Editor’s note: As SB Nation continues to do theme weeks with sports shut down, this week’s is “best teams to never win a championship”. While the Hurricanes don’t have much in the category of “clear cut title contenders that fell short”, they’ve seen plenty of remarkable runs. So, we’re going to highlight a few of those teams, what made them special and what ultimately kept them from winning. We’ll also be looking at two strong regular seasons with heartbreaking finishes. The series will feature five total teams, continuing today with a heartbreaking finish to the 2007-08 season.
2007-2008 Record: 43-33-6 (92 Points)
2007-2008 Standings: 2nd Southeast Division, 9th Eastern Conference
The Carolina Hurricanes had a relatively quiet off-season between the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons. They signed three free agents with only two, Wade Brookbank and Jeff Hamilton, playing in the NHL during the season.
At the 2007 NHL Draft, the Canes had only five picks. The Canes second-round pick was used to acquire Mark Recchi in 2006, and their seventh-round pick went to the Montreal Canadiens for goaltender Michael Leighton. This draft was notable for the Hurricanes as they selected center Brandon Sutter with the 11th overall pick. Sutter was the only pick to really stick in the NHL and has played 11 seasons in the NHL for three teams. He played three full seasons with the Canes scoring 52 goals, before being traded to Pittsburgh for Jordan Staal.
The Canes also drafted Drayson Bowman (72nd), Justin McCrae (102nd), Chris Terry (132nd), and Brett Bellemore (162nd), none of which played a full season for the Hurricanes during their tenure with the organization. This was in the middle of the drafting desert for the Hurricanes that started in 2004 and didn’t end until the 2010 entry draft.
After the draft, on July 17 the Carolina Hurricanes would make their final move of the off-season to re-acquire Matt Cullen. They traded Andrew Hutchinson, Joe Barnes and a third-round pick in the 2008 draft to the New York Rangers. Cullen had left the Hurricanes after they won the Stanley Cup in 2006 when he signed a four-year contract with the Rangers. This was not the last time the Canes would spend assets to acquire a former player who they let walk in a previous season.
The Canes were led by captain Rod Brind’Amour for the 2007-2008 season. The alternates for the season were Glen Wesley, Ray Whitney and Cory Stillman. Stillman was replaced by Eric Staal after his departure. While the team did have a good amount of turnover between the 2006 and 2007, there wasn’t much between 2007 and 2008. There was still a sizable contingent on the team that won the Cup just two seasons prior.
A weak middle kills the season
The Carolina Hurricanes had a very up-and-down season but book-ended it with great performances. They got off to a strong start in the season with a 7-3-3 record in October, with a 3-1-2 record in the infamous state fair road trip that did them in for many seasons. Through their first 17 games they had a record of 11-4-3 and were in a good spot.
They were led by Staal’s 38 goals and 82 points, both of which were the second best of his career behind only the 2005-2006 season. They only had two other three other 20 goal scorers, Whitney, Erik Cole and Stillman.
However, in the coming months they dug a hole too big to be able to dig out. The next 36 games which spanned from November to January they earned just 29 points with a 14-21-1 record. Part of this was the lack of backup goaltending.
Starting goaltender Cam Ward played in 69 games during the season, the second most in his career behind the 75 games he played in the 2010-2011 season. A big reason was initial backup John Grahame struggling mightily. He had a 5-7-1 record throughout the season with a 3.75 goals-against average and .875 save percentage Despite acquiring Michael Leighton from the Canadiens, they didn’t lean on him as a backup. He played in just three games with a 1-1-0 record and a .897 save percentage.
Ward himself wasn’t phenomenal through the season, but they had no other choice. His .904 save percentage was enough to with 37 games but was his 10th worst season as a Cane. As a comparison this was a worse save percentage and goals against average than each of his final two seasons with the Canes when there were calls for his head on a pike from fans.
In the final two months of the season the Canes climbed all the way back into the playoff race with a 16-7-2 record.
In classic late 2000’s and 2010’s Canes fashion, they lost three of their last four games and lost by a combined score of 12-7. They missed the playoffs by two points in what would be Peter Laviolette’s final full season.
A win over the Florida Panther’s in the team’s regular season finale would have clinched the Southeast Division Title and three seed in the playoffs for the Canes, but the Canes fell 4-3 despite outshooting Florida 46-17. The Washington Capitals clinched the division and knocked the Canes out with a win over, ironically, Florida.
If the Canes were to have snuck into the playoffs, they would have faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. Philadelphia beat Washington with an overtime goal from Joffrey Lupul in game seven. It’s difficult to say if the Canes would have fared any better than Washington, but it’s entirely possible a team heavy on championship experience would have made it to round two.
In the semifinals, the Canes would have faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it’s very likely things would have ended there. The Penguins went on to make the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost in six games against the Detroit Red Wings. That Penguins team was one of their deepest they had including Marc-Andre Fleury’s second-best statistical season. They went on to win the Stanley Cup the next season. The Canes would have lost a long series to an incredibly talented team.
Jim Rutherford shakes things up
During the slump the Canes made a series of trades, which saw them win one and lose two. On Jan. 17, the Canes traded Craig Adams to the Chicago Blackhawks for future considerations, aka nothing. While Adams only had five points to that point in the season, he was never a player that was going to score points, his career high was 21 in the 05-06 season. Adams of course went on to play eight more seasons, won a cup with the Penguins, and played a part in six of their postseason runs.
On Feb. 11, the Canes traded Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman to the Ottawa Senators for Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves. This trade was a wash, but saw the Canes get younger, which they really needed to do during the season. Stillman was starting to slow down, and the Canes traded him at the perfect time as he decreased in effectiveness each year following the trade. Eaves only stuck around for two seasons, but Corvo spent five more seasons with the Canes as an offensive defenseman.
In their final midseason trade, the Hurricanes sent Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks for Tuomo Ruutu. Ladd was on the final year of his contract and the Canes were able to get a future fan favorite for him in return. The Canes lost the best player in the trade, but they didn’t get fleeced. Ruutu would play seven seasons for the Canes and eclipsed the 20-goal mark one time.
The Canes were also fortunate to claim Sergei Samsonov off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks. While he struggled in Chicago with four points in his 23 games, he eaned 14 goals and 18 assists with the Hurricanes in the final 38 games of the season.
Overall the team was able to turn around the season mid-February when the trades changed the tide with the new players only losing five games after Feb. 19. It was clear what they were able to do, just one year later. However, the issue came down the stream long term. This was one of the years that the Canes were a fringe team and made some moves that didn’t work out long term. Eventually this led to light drafts with more missed picks and middling trades where they continued to lose the best player in the deal.
The 2007-08 team had potential, but ultimately fell just short of returning to the playoffs.