(editor's note: We will start moving some of the top Fan Posts to the front page like we have done in the past. This is a good one by PackPride17. In other news, I attended the exit interviews today and got some good quotes. I will have an article or two about those later tonight.)
Well, the regular season is over and yet again the Carolina Hurricanes will not be participating the postseason. A few good things did occur this season, but the bad was just too much to overcome. With the Masters occuring this past weekend, I remember a golf quote; "you can't win the tournament on the first day, but you sure can lose it". This is pretty much the pattern for the Hurricanes. They dig themselves into a hole at the beginning of the season and while they try, it's just too deep for them to get out of before the season is over. What I am going to do is share my ideas of this season and what needs to be done to have a successful 12/13 season.
In my opinion, the success and failure of the 12/13 season will really sit on the shoulders of 2 men; Jim Rutherford & Peter Karmanos. While money always helps to bring in the most talented players, the "construction" of the team is what determines the success. 5 of the 10 lowest payroll teams made the playoffs this season, while 2 of the top 5 highest payroll teams did not. You are much more likely to make the playoffs spending close to the cap, but it is no guarantee.
I look at the make-up of this team and see a limited number of top 6 forwards & top 4 defensemen. I also see an abundance of bottom six players, offensive defensemen, and prospects that are on the edge of being NHL ready. Say whatever you want to about Chad LaRose, but when 2 vastly different coaches determine that he is the best bet to play on the team's top line; then we obviously have a talent issue and that falls to JR.
(Click the jump for a review of the Canes' highly paid players, what to make of the Skinns and Finns line, and much, much more.)
The top line winger for Staal has been & will continue to be a big hurdle for the Canes success. Maybe JR goes after Parise hard this offseason, but if he is unable to land him; then he needs to have another solution. We have assets that can be traded, but we are most likely going to half to overpay for a true top-teir player. We also must stop trying to fill all our holes with "bargain bin" players, hoping they have some miraculous season.
The other major issue with this team's construction is the blueline. While Faulk has given us hope, just imagine what the defense would look like without him. For the 2nd straight season, the Hurricanes finished the season with the most shots against in the league. While the forwards are as much a part of the defense as the defensemen, it really appears that we need a little more balance along the blueline. Even the best goalies only stop just north of 9 out of every 10 shots, so the team needs to figure out how to reduce the number of shots Cam faces. I really don't believe we are far off from being a playoff team again, but the construction of this team this offseason will be the determination of our success or failure.
Another big issue is the "consistent" performance of our stars. While Eric Staal had a great 2nd half of the season, he was horrible for the first 2 months yet again. At times, Eric can really carry this team; but when he off, the whole team seems to suffer. He must figure out how to get into his "groove" much earlier than December. And he must also figure out how to get his scoring touch back. He seemed to work hard last offseason to improve his faceoff percentage and it worked, so maybe this offseason he should work on his shooting ability? While I believe his playmaking ability/passing has improved, Staal is more dangerous as a scoring forward than a distributing center.
And then there is Cam. It could be argued which "star" means more to the Canes, but the truth of the matter is Cam determines if we win or lose. This was not Cam's best season, but the issue to me was more about his consistentcy. He had his unbelievable games, had his keep-it-within-striking-distance games, and had his bad games. I just feel that his bad games were a little more frequent this season. He even lost his cool on the bench during one game this year, which is really unCam like. The hockey world knows the book on Cam, gloveside high; and he needs to work with whoever to get better at that. We also need Cam to play more consistently every game. If these 2 players put together productive, consistent seasons; then the Hurricanes will be a force in the Eastern Conference.
Now I'm going to talk of the SkinFinns line. On paper, this appears to be a great 2nd line, but for a number of reasons it just didn't work out as well as it should have. Skinner started the season off well, but since the Sutton hit his game lost something. From my prespective he seemed to be more selfish with the puck and his temper definitely got the better of him on many occasions. The kid is a superb talent, but he needs to refocus this offseason and have fun playing the game. Angry Skinner is not the Skinner that will help this team return to the playoffs. Ruutu at one point in the season was probably the best forward for the Hurricanes, but he got injured and nothing was the same. His PPG dipped to it's lowest point since he was in Chicago, but he was rewarded with a nice new contract. Ruutu is never going to big a big point producer, but he needs to get back to using his body to open up space for the players around him and chipping in 20+ goals a years.
Jussi on the other hand never really seemed to get going this season. If you look at his stats, they are horrible; but I really feel that he had a bad season. His goal production dropped for the 2nd season in a row, as well as his shot percentage. He also doesn't seem to be looking for his shot quite as much as he did in the past. Was the issue not having Joni for an extended period of time or was it because he was playing a position he doesn't really care for; I don't know? But either way, Jussi can be a very effective player for the Canes and he needs to figure out how to get back to that point. I suspect that he will be playing wing next season (which line I don't know), but hopefully he can get back to being a 60 point player.
Another issue that I see that I believe many of you will disagree with is our 3rd line. While it is good at shutting down the opponents top line, we are not getting the offensive production we need to out of it. The issue is not Brandon Sutter, but who his linemates for the majority of the season were. Nodl & Dwyer are good defensively responsible players that have abilities, but the truth is; they are really 4th line players. Those 2 combined for 8 goals & 20 points in 133 games; that 0.15 PPG for Sutter's wingers. If you take a look at the league, the successful teams have 3rd/checking lines that do more than just defend the oppositions top line. We really need to slot wingers that can provide some offense while still being defensively responsible. Bowman seems to be one of the few young players that has taken that next step and he should be able to play an effective two-way game with Sutter. And everybody's favortie whipping boy, Chad LaRose, might also do well along Sutter's right side. Then Sutter would have 2 players that should score around 15 goals on his wings and this could potentially make Sutter's offensive numbers increase.
The last thing I'm going to discuss is the blueline. JR for whatever reason seems to like puck-moving defensemen. You could almost classify all our defensemen (even the top prospects) as offensive defensemen outside of Gleason & Allen. Faulk & Harrison are probably close to be considered two-way guys, but it still shows that our defense is primarily offensive. We really need to see if we can balance it out more. With Murphy & Dumoulin potentially in the mix; players like McBain, Joslin, & Sanguinetti could be available for trade. There are a couple of UFA defensemen out there, but a player like McBain (+ something else) might be a decent consolation prize for a team in need of an offensive blueliner. And with the NHL getting more & more back to the physical side, a strong defense is going to be even more important. Signing a player like Suter would be absolutely amazing, but whether that happens or not; the Canes need to figure out how to show up the defense.
In conclusion, the Canes obviously need to find another top 6 winger and either a good two-way or defensive defenseman. They also need to reorganize the team with balance in mind. If PK opens up his wallet, that will help; but the key is to keep and obtain players that will compliment each other, so we are not having this same discussion next year when playoff hockey starts.