There were points last season when it seemed like the Hurricanes were going to run away with the Southeast Division. But injuries took their toll, as did the resurgence in Washington with new coach Bruce Boudreau. Carolina won the first post-lockout Stanley Cup, and hasn’t been back to the playoffs since.
2007-08: 43-33-6, 92 points (second in Southeast)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Hurricanes were again a deep offensive club that could skate and score with just about anyone. Eric Staal was the all-star MVP and had a good season, but maybe not the great one people are expecting from him every year. The team rallied after losing captain Rod Brind’Amour to a season-ending injury. GM Jim Rutherford made a couple of deft moves, adding Joe Corvo to spark the power play and Sergei Samsanov resuscitated his career after being plucked off the scrap heap.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Well, losing the 82nd game at home to a non-playoff team to miss the playoffs (not to mention a division title) by two points is not a good thing. The defense beyond Tim Gleason – who has taken plenty of crap for being the guy traded for in the Jack Johnson deal but has quietly turned into a nice No. 2 or 3 defenseman – was not very good at times. Cam Ward was shaky at times in net, and has never really found what he had in that 2006 Cup run.
ARRIVALS: D Joni Pitkanen, D Josef Melichar, D Anton Babchuk
DEPARTURES: LW Erik Cole, D Bret Hedican, D Glen Wesley, D David Tanabe, RW Trevor Letowski, F Jeff Hamilton, G John Grahame
PROSPECTS: C Brandon Sutter, C Drayson Bowman
How do they move on?
Think that last game against Florida will come up a few times during camp? Missing the playoffs and the roster attrition this offseason might help the 2008-09 team try to find its own identity as the shadow of the 2005-06 team drifts further in the rearview mirror. Still, there could be some cantankerous moments should the players get sick of hearing about that game.
Is Cam Ward going to be better than solid?
This might be more of a question for the whole season, but Ward will turn 25 during the season so he’s not a baby anymore, even for goalies. Carolina can compete if he is solid, but the Hurricanes need him to creep closer to the elite status many predicted for him to do more. Think Marc-Andre Fleury last year. Ward doesn’t have to be Conn Smythe winner great, but better than just solid would help.
PROGNOSIS: Many pundits could be picking these guys third in the Southeast considering the Caps aren’t going anywhere and Tampa Bay’s shopping spree. Remember though that they were one win from the division title without Brind’Amour and without Justin Williams. Some of that offensive depth has been siphoned to add Corvo and Pitkanen, but having extra puck-movers on the back end could help make up for it. If they avoid the injury bug, don’t be shocked if Carolina creeps back toward 100-plus points and challenges Washington for Southeast supremacy.
||Wade Brookbank/Ryan Bayda
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations