Are the Carolina Hurricanes a tough enough hockey team? They do have some smallish players who have a tendency to get pushed around a bit. Last season before the call-ups of Wade Brookbank and Tim Conboy, the team seemed to be getting physically dominated at times. The December game in New York against the Rangers was a perfect example.
Let's take a closer look at the fights last year and see what affect if any, that Conboy and Brookbank had. Here are the team's stat totals for fighting majors last year, according to Hockeyfights.com-
- Brookbank -12
- Conboy - 7
- Commodore - 6
- Gleason - 6
- Walker - 5
- C. Adams - 4
- Cole - 2
- Ladd - 1
- Williams - 1
Once you check to see that Brookbank only played in 32 games while Conboy played in 19, it's easy to determine that they were both very active and aggressive while they were on the ice. Coincidentally or not, the Canes had an extremely good winning percentage when both of those players were suited up last season.
Many fans will say that it doesn't matter who wins or loses these fights, what's most important is the idea that the players will stick up for their teammates when needed. But just for the heck of it, let's do some number crunching by totaling the fight card results at Hockeyfights.com and see what the records are for each combatant. The winners and losers are determined by online votes, (win, lose, draw), by fans after each fight.
- Brookbank 3-4-5
- Conboy 0-4-3
- Commodore 2-2-2
- Gleason 3-1-2
- Walker 2-1-2
- Adams 0-2-2
- Cole 0-1-1
- Ladd 0-0-1
- Williams 0-0-1
There aren't a ton of victories for the Canes, (10 out of 44), but Tim Gleason and Scott Walker finished with decent winning percentages. Brookbank isn't necessarily the flashy free-swinger that Jesse Boulerice used to be, but he seems to hold his own. Two of his four losses came against Donald Brashear and Georges Laroque, top-notch heavyweights in their own right.
Tim Conboy wasn't shy about mixing it up with anybody either. His first ever NHL fight was against Scott Parker, a bigtime bruiser. According to coach Peter Laviolette, both Conboy and Brookbank should make the squad this season. Will the number of fighting majors increase this year?
The 44 fighting majors accumulated last year were the 2nd highest since the club moved to Carolina. Again according to Hockeyfights.com, here are the year by year totals.
- 1997-98 - 57
- 1998-99 - 30
- 1999-00 - 21
- 2000-01 - 26
- 2001-02 - 33
- 2002-03 - 32
- 2003-04 - 34
- 2005-06 - 17
- 2006-07 - 25
- 2007-08 - 44
The year the Hurricanes had 57 fights was when Stu "The Grim Reaper" Grimson was on the team and he led the way with 22 skirmishes all by himself.
Of course, there is much more to being considered a tough team than just fighting. If the team has a heavy forechecking presence or has blueliners that will lay you out as you cross into their territory, that can also make your team especially hard to play against. Let's take a quick look at the roster and open up a discussion how we think the team stands regarding this. I'm sure each reader will have their own opinion.
On the Hurricanes defense, I'm not sure if there is anyone who would strike fear into opposing forwards as they skate across the blueline. Mike Commodore used to line people up once in a while, but of course he is up in Ohio now.
Joni Pitkanen is not known to be overly physical and neither is Joe Corvo. Tim Gleason can and will play the body as will Nic Wallin when he is healthy. Anton Babchuk is a big kid, but wasn't necessarily known as a heavy hitter when he was with the Canes previously. Frank Kaberle will normally shy away from contact. Joseph Melichar is supposed to be physical, but is a bit of a question mark at this point. Dennis Seidenberg can also get physical at times.
While none of those blueliners would necessarily be considered a "heavy hitter", there could be a good mixture of physical guys and puck movers in that bunch. Keep in mind, one of them will probably be traded before the season starts. (Kaberle?)
On the offensive side of the ice, the Canes lost their team leader in hits last season. Erik Cole will be knocking bodies around in the Western Conference next year. Tuomo Ruutu will have to pick up where he left off in 2007-08. He had 171 hits compared to Cole's 186. Patrick Eaves will also be counted on to pick up his forechecking presence this year, if he can stay healthy.
Other forwards who have a good number of hits include Eric Staal (99), and Scott Walker (98). Staal seems capable of using the body more, but would that take away from his offense? Since the all-star normally is the primary focus of opponent's aggressors, it would seem like the body can only take so much abuse.
Rod Brind'Amour and Justin Williams can hit people when it's needed, but don't average much more than a hit per game played. Matt Cullen, Ray Whitney, and Sergei Samsonov won't be counted on to knock anyone around. Although it may happen from time to time, it's not the focus of their game.
On the 4rth line, Ryan Bayda and Chad LaRose will hit people, but their relatively small size limits the effectiveness of their efforts. Finally, Wade Brookbank and Tim Conboy will counted on to forecheck and play a physical brand of hockey, as well as to drop the gloves when necessary.
(edit)- Brandon Sutter will most likely see time on the 4rth line as well and showed that he is perfectly capable of delivering big hits. He knocked one particular superstar Russian, (Alexei Cherepanov), out of the World Junior Tournament a year ago. Can he play as just physically in the NHL? Time will tell.
Overall, while the Canes don't necessarily have a legitimate heavyweight who would strike fear into anyone looking over their roster, they do seem to have a good balance of skilled and physical players, as long as the physical ones can stay healthy.
What do you think?
A quick thanks to JP over at Japer's Rink, who did a similar study about the Caps over on his site.