If there are hockey gods, as some believe, they may be telling Carolina GM Jim Rutherford that it's time to cut his losses. Cam Ward, who left Saturday's game in Columbus after having his upper left leg cut by the skate of Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash, is expected to miss a minimum of three to four weeks — if not longer.
Ward will meet with the Dr. Marty Isbell, the team's head orthopedic physician, Monday after the goalie returns from Columbus. Ward is staying in Ohio a second straight night so that he does not risk infection from the stresses of travel, the release from the team said.
The dilemma? What to do in his absence.
Will Carolina look to backup Michael Leighton as the No. 1 and recall Albany starter Justin Peters? Or will they explore the free agent or trade market for someone to share the load with Leighton, perhaps veteran Manny Legace (as suggested by Canes Now) or a platooning player like the Islanders' Martin Biron?
For a team on a 12-game losing streak that is already without star center Eric Staal, the loss of Ward is a huge blow, one that puts into the question the direction Rutherford should take with a last-place team stocked with veterans on expiring contracts and young players on the cusp of earning full-time NHL jobs. There's also the growing pressure on coach Paul Maurice, who is in the first year of a three-year contract earned following Carolina's run to the Eastern Conference finals last season.
The reassignment of rookie Zach Boychuk to Albany leads one to believe Rutherford has not yet given up on a season that is just 16 games old. But with just seven points — four less than Toronto and Florida, who sit just ahead of them in the standings with a game in hand — and a fragile team psyche that now must try to overcome the loss of its starting goalie, time is running out for the Hurricanes to turn around their season.
The good — if there is any — news? The NHL's GM Meetings are this week in Toronto, a perfect opportunity for Rutherford to gauge what kind of market there is for reinforcements or a fire sale.
But right now, the bad news is overshadowing any silver lining.