Adam Gold

Canes changes will have to come from within

Posted March 2, 2014
Updated March 3, 2014

Kirk Muller Pic Post-Montreal

The numbers are bleak. However, the reality and the rebuild might be worse.

With 22 games left to play, the Carolina Hurricanes are not only seven points out of a playoff spot, but they're in 13th place in the Eastern Conference. That means there are five teams to leapfrog over the final six weeks of the season. Under normal circumstances, the task would be daunting, but it's the secondary numbers that tell the true story.

When the Canes went to bed January 31st, they were sleeping on a 3-1 win over the St Louis Blues -- one of the best, and toughest teams in the Western Conference -- and in prime position. Carolina was third in the Metropolitan Division, winners of five of their last six and looking at three more home games before players scattered for the Olympic break. It looked as though, finally, Kirk Muller had his team playing his brand of aggressive, attacking hockey. It was almost a shame that the team had to sit on the euphoria of that win over St. Louie, maybe their most complete game of the year when you consider the opponent as well as the performance.

Three nights later central division, cellar-dwelling Winnipeg came to town and beat the Canes 2-1 on a goal with just over a minute remaining. And even though Carolina would bounce back a few days later with an easy win over Florida, the damage was done. Dominated and lethargic in a 4-1 loss to the Canadiens, the Canes ended the pre-Olympic schedule with a thud, dropping two of three, and falling three points out of the final playoff spot.

Unfortunately, it was more of the same after the closing ceremonies.

Carolina played well Tuesday night in Buffalo, but nonetheless dropped the opener of a five game road trip. Thursday in Dallas they weren't ready to play and paid the price, losing 4-1. Then Saturday afternoon they fell 3-1 in Los Angeles. Four goals in three post-Sochi games, and a total of five in their fourth consecutive loss. The offense that looked more than adequate since a New Year's Eve comeback win over Montreal had suddenly gone dry. From December 31 through the end of January, Carolina scored 52 goals, roughly 3 1/2 per game -- and that's with being shut out three times -- in going 11-4 over that stretch.

Those were the days.

The Canes offensive woes are evident throughout the line up. They're 22nd in the NHL in scoring, and a lot of that is due to a power play so impotent, no yellow pill could get it going. Carolina is 29th in the league with the man advantage having scored just 28 power play goals all season -- or, a little more than half as much as Pittsburgh's 50. In today's NHL, you have to get something out of your special teams and the Canes just don't.

Carolina is only slightly better at killing penalties, ranking 21st, which isn't a whole lot to text home about. But, we could lament the scoring woes all night long and it wouldn't really begin to tell the story of the future of this team. Because the truth of the matter is that if this franchise is going to get back into the playoffs, this is the group of players that is going to bring it there.

Carolina does not have a player coming up in the system that resembles a top-six forward or a top-line defenseman. Elias Lindholm, this year's fifth round pick, has proven that he wasn't really ready to play with the men in the NHL. I'm not doubting his future, most of the people who know better than I, think he's a very good player who may eventually be a second line center. Ryan Murphy, the 12th pick in the 2011 draft has had a tough first full year in the league and, in-fact, has been sent to the minors.

Those are the two best prospects in the Hurricanes system. After that, there are a few solid blue liners, but no one thought to be a player you could slot into the top four. No high-scoring wingers, no physical defensemen and no goalie-of-the-future.

This is the team you have unless team president Jim Rutherford can figure something out on the trade market. But, what does Carolina have to offer that would bring back a significant return? No one is trading for ANY of the Canes' high-dollar players. Cam Ward, even when healthy, wasn't playing well enough for a team in need to roll the dice on a $6 million price tag for two more years. Alex Semin and his 5-year albatross of a contract? Even if he was producing like a $7 million annual player, who among the few teams with that kind of salary cap room is going to take that chance. What about Jordan Staal? 27 points in 59 games doesn't exactly put him in Lee Majors territory.

So what does this team have to sell? Ron Hainsey? I'd just as soon sign him to an extension than send him somewhere for a 4th round pick. He's a good player, shouldn't be too expensive, and as I pointed out earlier, there isn't exactly anyone coming to push him out of the line up. Jiri Tlusty? Tuomo Ruutu? Patrick Dwyer? You might find suitors for one of them -- though the $10 million owed to Ruutu over the next two seasons could be an obstacle -- but what would you possibly get in return?

The Carolina Hurricanes have but two viable assets that might bring something valuable in return. The first is Anton Khudobin. Even though Khudobin is the best goaltender in a Carolina sweater right how, and gives this team the better chance to win on any given night, Cam Ward is going to be the goalie next year. Unless Cam is more Rick DiPietro than Martin Brodeur, Ward will be the number one net minder for the franchise until he proves that he can't. But Khudobin, with his $800,000 dollar price tag and no commitment for next year, that's easily a tradable commodity for something of value.

The other asset would hurt, at least with a certain segment of the fan demographic. Jeff Skinner hasn't come close to returning to the player he was as a rookie, though he flashed signs that it was coming about a month ago. But, if you could turn Skinner into a couple of upper echelon prospects, you'd have to consider the move.

Other than those players, I fail to see a move of significance for the Canes. Trading anything else wouldn't bring enough in return. And, it would seem, well, let's just say unlikely that there's another team to bail Carolina out of payroll jail like the Dodgers did for the Red Sox two years ago. Make no mistake, Carolina is in a bad way with their roster when it comes to salaries, with nearly $50 million committed next year to just 12 players.

Well, there's always the draft. Yeah, about that…..

The Hurricanes have just two players from the last six drafts that have made a significant impact on this -- or any other -- franchise; Skinner and Justin Faulk.

On the bright side, there isn't any reason why this team, with these players, no matter how over valued they might be, can't be a productive team that makes the playoffs and is dangerous once they're in the field. All they really need is a healthy dose of nasty to their line up. Or they could change head coaches again.

I'm not advocating for firing Kirk Muller, I think he's a good coach. But, this team sure doesn't play with the consistency, and tenacity necessary to do what's needed to earn one of those eight playoff spots. Maybe he's not the right guy after all. Too bad Paul Maurice has a gig right now.

It's been a long time since the Carolina Hurricanes were in a playoffs. While it's possible that changes could be in the offing, the more I look at it the more I believe that this is the team, for better or worse. They'll either dig their way out of this hole, or we'll dance to the same music a year from now.

12 Comments

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  • NoDumpingThePuck Mar 4, 2014

    View quoted thread



    Unfortunately I agree, but JR can be a man and do the deed himself. If he really cares about this franchise, he will step down and mentor a young GM as an owner.

  • thereo Mar 4, 2014

    The problem with the Canes comes mainly in two parts.
    First: JR can't seem to assess talent in the drafts very well. We have no depth in the Checkers team which falls upon JR. Other teams draft young talent that needs work but can be brought along. Nash, Bowman, Boychuck? Really?
    Second, Eric Staal has got to go. He is the cancer of this team, and is not deserving of the C on his sweater. Laziness, bad attitude, bad penalties, etc. When he was out with his injury, the team started winning and playing with life. As soon as he returned, the team fell backwards, again.
    Things are the main two things but there are plenty more that we could bring up.

  • wlcat609 Mar 4, 2014

    The good news for the Canes as they continue this slide - right now they'd have the sixth pick in the draft. Having said that relatively few of the draftees of the past have appeared in a Cane's uniform in the regular season.

    And if you really want to be realistic, the Canes really don't have much to trade as this point - think about it!

  • collegetown44 Mar 4, 2014

    Unfortunately, Karmanos is never going to just fire Rutherford. He is loyal to JR, and I don't see that happening in the near future. It is similar to what the Panthers owner and former GM Hurney had, basically these local owners like things personal and not business.

  • thomasew52 Mar 3, 2014

    Too many $s invested in the wrong people, now, can't get rid of them. Bad situation.

  • Jeanne Gunn Mar 2, 2014

    I don't see the Canes digging - or skating - their way out of the hole they've dug themselves into, unfortunately.

    Muller may not be the right coach, but I don't know who could turn this team around.

    As for trades, I hope they don't put Khudobon on the block; he's one of the few players who has played consistently well. And why does it seem that players who floundered in Raleigh have success with other teams (Cole, Whitney, Jokenin, to name a few).

    There's something rotten in Raleigh, and until that changes, it's tee time instead of playoffs.

  • neal7694 Mar 2, 2014

    Time for JR to step aside and let someone else oversee this mess. Whoever is the PP coach needs to go as well.

  • JPack Mar 2, 2014

    Change shouldn't come from within. It should come from above. The wrong people are being held accountable. The decisions that put us in this spot didn't come from the ice or the bench. They came from the office.

  • amcrimmon Mar 2, 2014

    Time for Rutherford to go, he has proven to ineffective at evaluating talent.

  • melledge Mar 2, 2014

    Adam, if you're going to put yourself out there as a expert about hockey, at least learn how to spell Coach Muller's name. It makes the rest of your assertions look amateurish.

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4th
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CHA 95
 
2nd
DUKE 66
WAKE 29
 
Final
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CIN 2
 
Final
TEX 2
KAN 13
 
Final
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OAK 9
 
Final
SEA 4
SDP 3
 
Final
MIL 8
WMIL 0
 
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COL 3
ARI 6
 
9th
MIN 3
UMIN 1
 
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NYK 82
 
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ORL 100
PHO 105
 
4th
BRK 68
CHA 95
 
4th
TOR 93
CLE 94
 
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BOS 72
UTA 68
 
3rd
MIN 51
DEN 66
 
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NOP 52
DET 50
 
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MIA 52
LAL 55
 
3rd
HOU 72
MEM 73
 
3rd
OKC 60
PHI 62
 
2nd
SAN 45
SAC 36
 
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GSW
MIL
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LAC
POR
Final
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LIB 70
 
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OSU 77
 
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USB 62
BING 57
 
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DUQ 81
 
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GMAS 51
GWU 67
 
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HART 52
 
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STJOE 55
LAS 50
 
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Terriers 79
LIU 70
 
Final
GTDNS 83
MAINE 66
 
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LOU 59
ND 71
 
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SHU 66
PROV 79
 
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BRY 91
SHU 85
 
Final
MORE 79
SEMIZ 74
 
Final
MNTER 58
RFLSH 73
 
Final
LSU 63
TENN 78
 
Final
SFLA 74
UCF 45
 
Final
VERM 66
UMBC 39
 
Final
RMU 91
WAGN 68
 
2nd
UMASS 50
RICH 56
 
2nd
TULA 46
HOU 43
 
2nd
YALE 58
HOW 43
 
2nd
PITT 47
MIAMI 49
 
2nd
TXPA 35
NMST 45
 
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MSU 39
PURD 33
 
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STLU 37
BONA 48
 
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DUKE 66
WAKE 29
 
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CIN 12
 
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VANDY 22
MSST 29
 
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OKST 17
TCU 21
 
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UCLA 32
USC 19
 
1st
WYO 30
UTST 22
 
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