The Carolina Hurricanes have completed 41 games and are officially half-way through the regular season. Let's take a quick look at where they stand and grade the players based upon their individual performances so far.
The team has a record of 21-15-5, good for 47 points and seventh place in the Eastern Conference. While the Canes overall performance has been trending upward lately, if one looks at the record as a whole they are a borderline playoff team. Last season the Canes finished with 43 wins, had 92 points, and did not make the playoffs. The Bruins were the eighth seed with 94 points.
The good news is that the Hurricanes have played their best hockey in recent games and have won four in a row. The coaching change seems to have had the desired affect, (more about this later) and if the current trend continues the Canes should make the playoffs.
Some other good news is that the team is as healthy as it has been for two years. That certainly is an important factor going forward.
Can the Hurricanes improve? Most fans would probably think so. Let's pretend that we are in the coaching staff for a moment, and grade each player based upon their expectations, results, and performances so far this year.
Ray Whitney 13-21-34 (-8) Whitney has consistently been one of the leading scorers for the Canes all season. He has also been extremely durable this year and has yet to miss a single game. The winger has kept his penalties to a minimum, (8 PIM) and is pretty much on pace to equal his average scoring numbers. While he has never been known for his tough defense, his (plus/minus) is a touch high. Grade A-
Eric Staal 18-13-31 (+11) After a slow start, Staal has been playing recently more like he played at the end of last year. He leads the team with game winning goals, (4), shots on goal, (171), and his (plus/minus) is presently the highest that it has been his entire NHL career. His scoring numbers are probably down from where he would like them, but few would complain about 40 goals this year. Grade B+
Rod Brind'Amour 8-18-28 (-25) After a good start, Brind'Amour's scoring has dropped off a bit as well as possibly, his ability to play shut-down defense. Although some might say that his league worst (-25) is an aberration, others would say that the captain has slowed down a step or two and has problems making decisions with the puck from time to time. He is still one of the best in the faceoff circle and has yet to miss a game . His overall performance should be better though. Grade D
Tuomo Ruutu 12-13-25 (+2) Ruutu comes to play every night and leads the team with hits, (100) as well as shooting percentage (15.2%). (which means he should be shooting more). His scoring numbers could be higher, but it's hard to complain much about his overall game. Grade B+
Sergei Samsonov 8-14-22 (even) Samsonov had an atrocious start to the season but has come on very strong lately. For being a small player, he's savvy on defense and tries hard, (despite what his critics said from Chicago and Montreal). It's always fun to watch him control the puck, even if he does hold on to it too long at times. Grade B-
Matt Cullen 9-3-12 (+1) Cullen's numbers are way down from where they have been in recent years and while his overall game performance has been pretty good, the results have not been up to expectations, or to his payscale. More TOI and powerplay time would probably help, but one way or the other the team needs more point production out of him. Grade D
Scott Walker 2-7-9 (-5) Walker has missed 15 games due to various injuries and probably should get an incomplete grading. But his goal scoring is too low for his 26 games played, although he always brings a much needed grit when he is on the ice. Nice hustle game, but he needs to score more. Grade C
Chad LaRose 9-3-12 (-1) It's hard to ask more from a player making just 875K a year and getting the minutes that he gets to play. He skates hard, hits, hustles constantly, and is now out-scoring other players making twice or three times what he does, and he gets no powerplay time. When he was healthy scratched after the coaching change, he didn't pout, he went back to work and regained his previous position. His career high was 11 goals last year, can he get 20 this year? Grade A
Ryan Bayda 3-7-10 (+5) Bayda has also filled his role well. Surprisingly, when averaged in with TOI, he is rated as one of the top defensive forwards in the league. For a small guy, he tries to be tough when needed. With a salary of only 475K, again it's hard to ask much more. He is currently working on career highs in goals and assists, anything more is gravy. Grade A
Brandon Sutter 1-5-6 (+1) Sutter has done a very good job for a rookie. His penalty killing is usually excellent. He brings good energy when he is on the ice. But he needs to take advantage of his scoring opportunities when he gets them, and needs to work on his faceoffs. Most fans would like to see him get more TOI. Grade B+
Patrick Eaves 1-5-6 (+6) Eaves plays a nice physical game and has a good plus/minus, but has been a disappointment with his scoring. He has been moved around the lines, including time with Staal on the top line, but has not found his niche yet. Perhaps he is just a fourth line player, but if so he is overpaid. Grade D
Justin Williams 2-4-6 (-4) Did not play enough games, Incomplete grade.
Wade Brookbank 1-0-1 (even) Did not play enough games, Incomplete grade.
Joni Pitkanen 4-15-19 (-1) Pitkanen also had a bit of a slow start as he was getting used to his teammates but has been one dependable performer for the past month or so. He leads the team with TOI and also leads all defensemen in scoring, while playing in only 33 games. The cool customer has an unsuspecting ability for stripping onrushing forwards of the puck. (If you are keeping score, he has outscored Erik Cole so far this year.) Grade B+
Joe Corvo 6-12-18 (+4) Corvo has also been an offensive dynamo as he and Pitkanen have outscored most of the forwards on the team. But the blueliner's defensive ability has always been a bit underrated as he has the best (plus/minus) on the team's defensive corps. Grade A-
Dennis Seidenberg 2-13-15 (-8) Seidenberg has been a pleasant surprise. He's been a steady force on offense and defense, leads the team with 95 blocked shots, and has 70 hits. He can get out of position at times playing defense, but what a bargain he has been for only 1.2 million this year. He will be in store for a nice payday next season though as he hits the market as an unrestricted free agent. Grade A-
Tim Gleason 0-8-8 (+2) Gleason is the vocal leader of the defense and is the most physical of the bunch. He is also a capable pugilist when necessary, which adds to his value. He leads the defense with 82 hits and plays a solid, positionally sound game. The only knock on him is his lack of offense. Grade B+
Nic Wallin 1-8-9 (even) Wallin has had a few injuries, but is known for his strong, physical game when he is at his best. He started off the season with a burst of offense, but has just returned back to action and has been quiet on that front. He was playing well enough before his latest injury that many fans started up an All Star campaign for him. Wallin has 73 hits and 42 blocked shots in only 29 games played. Grade B-
Anton Babchuk 3-5-8 (-4) Babchuk has really been on a tear of late and has been rewarded with more powerplay time as well as total TOI. He had a recent point streak going and picked up another nice assist in the latest game. But his grade encompasses the entire season, year-to-date and his play was inconsistent earlier. Grade C+
Frantisek Kaberle - 0-5-5 (even) Did not play enough games. Incomplete grade.
Cam Ward 16-9-3 GAA 2.44 SV% .914 Ward has had a few ups and downs in the first half of this season, but he is certainly in the swing of things at the present time. His 16 wins is 8th best in the league, his GAA is 14th, and his save percentage is 15th. But if you compared him with other goalies who performed in as many games as he has, those rankings go much higher. His numbers have improved every year. There is always room for improvement, but he has probably played above expectations so far and he should thrive in the new system. Grade B+
Michael Leighton 5-6-2 GAA 3.04 SV% .897 It's hard to believe that at one point in the year, Leighton had better stats than Ward did and some fans were clamoring for him to have more starts. He has had a rough few games recently though, and was forced to play when Ward was hurt and there were four defensemen up from Albany. It's not easy being the backup. Grade C
This is just one man's opinion. Agree or disagree, what do you think?