2010-2011 is going to be a fun season to be a STH at the RBC Center. Of course, it's always fun to win (in fact, it's now got to where I now associate hearing "Mad Scientist" anywhere with losing). But, Caniac Nation will also always, always applaud genuine effort, even in a loss.
I cannot imagine we're not going to see effort, across the board, this season. Every player, to a person, can find one or more reasons to hustle a bit more than we have seen in some past seasons.
The most obvious pressure is the lower rungs of the forwards and defensemen, where a literal king-of-the mountain battle will be occurring throughout the season as a wealth of talent competes for limited roles on the big stage. Charlotte, fasten your seatbelts, because you're in for a nitro-induced upgrade in your hockey experience.
But, there's incentives at the top and among the vets, as well. For one thing, there's all those kids, for those that haven't been anointed as legacies.
Plus, in the forward ranks, Cole, Samsonov, Jokinen, LaRose, and Dwyer are all in UFA contract years. Add Sutter and Tlusty in RFA contract years and more than half our forwards have economic incentives, if nothing else.
On the defensive side, Pitkanen, Babchuk, and Harrision are in UFA contract years, with Carson establishing his RFA value for the following season(s). So, economic incentives there, as well, making a fully half the team working on a contract year for themselves.
Nonetheless, the other half of the team has plenty of incentives, as well. Several are coming off an injury-hampered season, surrounded by energy after a long summer, and have things to prove. Round up the usual suspects, and without dwelling on details, these could include more names than we know, but Staal, Ruutu, LaRose, Cole, Corvo, and Ward come to mind.
Staal now has not only the "C", but the room, as well. Brind'Amour's not even in sight. The only players older than him are now his contemporaries in terms of team eras. The '02 warriors are gone. Heck, even most of the '06 core is gone.
This is indeed the New Canes. And, as I have said from the day we drafted him, I did not expect Staal to hit his stride until at least 25 or 26 years of age. He'll be 26 this October. It's go time, Eric. Seize the times.
But, I digress. My point is that I am optimistic that this will be a fun team to watch from an energy level. That's certainly not always been the case.
In fact, this may well be the year that it becomes possible for the org to dial up the culture a bit on what it means to be a player for the Canes. A tweak to our identity to include a bit more hustle, instead of maximizing the "cool factor" would be appreciated by the fans and become an infectious team energizer that can easily translate all the way through to the scoreboard.
Certainly we've never had so many homegrown players in the system that are bubbling up to the NHL level. And when they've all gone through the School of Jake or are under the tutelage of members of the brain trust, it is indeed possible to get an identity and culture installed within an org so strongly that trades are easily assimilated because the "rules" are so transparent.
We do "acquire character", as JR always says. These are all good men. In fact, it's a good bubble we have here from ownership, facilities, org, players, and fans. Perfect storm.
Here's to a good season, regardless of how the win/loss record shakes out. I know, if nothing else, I'll be thoroughly entertained as the play unfolds beneath my feet. Go Canes!