2009-10 NHL Season Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes clinched a playoff spot last year for the first time since winning the Cup in 2006. (photo by LTD)

SB Nation is showcasing a special feature for the next week or so as every site manager in the network will be writing a season preview for their respective teams.  James Mirtle will also review each team over at his site, From the Rink.  It is Carolina's turn today, so be sure to head over there to see what James has to say and to vote where you think the Canes will end up in the Eastern Conference this season. 

The Canes will also be featured on SB Nation's NHL page, which features updated, breaking hockey stories all day long.  If you have not checked that out yet, it is worth a look see. 

Most of the following information we have been discussing all summer, but it's time to put it all together for an official preview.

Overview:

The Hurricanes had a rollercoaster season last year as they went from a disappointing start, (so bad that it got their coach fired), to making it to the final four teams in the NHL playoffs.  Ray Whitney and Eric Staal led the forwards while Cam Ward played as well as any other goalie in the NHL during the second half of the year. 

The late additions of Jussi Jokinen and Erik Cole were also instrumental to the team's success.  But most importantly, the team's defense came together and the club ended up with the fourth lowest goals against total in the East. 

Who's in:

Tom Kostopoulos, Stephane Yelle, Aaron Ward, Andrew Alberts, Jay Harrison

Who's out:

Anton Babchuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Patrick Eaves, Frantisek Kaberle, Ryan Bayda

Team Strengths:

Goaltender: Cam Ward is maturing into one of the top goalies in the league. 

Defense:  Joni Pitkanen should be coming into his own after a solid postseason performance last year.  Joe Corvo is in a contract year and has plenty of incentive to continue to do well.  Ward and Alberts add some muscle which will mesh nicely with Tim Gleason and Nic Wallin.  These guys should be solid and might even improve upon last season's goals allowed total.

Forwards:  This team is stacked in the middle with Eric Staal, Matt Cullen, Rod Brind`Amour, and Stephane Yelle.  Jussi Jokinen can also play center in a pinch.  The Canes might win more faceoffs than any other team in the league.  Scoring is balanced and perhaps for the first time ever, the team has four legitimate lines to roll.    The Canes tied for first last season in drawing penalties and with Staal, Whitney, and Cole, could do so again this year.. 

Special teams:  The penalty kill can be very good and Chad LaRose and Matt Cullen give the Canes some scoring jump while shorthanded. 

Coaching:  Paul Maurice did a fine job last season and seems to have the ear of the team right now.  Are there better assistants in the game than Ron Francis and Tom Barrasso? Add in the experience of Tom Rowe and Kevin McCarthy and the Canes might have the best overall coaching staff in the NHL.  Most importantly, they work well together and are a true team. 

General Manager:  Jim Rutherford has built a reputation as being one of the best GM's in the league.  If the team needs a mid-season tweak, he's a good one to have in the front office.

Team Weaknesses:

Goaltender:  Cam Ward has complained of a wonky back and if it bothers him this season, it would really hurt the team's chances.  Backup Michael Leighton has been inconsistent in year's past at the NHL level.

Defense:  Aaron Ward, Nic Wallin, and Andrew Alberts are slow of foot and can be taken advantage of by faster forwards.  They have provided minimal offense in the past.  The Canes might sorely miss the point production of Seidenberg and Babchuk.  

Forwards:   Will age catch up with Brind'Amour and Whitney?  Will Erik Cole return to form?  Can Eric Staal score consistently?  While there is scoring balance, these guys have been inconsistent in the past and will need to be more steady.

Special Teams:  Last year the powerplay was all over the map.  They finished up the regular season strongly but scored at a disappointing 10% clip during the playoffs.  Losing Babchuk's and Seidenberg's scoring won't make it easy to improve.

Depth Chart:

Forwards:

  • Staal, Cole, Ruutu
  • Cullen, LaRose, Whitney
  • Brind'Amour, Samsonov, Jokinen
  • Yelle, Kostopoulos, Walker
  • Conboy, Ryan, Dwyer
  • Sutter, Boychuk, Bowman

Defense:

  • Gleason, Corvo
  • Pitkanen, Ward
  • Alberts, Wallin
  • Harrison, Carson
  • Rodney, McBain
  • Fitzgerald

Goalies:

  • Ward
  • Leighton
  • Peters
  • Murphy

Prediction:

The Canes have worked hard to strengthen the team and added some character at both ends of the ice.  They should match up well now against bigger teams.  The question in my mind is, can they can score consistently?  If players who had off years last season can regroup, they should have an excellent season and make the playoffs again.  Can they overtake Washington for the Southeast Division crown? That will be easier said than done.

I'll pick them to finish fourth in the conference.

What do you think? 

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