Sigh. The Eastern Conference is just not all that interesting. They’ve got a couple teams at the top, and a bunch of chaff at the bottom (and middle). Bad news for Carolina fans… you’re the chaff. The Carolina Hurricanes play some bizarre hockey, and typically after a down season, they have a ridiculous overachieving season. So does that mean they’re on track for some big games ahead? While it would be hard to say no for sure, since the Eastern Conference is such a mess, I’m still going to have to say no.
As I mentioned above, the Hurricanes are an interesting case in schizophrenic hockey, and with the jumble of terrible teams in the East, just about anything could happen. They certainly have the potential to sneak into the playoffs, and as we’ve seen this past post-season, just about anything can happen then. Cam Ward has carried the team on his back through playoff series’ before, and it could happen again. I just don’t see it this year.
Cam Ward, Eric Staal, Joni Pitkanen, Sergei Samsonov
The Hurricanes have lost Ray Whitney, who while older than dirt still managed to put together 21 goals last season, and his absence is not going to help an offense that went through some troubling times last year. Eric Staal is going to need to step his game up big time, and he’s lost the scorer on his wing (Whitney). Samsonov could theoretically recapture some of the ability he showcased years back in Boston, but don’t hold your breath. There’s Corvo and his pseudo-defensive, offensive play from the blue line, but let’s not kid ourselves. If Corvo is the answer, the question is trouble. Jussi Jokinen netted 30 goals last season, and will need to, if not build on at least not regress from that number. Without some players really stepping up, the ‘Canes are going to be in trouble offensively this season.
Defensively, the Hurricanes could be good, or could be awful. I know. That’s the kind of insightful brilliance that keeps you coming back here for commentary, right? But seriously folks… The Hurricanes blue line features a top 2 former Kings players that most probably don’t realistically want back. Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason may pair up as their top duo, and while Gleason has some ability, Corvo pretty much just shoots the puck hard. And good on him for that, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that’s the skill necessary of a top-line defenseman in the NHL. Behind those two they’ve got Anton Babchuk and Joni Pitkanen. It’s probably more of a 1A, 1B pairings, since the Babchuk-Pitkanen pairing might actually have more talent. Regardless, they’ll be far from the class of the East on the back end, but with some strong play from Cam Ward, they may avoid total embarrassment.
Seriously, I hate predicting the Eastern Conference. Frankly I see the Hurricanes putting together a season much like this last one. The Thrashers and Lightening may swap positions in the conference, but Carolina will likely still end up 3rd in the division and out of the playoffs. Sorry ‘Canes fans… Not this year.