For the better part of the past decade, the Carolina Hurricanes franchise has been mired in near misses. Points lost at inopportune times, draft picks that never panned out and star players that were supposed to save the floundering hockey club have all combined to pile up the misery. But when you look up the definition of “so close yet so far” in the Hurricanes dictionary, the 2010-2011 team may very well have its team photo next to the phrase.
The arrival of a (still) baby-faced Jeff Skinner was a shot in the arm to a team that already had established veterans in the likes of Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Tuomo Ruutu and Cam Ward. The Canes were feeling good and had already passed their point total for the season prior before the end of March. All the team had to do in order to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season and only the second since hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup was win a game against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had already clinched its spot in the postseason.
It was, as it turned out, easier said than done.
On the final day of the season, the club laid an egg to the tune of a 6-2 drubbing that ended their shot at playoff glory and continued a trend that we know all too familiar to this day.
An important rule change was made prior to the season that had big implications. The Canes finished the season with 91 points, good for third in the now defunct Southeast Division. That point total was two short of the New York Rangers, but the NHL had just changed the previous tie-breaker rules so that shoot-out wins would no longer count into your win total during the season when comparing two teams. With the Hurricanes entering game 82, they had two fewer points than New York but the same number of regulation/overtime wins (ROW). A victory would catapult the Hurricanes over the Blueshirts into the playoffs. We all know what happened next but what if…
In an alternate universe, the Hurricanes pulled off a thrilling 4-2 win with Chad LaRose (great hockey name) icing the game with an empty-netter. The Hurricanes, in as the East’s eighth seed, would go on to play the high-powered and top-seeded Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. It’s my humble opinion that our hockey club would have fought hard but ultimately fallen short of closing out a series against Alex Ovechkin and company.
However, that isn’t as important as what happens after.
At the end of the season, Joe Corvo was shipped out to Boston for a draft pick and Erik Cole signed a deal with Montreal for four years and $18 million. Corvo was shipped out because management probably felt the team was farther away then the standings indicated and Cole most likely felt the same individually. But what if both players stayed and helped stabilize a burgeoning young-core and assist in taking the team yet another step forward?
Now, neither players are offensive juggernauts, but both play a specific role very well and could have aided the team moving forward. Instead of the team struggling out of the gate and Paul Maurice being replaced by (eye roll) Kirk Muller in November, Maurice is still at the helm, enabling Skinner to be used properly, and helps the Hurricanes return to the post-season for a second year in a row in 2012.
Suddenly, Carolina isn’t scaring off big name free agents and Jim Rutherford doesn’t have to scrounge for players. I’m not saying the tandem Zach Parise/Ryan Suter signing would’ve taken place in Raleigh but hey, a guy can dream right?
The biggest change from game 82 of the 2010-2011 season would be the culture change. You know, the same culture change that you’ve been hearing about all summer? Yes, that one. A win over Tampa could have possibly righted the ship before it got so far off course that we are still waiting on playoff hockey to return in 2018.
Or maybe it just would have resulted in another year of Kirk Muller.