Editor's note: Wamsley is a contributor for the "Habs Eyes on the Prize" blog and is also editor of the Fantasy Sense Hockey site. He offered to provide a fantasy preview for the Hurricanes and we were thrilled to oblige! The fantasy expert has already previewed the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Buffalo Sabres. Good luck to him in completing all 30 teams before October!
(By the way, we have big plans for fantasy hockey here at Canes Country this year as we will have an "A" league for experienced and a "B" league for beginners along with some prizes to boot. So stay tuned for more about that later).
After the 2006 season the Canes looked like they were poised to dominate the NHL. With 22-year old Conn Smythe trophy winner Cam Ward and 21-year old 100 pt scorer Eric Staal, the 2006 season seemed like a glimpse of what was to come.
The Stanley Cup hangover in Carolina extended to two and a half years and many began to question the potential of the Canes future core.
With a third straight season on the brink of disaster, Hurricane's Eric and Cam rolled through the Atlantic and devastated the North and Southeast. The category 5 rolled to a 25-9-2 finish, flattening New Jersey and Boston on their path to the Stanley Cup Conference Finals.
With the re-emergence of Ward and Staal, a veteran core and some recruits from the farm, the Cup window may have re-opened.
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For a coach who has coached close to 900 games, Maurice has a pretty nondescript resume. Outside of the Canes 2002 miracle run to the Cup and last season's trip to the Conference Finals, Maurice's career has lacked a definitive coaching identity.
I really don't know what a Paul Maurice coached team represents. His teams don't have a defensive identity, the highest his team has ever finished is 10th in goals against. His team also lacks an offensive identity as only the 2007 Maple Leafs managed to crack the top 10 in goals scored. During his tenure in Toronto, Maurice struggled to forge an identity with a squad he tabbed "the most talented he ever coached".
Will Maurice impact the Canes fantasy fortunes? Yes and no. Staal and Ward are superstars and will produce regardless of the system, but Ward will not be insulated enough to produce the statistics that represent his true standing among his peers.
As a Canadiens fan, I have never fully recovered from Ward's remarkable performance against the Habs in the 2006 playoffs. I took joy in his decline in 2007 and used his failures to improve my self-esteem. While researching an article for goaliepost.com, I looked into his numbers and came to a shocking discovery. He hadn't declined at all. It was part of the growth process and his surroundings and Conn Smythe expectations had hidden his ascendance as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.
When Ward's numbers were compared to his peers, they were less than impressive. When viewed in relation to his environment they began to shed light on his maturation as a goaltender. As the Canes slid down the standings, Ward moved up the rankings. I was sold in December, but after watching him go 17-4-1 down the stretch with a .934 save percentage and significantly outplaying Martin Brodeur and Vezina winner Tim Thomas, I am now convinced he is the best goaltender in the NHL. If the Claude Julien, Jacques Lemaire or Brent Sutter coached the Canes, Ward would put up monster numbers. Unfortunately, with Maurice at the helm he will likely not get the statistical recognition of the uninformed masses.
Welcome back Eric Staal!
For the last two seasons I contemplated whether or not 2006 was an aberration. Was Eric Staal an 80 pt player who had a career year? After being reunited with Erik Cole, the resounding answer was NO. Staal dominated down the stretch registering 25 points in his last 17 games and a return to the dominant power forward everybody foresaw 3 seasons ago. If that wasn't enough, Staal offered up the most dominant shift of the playoffs against the Bruins. Trailing 1-0 in Game 3, Staal took advantage of a mismatch. With Chara on the bench, nobody on Boston could stop his relentless assault down low; his vigorous effort resulted in him drawing a penalty. On the ensuing power play, Staal tied the game and the momentum of that shift lead the Canes to a 3-1 series lead. At 25 years old, I believe the light bulb has finally gone off and a monster fantasy season awaits.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it still baffles me that Pat Falloon was considered a better prospect than Whitney while with the Spokane Chiefs 18 years ago. At 37, Whitney continues to amaze. As an undersized, finesse winger he survived the lumbering years of the NHL and has found new life post lockout. After what can be described as an average first 3/4 of 2009, Whitney with the help of Staal exploded to a dominant finish (26 pts in 18 games). His health remains my only concern entering 2010. With Eric Staal hooked up to the rejuvenation machine, he is likely to drag Whitney to another point per game campaign.
After registering 21 points in 23 games last season upon his arrival in Carolina, Joe Corvo's 2009 season was considered a disappointment for fantasy owners. His 42 pt pace in Ottawa is consistent with his career arc, unlike the 75 pt pace he enjoyed in NASCAR country. Corvo will continue to see the bulk of the PP minutes and will work with the suddenly resurgent first unit. With expectations tempered, these factors should allow Corvo to slightly improve upon his 2009 totals and return to the good graces of fantasy owners.
Did Erik Cole miss his moonshine and NASCAR that much? Cole was a non-factor in Edmonton registering 27 points in 63 games when Jim Rutherford rescued him and reunited him with Eric Staal. The result? 15 points in 17 games and reigniting a struggling Canes offense. If he is able to maintain a physical presence he can return to fantasy prominence, but with his injury history, I wonder if Cole can sustain the physical duress that once made him a dominant offensive power forward. Cole will have the opportunity to excel in Raleigh, but I am reminded of Owen Nolan at 30 when I watch Cole. The license says 30, but the odometer reads 40.
Tuomo Ruutu seems to have finally overcome the injury bug that plagued the early part of his career, but I wonder if his serious knee and back injuries have robbed him of his offensive potential. Ruutu is still feisty and shows flashes of brilliance, but he lacks the explosive change of pace that foreshadowed a special player during his rookie season. Like the rest of the Canes, Ruutu caught fire down the stretch as he drafted off the unstoppable top unit and almost produced at a PPG pace. He remains an intriguing player, but paired with Jokinen and Samsonov is unlikely to improve upon his 2009 numbers.
Will the light bulb ever go on for Pitkanen? It is easy to overlook that he is only 26 years old. Four years ago he looked like a fantasy stud on the rise with 46 points in 58 games, but inconsistency and defensive immaturity have hampered his development. His offensive instincts still rely on risk and come at the cost of his defensive responsibility. Pitkanen is still young enough to take a chance on and with ample power play opportunities will still produce. He still possesses a substantial upside, but if you are risk averse, Corvo is the pick.
Coming off major knee surgery the captain looked finished in 2009. At 39, the grind of 20 seasons looked to have finally taken their toll. But after looking at the Canes depth chart, I cannot write off Rod Brind'Amour just yet. Brind'Amour lost his explosiveness a long time ago, yet because of his physical condition, intelligence and compete level, I refuse to write off a player who only needs to pass Jussi Jokinen to find himself with top 6 forward minutes. This is not an endorsement as a sleeper, but he is only one season removed from a 71 pt pace, so I would watch his early season progress closely.
If there was a category for taking the puck and dancing around the periphery, beating three defenders to the slot, peeling back, doing it all over again then losing the puck while creating an odd man rush the other way, Samsonov would be the number one pick. He would dominate that category like Peter North dominates the long toss. Samsonov has regressed from an impact player to a Max Afinogenov/Sergei Berezin clone and will always tease with flashes of what could have been. Pass.
The Canes have turned an organizational weakness into strength with a renewed emphasis on internal player development. This has lead to a stronger foundation and places the Canes in a strong position to replace their aging veteran forward core. The Canes have some talented young guns who are almost ready to make the leap to fantasy prominence.
After an impressive training camp as an 18 year old, Boychuk came tantalizingly close to sticking with the Canes in 2009. One of the fastest skaters in professional hockey and the owner of a slick arsenal of offensive finishing moves, Boychuk looks to be the future offensive catalyst in Carolina. Boychuk possesses patience, lateral agility, and an explosive release; all he needs to become an NHL regular at this point is maturity and strength to handle the NHL environment. Look for his initial impact in 2011.
Bowman's versatility allows for him to excel up the middle or on the wing. His back-to-back 40 goal seasons for the Spokane Chiefs have showcased his offensive capabilities, a style very reminiscent of former Cane Justin Williams. Bowman is an effortless skater whose elusiveness opens up shooting lanes for his heavy, quick release. A great finisher, the Canes are hopeful that Bowman can fill a top six slot in the near future.
Although McBain does not have the TUP (tremendous upside potential) of Jack Johnson, his progress in 2009 has made the Carolina management feel better about their decision to deal the former 2nd overall pick. After averaging nearly a point per game for the U. of Wisconsin, McBain was nominated for the Hobey Baker award. McBain is a workhorse on the back end and possesses a surprising maturity for a 21 year old power play quarterback. A full season in the AHL should help his strength and skating progress to match his vision and puck handling, resulting in an NHL appearance in 2011. Remain patient, his fantasy impact may not be felt for 2-3 seasons.
I have to admit, the first time I saw Mike Murphy play for Belleville, I looked for the #29 and the name Palmateer on his back. Murphy has won consecutive OHL goaltender of the year awards and posted a 2.08 GAA and a .941 SV% during the 2009 season. I try to stay away from statistical analysis of major junior goaltenders because the list is littered with statistical gems from names like Dan Turple, Justin Pogge and Taylor Dakers. Without consistently viewing the system in which they play, it is impossible to assess how much they are responsible for their numbers (i.e. Patrick Roy and his 5.55 GAA in Granby). Murphy is a throwback to an era where goaltender's relied on reflexes and athleticism, his size and unconventional style are concern's in the new NHL and because of this he is a low risk/high reward investment.
Chris Terry has dominated the OHL statistically for the last two seasons posting 195 points over 121 games, including an obscene 40 points over his final 17 games. The question is, can he translate his OHL success to the AHL. Even if he cannot, Terry's character and defensive responsibility may allow him to fast track to the NHL. With that type of junior production, he has placed himself on the fantasy radar