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The Best of Me - Players Have Career Years in Carolina

The current talk of the town is that Carolina's pick up from the waiver wire in January, Sergei Samsonov has had a re-birth of sorts here with the Hurricanes. The skilled Russian sniper went from having zero goals and 4 assists in 23 games for Chicago to scoring 11 goals and 10 assists in 24 games for the Hurricanes. His plus/minus also jumped from a -7 to a +9. So, why the transformation?

If you were to ask Sergei, he would tell you that he worked just as hard in the Windy City as he is working now. The modest player has been telling reporters that he is just getting some bounces now that he wasn't getting before. But obviously, there is much more to it than that. You can add Samsonov to the recently growing contingent of players who have had a resurgence in scoring upon their arrival at Tobacco Road.

Before Matt Cullen came to Carolina, his best season ever was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2002 when he scored 18 goals and had 30 assists for 48 points. Cullen crushed his personal best for goals as he netted 25 for the Hurricanes in 2006. He finished the season with 49 points, not counting the playoffs. But the next year in New York, Cullen could only muster 16 goals and 25 assists for a total of 41 points.

So far this year upon his return to Carolina, the center has already bested last year's point total with 44 points, even though he has missed over a month of the season due to a head injury. Matt is still on pace to beat his previous career high of 49 points, regardless of all the time that he has missed earlier this year.

Ray Whitney has been in the NHL since 1992 when he broke into the league with San Jose. During his long and successful career, Whitney had been moved around to 5 different teams before signing with Carolina. Detroit actually bought out Ray's contract in 2005 because they could not fit him in under their new salary cap requirements. Even though he was just caught in a numbers game with the Wings, other teams were not exactly knocking Whitney's door down with contract offers at that time.

After signing with the Hurricanes, Whitney has been nearly a point a game producer. He topped his previous career high of 76 points with 83 points scored last year, also tying his previous career high of 32 goals.

Cory Stillman won a Cup with both Tampa Bay and Carolina. When Stillman was with the Lightning, he had a career high of 80 points in the regular season but was not offered a contract again because of his poor production in the playoffs. (7 points). Not only did he follow-up his 80 point year with 76 in Carolina, but he had another personal best of 26 points in the playoffs. Adding the post-season with the regular-season totals, Cory shattered his previous career high of 87 points in Tampa by scoring 102 with the Hurricanes in 2006 and played in 9 fewer regular season games due to injury.

Do you see a pattern here?

Rod Brind'Amour scored more points last year, (82), than he has since his 1995-96 season. Justin Willams and Erik Cole have both scored more goals and points in recent years than at any point in their careers. Even a couple of defensemen had recent career highs here. Frantisek Kaberle had a personal best of 44 points in 2006 while Mike Commodore notched the scoresheet 29 times last year for the Canes, also his career best.

What is the common denominator? Look no further than to head coach Peter Laviolette.

Is it really so much of a shock to see Samsonov thriving here after so many other players have been able to resurrect their games here as well? Is it Laviolette's offensive system? Is it his attitude? Does he just make it more fun to come to the rink everyday?

I don't think anyone would argue whether or not Laviolette employs a wide open offensive system. Skaters seem to love it, and who can blame them? If you were a player, would you rather adhere to a strict, defensive first or trap orientated system, or would you rather pressure the puck and try to score at every opportunity?

A month or so ago, several people were critical of the coach, (this blogger included), because he seemed inflexible and unwilling to change his style back when the team was losing. But to his credit, he has utilized his mix-and-match lineups as well as can be expected despite all of the illnesses and injuries. Laviolette and Jim Rutherford have beefed up the roster with Wade Brookbank and Tim Conboy, and there hasn't been any recent talk of his supposed "no fight policy". He has allowed the enforcers to do their thing on the ice as well.

If Sergei Samsonov could continue on his current pace for a complete season, he too would have a new career high. While Samsonov and the other players deserve most of the credit for working hard and doing whatever it takes to excel on the ice, some credit must also be given to Peter Laviolette for putting them into a position and for having the systems in place for them to be successful.

What does this mean for other newcomers, like Joe Corvo, Patrick Eaves, and Tuomo Ruutu? Good news, if they enjoy scoring lots of points. So far while they have been in Carolina, Corvo has put up 6 points in 9 games, Eaves has 2 points in 3 games, and Ruutu has 3 points in 3 games.

Bryan Adams