It's been a difficult season for the Carolina Hurricanes, but that doesn't mean anyone of the team has been naughty. So, without further ado, we're handing out some gifts to the boys who have suited up in red and black this season.
Andrew Alberts — A pat on the back. In a year where the team and it's offseason signees have been much maligned, Alberts has played as advertised. He's just minus-2 on the season, right near the top of the team among the players who have suited up from opening night, and is one of three Canes to play all 36 games.
Zach Boychuk — A March plane ticket to Raleigh. Boychuk hasn't blown the doors off the AHL this year, but in his two-game stint in Carolina he showed the explosiveness that make him such an intriguing prospect. With Carolina's playoff hopes all but over, Boychuk can expect to finish the season with the Hurricanes once some of the team's expiring contacts are dealt at the deadline.
Rod Brind'Amour — A fitting farewell. Brind'Amour has been, arguably, the most important player in the history of the Carolina Hurricanes. We all know he's not happy playing seven, eight or nine minutes a night, so here's to hoping he has some nice moments the rest of the way, then hangs up his skates with the class in which he always laced them up.
Brett Carson — A goal. Carson will never be a huge offensive threat in the NHL, but it's always a joy to see a young player get his first NHL goal. Here's to hoping Brett gets that some time this year.
Erik Cole — A redo on his bobblehead. I'm guessing union man Erik leans more toward the left than the right, so he probably isn't thrilled with his bobblehead looking more like George W. Bush than it does him.
Tim Conboy — One more call-up. Once upon a time, Conboy being in the lineup meant Carolina wins. That wasn't the case this season, and he's been in Albany for more than a month. Maybe a return to Raleigh could bring some old-time results in the win column.
Joe Corvo — A speedy recovery. Corvo is in the final year of his contract, so surely he'd like to get back on the ice so he's not viewed as damaged goods by the Canes or the rest of the NHL when it comes time to test the free agent waters. Plus, Carolina could probably get a nice deadline return for him if they decide not to re-sign him.
Matt Cullen — The same two wingers. Cullen has played with just about every Hurricanes forward this season. Most recently, he and Patrick Dwyer have struck up some chemistry, but they will likely be broken up once Cole or Chad LaRose returns from injury. Hopefully he gets a chance to play with the same two guys for an extended period of time in 2010.
Patrick Dwyer — A Chad LaRose trade. Nothing against LaRose, but Dwyer seems capable of filling LaRose's spitfire role at a third of the cost.
Tim Gleason — A hotel room in Vancouver. If Brian Burke likes old-school hockey as much as he claims to, Gleason should be penciled in for a spot on Team USA's blueline at the Winter Olympics. And they may even mean a spot ahead of Jack Johnson. Irony?
Jay Harrison — A fight-free 2010. Give it up for Harrison: when he fights, he doesn't pick on the wimpy guy. Harrison has tussled with Milan Lucic, Brad Winchester and Ian Laperriere this season. He held his own against some of the game's toughest, but if he keeps piling up names like this he'll find he's playing with fire.
Jussi Jokinen — More shootout magic. Through Dec. 21, Jokinen has four shootout goals, just one behind league leader Sidney Crosby. He's proven he's the best at hockey's skills competition, and he's always a joy to watch.
Tom Kostopoulos — More top-nine duty. TKO, along with Alberts, has been a bright spot among the players receiving contracts this offseason. His consistent play has earned him more ice time, and here's to hoping there's more of that to come.
Chad LaRose — A fresh start. When LaRose was making less than a million dollars a year, he was the underdog — an overachiever who became a fan favorite. But at an average of $1.7 million this year and next, LaRose hasn't lived up to his deal, whether it be due to injuries or heightened expectations. He'd be a great fit on a contender's third line.
Manny Legace — A one-year deal. Carolina has not had a reliable backup since Cam Ward was No. 2 to Martin Gerber in 2005-06. With Legace, they get a veteran presence who can spell Ward when needed and fill in as the top guy if an injury should occur. While Justin Peters continue to make strides and Mike Murphy is growing into a pro netminder, the Canes could buy one more year of development by keeping Legace around.
Joni Pitkanen — Some ice packs. Pitkanen's missed nine games this season and still has more total ice time than any other Hurricane (710:27 to Corvo's 690:17 in the same number of games). Between the workload, his propensity to get banged up, and his upcoming Olympic role with Finland, the defenseman will probably need some massage table time.
Bryan Rodney — An airline pillow. The airlines don't give them out anymore, and Rodney's been on so many Albany to Raleigh flights that he could probably use one.
Tuomo Ruutu — Some local ad spots. Is there a Canes player more likely to flash a smile than No. 15? His off-ice demeanor so differs from his runaway train style of game that it's hard to even come to grips that it's the same guy. Who better to shill your product?
Sergei Samsonov — A 20-goal season. It'll take some work, but Samsonov could make it if he slightly betters his pace. Samsonov scored 20 in 2005-06 with Boston and Edmonton, but has not netted that many with one team since he had back-to-back 29-goal seasons with Boston in 2000-01 and 2001-02.
Eric Staal — A Team Canada sweater. It's been a rough season for Staal, but his play has improved of late and he's always been a big-game player. Canada would be wise to have a spot for him in Vancouver.
Brandon Sutter — More ice time and more results. After a torrid start, Sutter has slowed considerably with lesser linemates, managing just a goal and two assists in the past 12 games. Perhaps more penalty killing time would get the young pivot back in the groove.
Jiri Tlusty — A working passport — Tlusty's Carolina debut included a goal, but immigration issues have thwarted him twice since the Hurricanes acquired him from Toronto. The first problems kept him from Albany, the second probably prevented him from being recalled to Raleigh a second time.
Scott Walker — A trade to a true contender. Does anyone deserve to have their name on the Cup more than Walker? Walker's a throwback who never had a true playoff run until last season, and at 36 with an expiring contract this could be his final chance to be added to a team guaranteed to go deep in the postseason.
Niclas Wallin — Health and 39 games played. Wallin is currently 38 games behind Jeff O'Neill for third all-time in Carolina games played (both trail Glen Wesley and Brind'Amour who have 729 and 647, respectively). This is his ninth — and perhaps final — season with the Canes, and his long-time contributions often go unnoticed.
Aaron Ward — A new contract (in broadcasting). Ward's return to Raleigh hasn't gone as planned, but the charismatic defensemen calls the Triangle home and would be a great addition to the television booth or alongside current solo artist Chuck Kaiton on the radio.
Cam Ward — Chainmail. Ward was sliced by a skate earlier this season, the second time it's happened in his career. While Ward has begun wearing more padding to guard against accidental skate slashes, perhaps he should go the extra mile just to be sure.
Ray Whitney — A Cup run. Whitney won his title in 2006 with the Canes, but he could be a hot commodity at the trade deadline if he decided to waiver his no-trade clause. Like Walker, Whitney — 38 in May — has few remaining chances at engraving his name on the Cup a second time.
Stephane Yelle — An eraser. Yelle's play was poor enough to start the season that GM Jim Rutherford placed him on waivers. It was surely a tough pill to swallow for Yelle, but to his credit he has bounced back and been exactly what everyone expected when he signed: a reliable fourth-liner who can still hack it on the penalty kill. Let's forget his early season struggles, shall we?
Coaches & Front Office
Tom Barrasso — A moratorium on how talks of difficult he was as a player. How many times does Barrasso's past need to be brought up? Like Jim Rice with the Red Sox, Barrasso was labeled difficult and abrasive with the media and even teammates. There's been no evidence of that in Barrasso the coach. One thing he has been? A helluva mentor for Ward. So enough already.
Ron Francis — A copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? Francis was reluctant to jump behind the bench last season following Peter Laviolette's dismissal. With some questions surrounding Maurice, Francis may need to soon decide whether or not his future is behind the bench as a coach or as Rutherford's successor as GM.
Paul Maurice — Earplugs. Maurice arrived back in Raleigh to a chorus of boos, but promptly led the team to the conference finals. The boo birds are back this year, and whether or not he is to blame is up for debate. Is he the coach that twice led teams deep in the postseason, or the one who failed to make the postseason in Toronto and has Carolina last in the standings? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Tom Rowe — Credit where credit is due. Rowe, the defensive specialist on the coaching staff, has helped mold not only Tim Gleason, but several of the younger Canes blueliners into promising pros. Look no further than Bryan Rodney and Brett Carson.
Jim Rutherford — Chutzpah. It's going to be tough to trade away players that helped him win a Stanley Cup or rebuilt their careers here, but that's what Rutherford faces at the trade deadline. Cullen, Whitney, Corvo, Walker and Aaron Ward could all be elsewhere come March, plus there are some tough conversations that need to be had with No. 17. Other names could change cities, too. Rutherford will need big brass bonanza (This is a PG-13 site) to ship out fan favorites so the next era of Hurricanes hockey can begin.
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HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!