during that game. The Hurricanes are a no frills, no name hockey team right now that is down for the count. Two of the best players in the league are out with injuries (for Carolina), which means we will never get a better chance to win a game. I’ll take two points anywhere I can find them.