This will be a very interesting month for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Conventional wisdom has been dictating for months that the Canes would automatically be sellers on or before trade deadline day on February 29. Your humble narrator felt the same way, but hold the phones.
Here we are at the all star break and the Canes find themselves just a point outside the playoff line. There are several teams in mix, as well as games in hand for the opposition, but there is other positive news to look at other than the standings.
The club is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. They have earned the fourth most points of any team in the NHL since December 2. They are showing some real chemistry on the ice and they are generating some excitement in the stands.
Most importantly, the Hurricanes have been playing some good hockey.
Sure, there have been a few stinkers, like the loss to the Rangers, but for the most part these Canes have been in every game since early December.
Is it all a fluke? My answer is no.
We can see this young defense grow before our very eyes and they are a joy to watch. They have made believers of most who watch them. Coach Peters is finally sticking with consistent lines, and it shows. The goaltending has improved. The line of Jordan Staal, Joakim Nordstrom, and Andrej Nestrasil has been outright dominant.
Speaking of Jordan Staal, he has been playing his best hockey as a Hurricane.
If this team is still within a point or two of the playoff line come February 29, should it still be broken up? Is it fair to break them up?
What type of message would their general manager send to them if the team does everything that is asked of them, is one of the hottest teams in the league, and he yanks the plug on them? Isn't that defeating the whole purpose of playing?
Chemistry is a fragile thing and something that is hard to define. A lesser team with good chemistry can defeat a better team at times, as we have seen with recent Carolina wins over Washington and Chicago. Do you mess with a team's chemistry if they are winning?
Most would not.
While some might argue that the franchise would get a king's ransom for Eric Staal if he was on the block and that is too valuable to turn away from, my reply would be that the chance of making the playoffs is even more valuable and should not be turned away from.
The Canes have the lowest attendance numbers in the league, by far, (11,561 per game) and are drawing the fewest fans in Raleigh since ESPN has been keeping track of these numbers, (2000-2001).
What will do more to gain interest at the PNC? Competing for a playoff spot or getting a couple of extra draft picks, which may or may not pan out? Chances are, they would not pan out because they would not be receiving a top ten pick.
And what if the impossible happens and the Canes actually make the playoffs? Do you think that might affect attendance now and in the near future?
There are arguments stating that it won't matter if the team does get lucky and makes the playoffs, the team is not built for a championship.
Tell that to the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, who finished as the eight seed and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals. In their opening round they beat the first seeded Detroit Red Wings, who looked to be the dominant team in the league after winning the President's Trophy that season.
Remember when the Canes had a 5% chance to make the postseason? According to Sports Club Stats , the Canes currently have an 18.6% chance of getting in.
The final decisions whether or not to re-sign Eric Staal, Kris Versteeg, and others have yet to be determined by Ron Francis. The merits of both sides are being argued back and forth by the fanbase. Shouldn't part of the decision making process be, whether or not they help this team make it to the playoffs?
If Staal got on a hot streak and pushed this team into the postseason, it would seem to me that he'd be making a pretty good case for himself to stay. If not? Then it's another reason not to re-sign him.
Then there is the coaching staff. Bill Peters was recently quoted as saying that he did not care about "green bananas". In other words, he was focused on winning in the present, not about what might happen in the future.
Peters and his coaching staff have worked extremely hard and this team has improved. Should Francis pull the rug from underneath him and break up the team, if they have a realistic shot of making the playoffs? Peters might be fired before any of these so-called high end draft picks come of age.
Anything can happen in the next 25 days. The team could go on a losing streak and then all bets are off. They should sell away as planned.
But if the team is on the cusp of the playoffs at the end of the month, I believe they should be allowed to go for it with the group they have now.
If you think that gathering up draft picks is a guaranteed recipe for success, you might be sadly mistaken. Ask the Oilers about that as well.
A month ago, I was in the sell, sell, sell mode myself, but this team has won me over. I have actually enjoyed watching them play lately. After the top few teams, the Eastern Conference is wide open. The Hurricanes have as good a chance as any to make it.
At the start of every season, the primary goal of any hockey player and any hockey team is to make the playoffs. If these players are on the brink on the 29th, Ron Francis should not stand in their way.