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2009-10 Canes Country Exit Analysis: Tom Kostopoulos

"I’m not the most skilled guy so I have to work hard everyday and every shift." - Tom Kostopoulos in conversation with Canes Country's Bob Wage in April.

It's been just over a year since Hurricanes fans learned that gritty right wing Tom Kostopoulos would be joining the team, signed to a three-year contract last July as a free agent, after playing two years with the Montreal Canadiens and the Kings prior to that. The N&O quoted GM Jim Rutherford the day after the signing on his expectations:

"He’s a tenacious player. He’s Chad LaRose — not as good a skater but bigger. He has that kind of energy. He’ll fit in well."

After the jump, let's focus on Kostopoulos' season to find out if he performed as advertised. Read through before grading him on his contributions to the team during the season

Back in early January, when the team's relentless cycle of injuries would not end, Coach Paul Maurice was scrambling daily to assemble twelve healthy forwards each game. Kostopoulos saw his ice time increase, as the recap of the Canes 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators explains:

"Tom has built and gotten stronger and more physical and, with Cole and Ruutu out, you lose some of that size up front, and he becomes a more valuable player for us," coach Paul Maurice said of Kostopoulos, who has three goals in the first 10 days of January.

Take a look at this 2-on-1 goal (with Brandon Sutter) that he scored that night to tie up the game at 1-1:

Kostopoulos is the only player for the Hurricanes who played a full 82 games. The ONLY one. And he didn't do it by "playing cautious" or avoiding contact. At his best, he was indeed all about banging bodies and hustle.

2009 - Tom Kostopoulos 82 8 13 21 4 106 0 2 0 0 103 7.8

The Good: A couple months ago I selected Kostopoulos as my nominee for the Canes Country "Selke Award" as the teams best defensive forward. Season phenom Brandon Sutter won in a landslide. However the lead photo at the top seems a good illustration of my point, as he battles 6 foot 4 inch , 257-pound crease-monster Dustin Byfuglien, while 6-5 Dman Andrew Alberts is seemingly out of the play. Kostopoulos is listed as 6-foot zero and 201 pounds (and is 31 years old). Canadian Chutzpah personified right there. I also would like to know which fourth line center he is covering for there in front of Cam Ward? That's sure not the conventional workspace of a fourth line right wing.

Here's how I made my case in April and it works just as well today:

For the season,Kostopoulos lead the Hurricanes in Penalty Kill Time on Ice, with 53 minutes more than Brandon Sutter, and averaging more than 2 minutes per game. He lead the team in plus/minus at +4. He put up the most hits among forwards and blocked the most shots. The MOST. And those 2 short-handed goals plus an assist on Cullen's shortie? Also the top-of the-list for Short-handed scoring. Sure he took some penalties himself - including the ten fighting majors - were those good or bad for the team's efforts to win? For the most part, I'd say they were okay. (And he had one less minor penalty than Eric Staal.)

The Bad: If we began the season expecting that Kostopoulos would be putting pucks in the net, then he definitely didn't deliver. Looking at the points-per-game stats for the team, he was ranked 18th overall, with only .26 PPG. That's less than "just-close-my-eyes-and shoot" Tim Gleason (.31ppg), and comparable to Rod Brind`Amour (.24ppg) during this -26 plus/minus season (and who garnered his fair share of criticism for his lack of production..ahem), and stay-at-home rookie defenseman Brett Carson (.22ppg). Among Carolina's forwards, only fellow fourth liners Stephane Yelle and Patrick Dwyer lagged much behind Kostopoulos in this category. Can we overlook this hole in his game? After all, it is consistent with the most traditional of roles for a team's fourth line. In fact, Kostopoulos'.26ppg is way better than say, Craig Adams, fourth line RW for the Penguins, whose 0-10-10 over 82 games gave him a ppg stat of only .16. Does TK's team-leading plus/minus of +4 on the season mitigate the lack of production?

The Money: Kostopoulos' three year contract is clearly at the very low end of the NHL payscale. In 2009-10 he was paid $700,000. Next season that jumps to $950,000, and finally up to $1.1mil in 2011-12.

With all of the above in mind, it's time to give the man his grade. And then I would like to hear your thoughts on how best Maurice should use TK next season. Is he forever "only" a fourth line player and PK specialist? Fits with his paycheck and his self-described style of play. Could he take the role of a veteran strong ("power" seems a little heavy of an adjective) forward, battling on the boards, crashing the net, and even easing the pressure on some of our young centers who may not have mastered NHL-level demands in their own end? (eg Riley Nash or Zac Dalpe).

To see the previous 2009-10 Exit Analyses click here.