20 for 20: Best 20 Hurricanes in their 20 NC seasons
Posted September 13
When the Carolina Hurricanes host the Minnesota Wild Saturday night, October 7 at PNC Arena, it will mark the start of the 20th season of NHL hockey in The Old North State. It would have been the 21st, but we had that whole work stoppage thing. However, far be it from me to complain, because losing the 2004-05 season played a major role in Carolina winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. So, as we approach our 21st year of the Canes, it’s time for us to celebrate the best team heading to our 20th season.
Presenting, my version of the All-Time Carolina Hurricanes team.
Note: This isn’t a franchise team, it’s a “Hurricanes” team, so if it happened in Hartford it doesn’t count.
Top Line: Rod Brind’Amour (C), Jeff Skinner (LW) and Erik Cole (RW)
Rod Brind’Amour (694 games, 174 goals, 473 points, 2 Selke Awards) is simply the best player ever to wear the uniform. For my money, he’s the most underrated captain in team sports and never once cheated the fans out of a day’s work. You could argue that he should have won the Conn Smythe in 2006 after scoring a team-high 12 goals in the Hurricanes run to winning the Stanley Cup. Who will ever forget the most important of those dozen goals, with the Canes on the precipice of falling down 3-0 in the series in Montreal, Brind’Amour chased down a Bret Hedican rink-length pass and squeezed it through Jose Theodore with just 8:33 left in the 3rd period.
Erik Cole (557 games, 168 goals, 363 points) was a remarkable player for the Hurricanes over two separate stints with the organization -- a flying power forward who played like he was shot from a cannon and treated his own body like a kid in a bounce house. Cole was on his way to becoming one of the best players in the entire league until that March night in Pittsburgh when he was injured by a questionable Brooks Orpik check. At that time, Cole had scored 30 goals in 60 games and was a plus-19. Unfortunately, Erik missed all but the last two games of the 2006 playoff run, but that’s not to say he didn’t have a post season impact for the Canes. In his rookie season, Cole scored the game-tying goal in the Miracle at Molson comeback in Montreal. (Forward to about 1:10 of this grainy standard definition video for Cole’s equalizer. Or watch the whole thing, get goosebumps, and spot several other members of this team on the ice.)
Jeff Skinner (497 games, 180 goals, 330 points) is second on the Hurricanes all-time goal scoring list. Only Eric Staal has more. But, when you consider that Skinner is just 25 and is coming off his most complete season in his 7-year career, it’s reasonable to think that as long as he remains a Hurricane, Jeff will blow by Eric before he turns 30. He scored 31 goals and stole the hearts of many a high school senior girl during his rookie season. And, while overcoming concussion issues that plagued him physically -- and more than likely psychologically -- over the years, Skinner seems to have returned to the player the organization drafted 7th overall in the summer of 2010. His 37 goals were a career best last year, but more importantly, he’s missed just three games the last two seasons.
Second Line: Eric Staal (C), Ray Whitney (LW) and Justin Williams (RW)
Eric Staal (909 games, 322 goals, 725 points) holds virtually every record in Hurricanes history. He scored a career-high 45 goals and rang up 100 points in the Stanley Cup year, added another 40 in the run to the conference finals in 2009 and scored at least 30 four other times. He was a four-time All Star and for all of the hand-wringing from fans who just would not be satisfied, Staal scored some of the most important goals in Canes history. After Brind’Amour got Carolina even with Montreal in Game 3 in 2006, it was Staal whose overtime marker gave the Hurricanes the win they had to have. It was Staal in front of the net against the Devils a couple of weeks later to put home an incredible pass from Justin Williams with three seconds left that sent Game 2 of that series to overtime. And, in 2009, Staal pushed Carolina past the Devils again, beating the clock late in the third period, and sending the Canes to the conference semi finals against Boston. (You can see that goal starting at about 3:15 of this video or, as before, watch the whole thing, feel the tingles and watch how many other great players contributed to that win.)
Ray Whitney (372 games, 119 goals, 334 points) played for eight teams in a 23-year career, but his five seasons with the Hurricanes were his best and most impactful. Former general manager Jim Rutherford stole Whitney for a song when the Red Wings were forced to buy him out after the lock out and he turned out to be one of the best forwards in Canes history. Ray was almost a point per game in five years, scored 32 in 2007, had three different 2-goal games in the 2006 playoffs and figured in every goal of the Canes’ 4-0 win over the Devils in Game 6 that sent the 2009 quarterfinal series back to New Jersey, the highlights of which you may have just watched.
Justin Williams (265 games, 81 goals, 201 points) didn’t have the “Mr. Game 7” nickname when he was in his first tour with the Hurricanes. No, he earned that during his time with the Los Angeles Kings. But, other than Brind’Amour, I don’t think Carolina has ever had a more reliable two-way player up front. He scored seven goals and totaled 18 points during the Stanley Cup season, was a remarkable plus-12 in the playoffs, and he scored the famous championship-cinching empty net goal that proved white hockey players could jump. But, Williams signature Carolina moment was probably the second game of the Devils series, when he somehow dug the puck out of the corner to set up Eric Staal with the game-tying goal 18 seconds after New Jersey’s Scott Gomez appeared to give the Devils a series-tying win.
Third Line: Ron Francis (C), Cory Stillman (LW), Jeff O’Neill (RW)
Ron Francis (472 gp, 118 goals, 354 points) is, was, and always will be “The Franchise”. But so much of his best work was done when the team was wearing different colors in a different part of the Atlantic Seaboard. Between you and me, I’d love one night with those colors, by I digress. What is easy to forget, however, is that Francis was still good -- really good -- when he came back to the team as a free agent for the 1998-99 season. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame, right? He was instant credibility for the franchise the day he signed, in some ways like Williams is today, signifying that the Triangle was a viable destination for the game’s stars. The moment that cements him on this team, of course, is his Game 1, overtime goal putting the upstart Hurricanes ahead of the heavily-favored Red Wings in the 2002 Finals. (Pick it up at 4:47 and watch the magic happen.)
Cory Stillman (191 games, 52 goals, 165 points) didn’t spend a long time in a Hurricanes sweater, and he certainly wasn’t a big goal-scorer. But, over his time in Raleigh — sorry, his three stints with the Canes — he managed to make everyone around him better. Stillman had a 7-game point streak in the 2006 post season, scored 26 points in the 25 games and was arguably the Canes best player in their Game 4 win in Edmonton that gave Carolina the breathing room they’d need to win the Cup.
Jeff O’Neill (536 games, 176 goals, 359 points) is the only Hurricanes player not named Eric Staal to reach the 40-goal mark. O-Dog scored 127 goals in a 4-year stretch (1999-2003) including a 41-goal year output in 2001. O’Neill was a rugged old-school goal scorer, who famously took a puck to the eye during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2002 and returned to score the game winner in OT.
Fourth Line: Matt Cullen (C), Martin Gelinas (LW), Sami Kapanen (RW)
Matt Cullen (266 games, 72 goals, 181 points) probably benefited from the Hurricanes teams he played on. He only spent three full seasons in Carolina, and he was never a top-6 forward -- at least on a regular basis. But, his only 20-goal seasons came with the Canes including his 25-goal 2006 in which he filled so many roles for a championship team. There’s a reason Jim Rutherford coaxed him out of retirement in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago and a reason he acquired him TWICE for the Canes.
Martin Gelinas (348 games, 75 goals, 165 points) was more of a grizzled veteran by the time he arrived in Carolina in the middle of the 1997-98 season. By then, his best offensive days might have been in the rear view mirror, but he was a steady, 2-way forward with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. His place on this team was cemented, however with his series-clinching, overtime goal at Toronto in the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals.
Sami Kapanen (440 games, 127 goals, 314 points) was one of the stalwarts from those first Hurricanes teams. Never a star, but Kapanen averaged almost 25 goals per year from 1997-2002, missed just 13 games during that time, and scored twice in the Canes’ 2001 Game 4 win over the Devils that kept the series alive.
Top defensive pair: Glen Wesley and Sean Hill
Glen Wesley (749 games, 35 goals, 155 points, plus-38) would never wow you with an offensive burst, he wasn’t the fastest skater, and there were absolutely no frills to his game. Wes was just there, night after night after night after night. When you go to PNC Arena, look up in the rafters. See that number “2” banner hanging with the “10” and the “17”, that’s why he’s on this list.
Sean Hill (369 games, 38 goals, 157 points, plus 11) was one of the early givens on the Hurricanes blue line. Big shot, physical play and timely goals were always part of the equation with Hill. He scored four goals and rang up eight points during the 2002 playoffs and scored the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup Finals goal early in the second period of Game 1 against the Red Wings.
Second defensive pair: Bret Hedican and Tim Gleason
Bret Hedican (369 games, 19 goals, 101 points) came to the Hurricanes in the middle of the 2001-02 season in a trade that ended up solidifying the defensive corps for a lot longer than anyone would realize. Hedican was a critical part of both the 2002 and 2006 teams that went to the Finals -- on both ends. He registered 16 points in 48 post season games for the Canes, none more important than the assist on Rod Brind’Amour’s goal in Montreal in ’06 that helped rescue Carolina from a third consecutive loss.
Tim Gleason (546 games, 14 goals, 107 points) was everything the Hurricanes needed when 2005 top draft pick Jack Johnson proved to be too much of a problem for the organization. Gleason was a rock, a solid, physical, no-flash defenseman who stuck up for his teammates and helped anchor the Canes blue line for years. Among his five points -- all assists -- in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals run was an athletic, desperate shovel pass to Joni Pitkanen than eventually ended up in a Jussi Jokinen goal that tied Game 7 late in the 3rd period in New Jersey during the opening round.
Third defensive pair: Justin Faulk and Niclas Wallin
Justin Faulk (401 games, 66 goals, 192 points) is emerging as the most dangerous offensive defenseman in Hurricanes history. Carolina has probably never had a player on the blue line with the booming shot Faulk possesses and he’s been lethal on the power play. In fact, two years ago, Faulk’s first dozen goals came with the man advantage.
Niclas Wallin (517 games, 18 goals, 69 points) played nine seasons in Carolina without ever being part of a top pairing on the blue line. But, the playoffs create strange heroes and the man with just 18 career regular season goals for the Canes somehow became The Secret Weapon when the playoffs rolled around. Wallin scored three overtime goals in the post season. He ended the aforementioned Miracle at Molson and sent Toronto home begging in Game 2 of that series in 2002. Four years later, following the euphoria of Justin Williams and Eric Staal combining to send the second game of the Eastern Semi Finals with the Devils to overtime, Wallin worked his magic again.
The Secret Weapon’s three playoff overtime goals are one more than both Guy Lafleur and Mike Modano, and three more than Alex Ovechkin, who has as many post season overtime goals as he has Stanley Cups.
Goaltenders: Cam Ward and Arturs Irbe
Cam Ward (625 games, 295-230-80 record, 2.70 GAA, .909 save percentage, Conn Smythe Trophy) is the best goaltender in Hurricanes history. Was he always great? Nope. Was he great when he was really needed to be great? Yes. For a franchise that struggled to find “the guy”, Cam became just that in the 2006 playoffs. He stepped in for a struggling Martin Gerber and posted a 2.14 GAA/.920 SV% in the 2006 playoffs and was named the MVP of the playoffs. He was similarly great in 2009 before the Penguins swept Carolina out of the post season. This save on Edmonton’s Fernando Pisani should be enough for anyone.
Arturs Irbe (309 games, 130-122-44 record, 2.49 GAA, .906 save percentage) was a very good goaltender who, when he wasn’t playing, would often be found taping and re-taping his equipment. But, aside from the eccentric behavior, Irbe had high-end moments. And, his 2002 playoff performance nearly carried the Canes past a team laden with Hall of Fame Detroit Red Wings. Irbe was better than Detroit’s Dominik Hasek throughout that post season, with a 1.67 GAA and a .938 save percentage. If the Red Wings don’t score late and win Game 3 in overtime, the Canes might have had two Conn Smythe-winning net minders.
Head Coach: Peter Laviolette
See those banners hanging from the rafters? Nuff said. Even though Paul Maurice won more games and took them to two more post seasons than Lavy, lifting the cup will always win the day. Plus, when Maurice comes back to lead the team to the 2024 Stanley Cup title he’ll be the head coach of the 30th Season Team.