The Carolina Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs by a whisker this year and it's time to start analyzing, evaluating, dissecting, and scrutinizing. While Jim Rutherford was quoted as saying that he wanted to wait until emotions were settled before he had his year-end review with coach Peter Laviolette, I would prefer to start my review process while emotions are still in play.
Let's start the 2nd guessing right at the top with the previous two-time NHL General Manager of the year, Jim Rutherford himself. First of all, Rutherford is listed as one of the contenders for the open Toronto Maple Leafs job. While the Carolina GM has said that he is perfectly happy here and it would take a lot for him to leave, he hasn't exactly said that there is no way that he would leave either. While I would be surprised to see him move back home, it wouldn't necessarily shock me to see him go.
But will the Leafs even offer him the job? Not taking anything away from him for his fantastic performance during the year of the Cup when every button he pushed was perfect, you have to look at the results other than just that one year. The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs in 4 out the past 5 years of hockey. In 2002-03 they had the worst record in the entire league. That's something that you don't necessarily want to put on your resume.
He did an outstanding job in 2001-02 as well, so that is certainly another feather in his hat, but would the Leafs management team be happy with the disappointing results of the last 2 years?
Whether he stays or goes, let's evaluate the performance of the Canes General Manager for this year. At first glance, you might say he did a great job. He brought in Samsonov, Ruutu, Corvo, and Eaves. There is no arguing that those were good pickups. Getting Corvo and Eaves for two players that were probably gone at year end is a huge coup.
All in all, Tuomo Ruutu is probably an upgrade over Andrew Ladd, so give him credit for that trade as well.
Bringing in Sergei Samsonov was kind of a no-brainer though. Justin Williams had gone down for the season and the Canes were pretty much stuck. They needed another warm body desperately. The opportunity was ripe when Samsonov went through waivers twice and could be picked up for half price. Let's not give Rutherford too much credit because that was a zero risk move. It didn't cost the Canes anything but some extra salary.
While those acquisitions worked out fine, let's examine a few things that happened earlier. What position would you say was worst for the Canes all year long? Nothing against John Grahame personally, but I would say that the back-up goalie position was a washout. Since Rutherford is the one who signed Grahame to a 2 year contract in 2006, and then did nothing to rectify the situation during the offseason last year after Grahame stunk, I'd have to give the GM an F for that signing.
It's easy to pat myself on the back now, but I was thinking that it was a big mistake to sign him for 2 years back when they originally signed him. Also, the contract was for too much money, which made him virtually untradeable. The guy was ridden out of Tampa Bay on a rail with everyone celebrating as he left town, and yet the Canes just handed him a 2 year contract on a silver platter. It didn't make any sense to me. It was an obvious mistake after the first year. But Rutherford was just asking for trouble again by doing nothing regarding trying to fix that mistake before or during the past year.
The next area the Canes have been weak at is defense. Let me ask, who is offering all of these players no-trade clauses in their contracts? Was that Jason Karmanos?
I can see giving Bret Hedican that benefit at the time way back in 2002, but to give one to Nic Wallin? That strikes me as unbelievable. Over the summer JR reportedly tried to trade Wallin and surprise surprise, Nic refused the deal. The rumor was that Carolina could have gotten Joni Pitkanen from the Flyers in return. How do you think the Hurricanes would have looked with Pitkanen on the blueline instead of a slow-footed Wallin this past year? Give JR another F regarding that fiasco.
Let's take a look at the team in general. They are one of the oldest groups in the NHL, 2nd only to Detroit. They are also one of the smallest teams. After a fast start this past year, they started to get man-handled as a unit. Teams found out that if they pushed the Canes around, they could beat them. The final straw was when Matt Cullen was concussed in New York.
So, in general the Canes are old and small and get physically pushed around. Is it any surprise that they are among the league leaders regarding injuries and man-games lost every year? I think most fans agree, Carolina needs to get younger and they need to get bigger so that they can play a more physical game. That is on the GM.
I think that the best scenario for any team is to have a healthy balance of youth and experience as well as speed and size. Anytime there is too much of one or the other, it could lead to trouble.
My point in bringing all of this up is not necessarily to throw Rutherford under the bus. For the most part, I think he is a fine GM, but he's made his share of mistakes this year just like everyone else has. He needs to start correcting his mistakes this offseason.
Next up on Bubba's list is Peter Laviolette.