The players who comprise the top five in our Top 20 At 20 countdown all share plenty of silverware in common. Each won a major trophy during their stint with the Carolina Hurricanes. Four were crowned Stanley Cup champions with the Canes, and the fifth came within three games of doing so. Nine players received votes from every writer and from the commenters, and all five of today’s players did so. These players were clearly the best of the best, and now it’s time to find out who claims the top spot.
5. Cam Ward
Years with Canes: 2005-Present
Goaltending totals: .909 save percentage, 2.69 GAA, 25 shutouts in 510 games
How acquired: Drafted 25th overall in 2002
The only legitimate franchise goaltender the Hurricanes have ever seen, Ward is the only player remaining from the 2006 Stanley Cup team on the current roster. While he was the number-two goaltender for most of his rookie season behind Martin Gerber, the Canes turned to him after they dropped their first two games against the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, and he didn’t disappoint. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy, the only rookie netminder since Patrick Roy to do so, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.14 goals-against average in the playoffs that year. He would again help the Hurricanes reach the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. That following season he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. Ward has certainly had his struggles at points over his career, but at other times he has gone on hot streaks that have propelled the team at critical junctures. He is by far the most decorated goaltender in franchise history. - Matt Krombach
4. Glen Wesley
Years with Canes: 1997-Spring 2003, Fall 2003-2008
Scoring totals: 35 goals, 120 assists, 155 points in 729 games
How acquired: Acquired by Hartford from Boston for three first-round picks on 8/26/1994. Re-acquired as a free agent on 7/8/2003.
As one of three former Canes to have their number retired, Wesley is already etched in gold letters as a Carolina legend. The company he keeps in the rafters speaks volumes about his importance to the franchise, but his name stands tall by itself as well. Wesley was a key cog in the defensive machine during the 2002 Cup run, and his experienced served him well as he served as the stoic leader on the blue line during the Cup win in 2006. His leadership ability and performance on and off the ice cannot be understated, and his legend continues still — Wesley's son Josh is now in the Canes organization, splitting time between AHL Charlotte and ECHL Florida.
Wesley’s number being retired elicited some head-scratching outside of Carolina, but the history of the Carolina Hurricanes cannot be written without his contributions and his steadying influence. Through the early seasons in Greensboro to two Stanley Cup Final appearances, the last of which was the crowning achievement of a long, storied career, Wesley has few peers. - Peter Dewar
Editor’s note: the next three players each received at least one first-place vote.
3. Eric Staal
Years with Canes: 2003-2016
Scoring totals: 322 goals, 453 assists, 775 points in 909 games
How acquired: Drafted 2nd Overall in 2003
An incredibly strong case can be made for Staal being higher on this list due to his overall standing statistically with the Hurricanes as well as his longevity and contribution to the team’s successes. He is the Canes’ all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, penalty minutes, power play goals and game-winning goals, among many others. Staal also carries the distinction of being Carolina's longest serving captain, wearing the "C" from 2010 to 2016. His 2005-06 season, where he posted 100 points (45G, 55A) is by far the best offensive season by any player to ever put on a Canes sweater and culminated in a playoff run where Staal put up 28 points in 25 games, dominating the postseason en route to a Stanley Cup victory. He was at his best in the playoffs, with 43 points in 43 career playoff games with Carolina, spurring them to long runs when he got the opportunity.
Unfortunately, those opportunities were few and far between during his time with the club. The six-time NHL All-Star was consistently an iron man for the Canes, missing more than five games in a season just once (2009-10) in 12 seasons with the team. His time with Carolina came to an end last season, when he was traded to the New York Rangers for two second round picks and prospect Aleksi Saarela. Staal signed with the Minnesota Wild this offseason, and has played an integral part with the Western Conference leaders. - Kevin LeBlanc
2. Ron Francis
Years with Canes: 1998-2004
Scoring Totals: 118 goals, 236 assists, 354 points in 473 games
How Acquired: Signed as a free agent by Carolina on 7/13/98
After an illustrious career with the Hartford Whalers and Pittsburgh Penguins, Francis made the decision to return to the franchise that drafted him for a new chapter in 1998, and what a chapter it was. Francis captained the Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance, really putting hockey in Carolina on the map. As a member of the Hurricanes, Francis scored his 500th goal and moved into second place in NHL history in assists, behind only Wayne Gretzky. The defining moment of his Carolina career, however, was when he struck in overtime of Game 1 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Final to give the Hurricanes a shocking victory over the loaded Detroit Red Wings to kick off the series. Francis’ number 10 was the first retired by the Hurricanes since the move, and he was the first player who spent significant time with the Canes to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, an honor he earned on the first ballot in 2007. - Kyle Morton
1. Rod Brind’Amour
Years with Canes: 2000-2010
Scoring totals: 174 goals, 299 assists, 473 points in 694 games
How acquired: From Philadelphia with Jean-Marc Pelletier and a second-round pick for Keith Primeau and a fifth-round pick, 1/23/2000
Rod Brind’Amour’s initiation to the Triangle came in a hurry. Traded from Philadelphia to Carolina the day before a historic snowstorm hit Raleigh, burying the capital under two feet of snow, Brind’Amour was stuck in an unfamiliar city, his car stuck in a parking lot, with one suitcase of clothes.
Needless to say, it wasn’t a harbinger of things to come — and thank goodness.
Compared to the two players in the spots below him on this countdown, Brind’Amour’s statistics are solid, but not record-setting. But the importance of Brind’Amour to the Hurricanes goes beyond statistics. Named an alternate captain in 2001, he was part of the leadership team that led the Canes to an Eastern Conference title that season. His first season as captain ended in the franchise’s only Stanley Cup, leading the team with twelve goals in the 2006 postseason. He won two consecutive Selke Trophies as the league’s top defensive forward in 2006 and 2007.
He also captained them to another appearance in the Eastern Conference final in 2009 at age 38, a year before he hung up the skates for good, at the time ranking 16th in NHL history with 1,484 games played in his 20-year career. Of the retired players above him on that list, only former teammate Mark Recchi is not in the Hall of Fame, a place both he and Brind’Amour should already find themselves. As an assistant coach today, Brind’Amour remains involved in shaping the direction of the franchise the same way he did during his playing career.
The ecstatic scream he cut loose on hoisting the Stanley Cup, memorably swiping it from Gary Bettman’s hands before giving the commissioner time to finish his speech, never mind a photo op, echoes through PNC Arena today. Over the years, the 2006 Cup win has come to be seen by those outside North Carolina as a fluke, the rules changes out of the lockout benefiting those teams who took advantage of them. But it happened, and no amount of rewriting history can change that fact. Rod Brind’Amour was at the center of it all, the most decorated player in the history of the Carolina Hurricanes, and a worthy capstone of our Top 20 countdown. Until and unless some player way down the road dethrones him, he will always be simply The Captain. - Brian LeBlanc