Friday, August 19, 2005

Team Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

Key additions: Martin Gerber, G (T- ANA); Ray Whitney, LW (FA - DET); Cory Stillman, LW/RW (FA - TB); Glen Wesley, D (FA - TOR); Mike Commodore, D (T - CGY); Frantisek Kaberle, D (FA - ATL); Oleg Tverdovsky, D (FA - Europe); Derrick Walser, D (T - CBJ); Andrew Hutchinson, D (T - NSH); Cam Ward, G (D - 2002, 1-25)

Key losses:
Jeff O'Neill, RW/LW (T - TOR); Arturs Irbe, G (T - CBJ); Sean Hill, D (FA - FLA); Kevin Weekes, G (FA - NYR)

Key players still unsigned:

Forwards: The 'Canes were dead last in the NHL in goals per game last year and dead last in power play percentage. To remedy this woeful lack of offensive production, the team sent their most consistent goal scorer, the rugged O'Neill, to Toronto and replaced him with Stillman (who posted career best numbers in 2003-04 playing alongside the likes of Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis in Tampa Bay) and Whitney (who posted disappointing numbers in his one year in Detroit). Well, there are no Lecavaliers, Richards or St. Louis in Carolina, and Whitney has only scored 69 goals since the beginning of the 2000-01 season (compared to O'Neill's 116). Neither does it seem that much help is on the way from within. Eric Staal is a legitimate franchise center and Erik Cole, Josef Vasicek and Justin Williams are all improving, but behind them there is very little to get excited about in the system insofar as offense is concerned (2004 fourth pick overall Andrew Ladd had a disappointing year in the AHL, but hopes are still high that he will emerge as a power forward).

Hill lead all Carolina defensemen with 13 goals and 39 points last season before bolting for South Beach. The six new additions to the blueline listed above totalled 8 goals and 44 points in the NHL in 2003-04. Bret Hedican is a solid top four defenseman, but until defensive wunderkind Jack Johnson arrives, this patchwork crew is flat out bad.

Finally a bright spot. Starter Gerber has impressed in limited time in the NHL (2.13 GAA, .923 SV%), but hasn't had a significant workload with which to deal yet in his NHL career. Get ready for that significant workload, Marty. Backing up Gerber will be top prospect Ward, who successfully made the jump from juniors to the AHL last year, leading the League in save percentage (.937) and finishing fourth in goals against average (1.99). The 'Canes might be wise to pick up a cheap veteran backup for Gerber and give Ward another season in Lowell, as the latter's long-term development may be hampered by riding the pine in Raleigh.

Bottom line:
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is not a playoff team. The Capitals may be the dregs of the NHL, but the 'Canes aren't much better. What's worse, Carolina seems to be a team without direction. Some of the veteran acquisitions are real head-scratchers, and the future doesn't appear to be too bright either, with few quality prospects in the organization beyond the blue-chippers mentioned above. It looks like Carolina may be the Caps' most bitter rival in 2005-06, as the two teams battle to stay out of the Southeast cellar and dream of the top pick in the 2006 draft.

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