September 05, 2011
It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
The Carolina Hurricanes finished ninth in the Eastern Conference (40-31-11), but had a chance to finish eighth, which they squandered in spectacular fashion.
In their last game of the regular season, the New York Rangers defeated the New Jersey Devils to move to 93 points — two points ahead of the Hurricanes for the No. 8 seed. The Canes needed a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had nothing to play for, to earn a playoff berth, holding the tiebreaker against the Rangers.
They gave up three goals in the first period and ended up losing 6-2 at home, falling two points short of the playoffs.
The summer saw the Hurricanes receive one impressive NHL award (the Calder Trophy to Jeff Skinner(notes)), lose a significant mainstay (Erik Cole(notes)) and bring in a big-name free agent (Tomas Kaberle(notes)).
Are the Hurricanes a playoff team in 2011-12, or destined to see their bubble burst again?
While one can argue he'll miss them more than they'll miss him, the Hurricanes will still have to adjust to life without Erik Cole's hustle and offense. He left for a rich free-agent contract with the Montreal Canadiens, one of the few key Hurricanes free agents not to re-sign.
Tomas Kaberle was a surprise signing at 3 years and $12.75 million. Let's see how he performs without intense expectations and life on the trade block. Defenseman Joe Corvo(notes) was shipped to Boston on the same day of the signing, as the Hurricanes and Bruins continued their sunny managerial relationship.
Alexei Ponikarovsky(notes) and Anthony Stewart(notes) are bargain additions on left wing; Ponikarovsky in particular has some potential if he can reestablish his game after two dud seasons with Pittsburgh and LA. Tim Brent(notes), a fan favorite in Toronto, brings truculence and pugnacity.
At forward, the Hurricanes enter the season with something they've rarely had: two legitimate offensive stars. Provided the younger of the two continues to blossom.
Eric Staal(notes) enters his ninth NHL season after scoring 33 goals and 43 assists in 81 games last year. He's been a point-per-game player in every-other season since his rookie year; will the trend continue?
Jeff Skinner, the 2011 Calder Trophy winner, tallied 63 points in 82 games and managed to avoid hitting the rookie wall too hard (16 points in his last 19 games). His potential as a playmaker is just being tapped; can he hit 70-75 points in 2011-12?
Skinner really meshed well with Tuomo Ruutu(notes) (57 points) and Jussi Jokinen(notes) (52 points) last season; watch out for Ruutu, who goes unrestricted next season. Also, Ruutu would be smart to watch out for Hal Gill.
Jokinen was one of several players retained by the Hurricanes this summer, including Chad LaRose(notes) (31 points and a brutal minus-21), Pat Dwyer(notes) (166 hits), Jiri Tlusty(notes) (12 points in 57 games) and recently re-signed Brandon Sutter(notes), who regressed a bit last season. Joining the fray are Anthony Stewart, the former Atlanta Thrashers power forward and entertaining tweeter (of moving to Raleigh instead of Winnipeg, he said, "You go out and buy a goose down coat for a thousand bucks, then you have to return it because you're not going there."); and Alexei Ponikarovsky, who went from being a consistent 20-goal scorer to a 5-in-61-games flop in LA.
On defense, the Canes are built around veteran puck-movers Kaberle and Joni Pitkanen(notes), who had 35 points last season and inked a 3-year, $13.5 million extension; as well as bruiser Tim Gleason(notes), who had 215 hits last season. Jamie McBain(notes) had a solid rookie season with 30 points in 76 games. Bryan Allen(notes), Derek Joslin(notes), Jay Harrison(notes) and Bobby Sanguinetti(notes) are among the veteran options, although we're certainly pulling for Czech Michal Jordan(notes) to make the cut for Photoshop purposes.
In goal, Cam Ward played 74 games last season and won 37 of them. His numbers don't sparkle like some of this peers, but most of them don't have a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe. Well, outside of this guy.
The Patrick Swayze action classic "Road House." For both its underappreciated southern bad-assery, and its crusade against crooked businessmen — the perfect film for the spent-thrift, arm-twisting ways of Hurricanes management.
Has Paul Maurice 2.0 been a success for the Hurricanes? The team's playoff run in 2009 promised something that the following two years haven't fulfilled. Yes, the Canes were just two points out of the postseason, but they didn't make the cut despite a relatively healthy season. That team showed some promise, and got better in the summer; can Maurice build on it?
GM Jim Rutherford has one of the strongest pimp-hands in the League, getting his players back in the fold very summer for a reasonable price despite crying poverty about their free agency. The Kaberle move is one of his boldest in years. He's built a playoff contender, and kept it together.
Zach Boychuk(notes) is in the final year of his entry-level deal and has worked his ass off in the summer to add muscle. The forward had 65 points in 60 games in the AHL, and eventually saw time playing with Staal and Cole on the top line last season in the NHL. It's a critical season for him and he could make the most of it.
"Hurricanes? Meh. Let's see these guys send Marky Mark into two hours of terrible acting. Signed, The Wind."
Kaberle. The bar is set at 25 power-play points and the ability to get the Hurricanes into at least the top 15 in the NHL with the man advantage. Anything short of that can be seen as a disappointment.
Eat your heart out, Pixar. It's Stormy time.
If Jeff Skinner enters into some kind of sophomore slump. Because we hate seeing puck bunnies weep.
The Canes have depth and goaltending. If they can locate a little bit more offense — they were 12th in the NHL last season — they're a playoff team. If goal-scoring flatlines or declines, they're still on a crowded playoff bubble in the East.