Canes answer questions as season ends
Posted April 5, 2011
Think back to Oct. 6, the day before the start of the Carolina Hurricanes season opener in Finland.
The Canes were picked by virtually everyone to miss the playoffs for a second straight year. There were too many questions with the Hurricanes roster and the answers would depend on young players developing quickly.
If most fans were told there would be a shot at the postseason with three games left on the schedule, the reaction would be: "Where do we sign up for that?"
This is not to say that this was a rebuilding year with no chance at bonus hockey.
However, some said I might have picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue when I said this team had a shot at the playoffs. Pundits reminded everyone that the Carolina Hurricanes were a team the year before that was loaded with veterans in an attempt to make a run for playoff glory. That squad failed miserably due to injuries and sluggish play and was dismantled, but that roster looked like a solid team compared to the Canes that opened the year.
Questions like: where would the offense come from besides Eric Staal; how could the defense be better; and is the goaltending going to hold up for 82 games?
Those questions now have answers.
Skinner, Cole deliver goals
Jeff Skinner, the seventh overall pick of the draft, provided a tremendous offensive spark, leading all rookies in points. Side note: Any question that Skinner is not the NHL rookie of the year is silly. To do what he has done at 18 years of age is right out of a Hollywood script.
Since Jan. 1, no player in the NHL has scored bigger goals than Erik Cole in keeping playoff hopes alive. Cole has scored 12 goals that have won or tied games in the third period in that span.
When the Hurricanes looked like there was a chance to make a playoff push, forward Cory Stillman was re-acquired to add more punch.
Deals yield defense
General Manager Jim Rutherford provided solutions for the team’s blue line issues. Joe Corvo came back to Carolina in the offseason and has been steady in both ends of the rink. Anton Babchuk started the year with the Canes. The offensive-minded defenseman was dealt for the steadier Ian White. White provided more defensive-minded presence on the back end until he was dealt to San Jose. In a separate deal with the Sharks, young defenseman Derek Joslin was added to the mix. In a final move at the trade deadline the Hurricanes added the player with a nasty streak in front of his net that they needed in Bryan Allen.
As for the goalie, Cam Ward is the only net minder in the NHL with over 2,000 saves this year.
This edition of the Hurricanes did promise one thing: every night you were going to see players take steps forward or back in their development. Roles within the team were defined. Brandon Sutter developed into one of the league's best defensive centers. Skinner showed that his offensive flair wasn’t a fluke as he was steady all year and, after an inconsistent start providing offense, defenseman Jamie McBain rebounded from a shoulder injury to regain the offensive flair he displayed last season in a late call-up.
As the year moved on, the chance of a playoff berth materialized, and there is still a chance albeit slim, for the Canes to move on to the postseason.
If the team does not make it into the top eight in the East, it will be a disappointment, but it won’t mean that this season was for nothing.
The raised expectations for the Canes showed there is more talent in Raleigh than we thought 79 games ago.
The young players who were put under the pressure of trying to make the playoffs will benefit from this year down the road. Leaders emerged in the locker with and without letters sewn on the front of their jerseys. An identity was also formed for this team, one that never quits.
A year that started with uncertainties for this team now has plenty of answers, playoffs or not.