Monday, February 14, 2011

Lots of Options

It’s plain and simple. The Carolina Hurricanes have to make the play-offs this year. And, the good news is …they are knocking on the door.

So, with the trade deadline fast approaching, it is not surprising to hear that Jim Rutherford, the Canes GM, is busy trying to make some moves. Reports suggest the Canes were among three teams that had a real shot at Ottawa’s Mike Fisher, moved to Nashville this week. He is exactly what the doctor ordered, a skilled two-way center with size. Rutherford has historically tried to make his major moves well before the deadline, in order to get the players assimilated into the Canes organization as early as possible. You just need to consider the Doug Weight deal, the year the Canes went on to win the Cup. Timing is even more acute this year. If JR plans to take a serious run at the play-offs, he needs to strengthen the team now to improve his play-off chances.

Making the play-offs won’t be easy. The New York Rangers, Atlanta Thrashers, and Buffalo Sabres are in a virtual dead heat for the final two play-off positions. Buffalo has been on a tear lately and is peaking at just the right time. Based on their current play, you have to think they will take one of the spots. The Rangers, Thrashers, and Canes have been inconsistent, thus creating the opportunity for the others to take the advantage. But, to-date, none of the teams have been able to make a real statement. Rick Dudley, The Thrashers GM, and Glen Sather, the Rangers boss-man, have both been very active trying to land the key pieces they need to make the post-season. As a result, you can expect they will be stronger at the deadline.

So, the Canes will need to make some serious moves to stay in the hunt. Historically, JR has pulled off some real coups at the trade deadline. In 2008, he got Tuomo Ruutu for Andrew Ladd. In 2009, he got Erik Cole back, for oft-injured Justin Williams, and Jussi Jokinen, from Tampa Bay, for spare parts. Last year, he made seven trades and picked up seven draft picks along with a few prospects, clearing out most of the pending UFAs. He lobbied some of those picks into deals at the draft, for Bobby Sanguinetti, a highly regarded D-man in the Ranger organization, and Riley Nash, a former first-rounder of the Edmonton Oilers. Both are expected to fill roster spots on the Hurricanes in the future. So, if history is any indication, expect something major to happen before the deadline.

How is JR approaching the deadline? He gave this indication recently. “We have two goals,” he said. “One is to make the playoffs and the other is to build this team going forward. Regardless of what we do and how it looks, we’re not going to give up on this year.”

Their needs are clear. They are desperately in need of a quality shutdown D-man. The Canes have quietly assembled a solid defence corps, the only problem being that most are offence first types, like Joe Corvo, Joni Pitkanen, Ian White, and Jamie McBain. This need has been particularly noticeable with the penalty kill unit, currently one of the worst in the league. The lack of a proficient face-off guy has also hurt but a more pressing problem is a top 6 winger. They have not been able to find a winger to join Eric Staal and Erik Cole on the top line, trying a host of players unsuccessfully. They could also use a winger to complement the Ruutu/Skinner combo. It will depend on who is available as to which spot is filled first.

Based on JR’s comment, you might extrapolate that he is trying to move impending UFAs Joni Pitkanen, Chad Larose, and Sergei Samsonov. Of those, Pitkanen would fetch the biggest return and given the likelihood that the Canes do not plan to re-sign him in the off-season and last year’s debacle with Ray Whitney at the deadline, look to the Canes to try and move him now. There is clearly lots of interest for a big minute-munching, offensive D-man, like Joni.
Patrick Dwyer is a lower-cost, more versatile Larose clone, so he is expendable. Samsonov is a clearly a spare part but no one seems interested in him. Rutherford may throw in some draft picks, even a 1st rounder, and some prospects, such as Rodney, Samson, Bowman, Osala, or even Boychuk, in Charlotte, for the right deal.

Based on history, likely trade partners are Edmonton, Boston, San Jose, Ottawa, Florida, and Toronto, all of which have players of interest to the Canes. Of those, San Jose, Columbus and Boston are all looking for an offensive-minded D-man, like Pitkanen. Edmonton, Ottawa, Florida, and Toronto are looking for prospects to support their rebuilding process. If they move Pitkanen, expect them to acquire a solid replacement in their wheeling and dealing. Recognizing the fiscal challenges of the Hurricanes, and JR’s tendency to try to match cap dollars, who might the Canes be targeting?

For draft picks/prospects:

  • Vandermeer/Brule/Penner – Edmonton, although JR denies interest in Penner,
  • Komisarek/Kadri – Toronto, not likely due to high cost of Komisarek and injury problems,
  • Allen/Weiss/Booth – Florida, has potential as rumors suggest Canes are talking to Florida.

Including Pitkanen/Larose/others:

  • M. Stuart/Wheeler – Boston, a package deal would help both teams,
  • Setoguchi - San Jose, makes a lot of sense for the Canes, who continue to look closely at the Sharks,
  • Tyutin/Filatov/Brassard – Columbus, intriguing depending on the package.

Or might JR surprise us and bring back former’ Canes, as he is want to do, like Kings’ Justin Williams, Florida’s Corey Stillman, or Columbus’ Mike Commodore, who would cost less and could potentially fill the major weaknesses of the team for this year. Only time will tell. No matter what, expect JR to make a splash at the trade deadline.

He always does.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Making their Move!

As we start the new year and hit the midway point in the NHL season, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves only five points out of a play-off spot in the Eastern Conference. Not bad considering the tough schedule the Canes have faced thus far. However, the Canes now have three games-in-hand on Montreal, in eighth place, and five games-in-hand on Atlanta, in seventh place, who they trail by eight points. So, the play-offs are very clearly in sight.

For most of the season, the Canes have been inconsistent, but recently they have shown signs that they are starting to round into form. This is consistent with past seasons. The Hurricanes always seem to step it up in the second half. With road wins in Toronto (4-3) and Ottawa (4-0), along with a resounding 6-3 shellacking of the New Jersey Devils at home, the Canes moved to 7-3-0 in their last 10 games, second only to Tampa Bay in the Conference, during that period. Cam Ward has been the catalyst, brilliant between the pipes on many nights. His .926 save percentage ranks third overall in the NHL. Of course, Eric Staal has played a key role as you would expect. Nothing new there. The captain is averaging a point-a-game, with 37 points in 37 games. Several others have been instrumental in the Canes surge, including Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, Joe Corvo, Patrick Dwyer, Jamie McBain, and Canes rookie phenom, Jeff Skinner, who continues to surprise. Skinner now leads all NHL rookies in scoring with 28 points in 37 games, and is showing no signs of letting up. In fact, a recent switch to center has him on a current tear. Just check out some of his video highlights and watch this young man, just 18 years-old, in action.

Recent additions, defenceman Ian White (Calgary), along with role players, Troy Bodie and Ryan Carter (Anaheim), have been significant upgrades from their predecessors. Add to that the pending return of Jiri Tlusty, and the emergence of prize rookies, Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe, and it starts to get interesting. And, it doesn't end there. The Hurricanes have plenty of depth in the farm with talented youngsters Drayson Bowman, Oscar Osala, Jon Matsumoto, and Bryan Rodney, all chomping at the bit to get their chance.

However, despite a more favorable second half schedule, the Canes are still missing a few key pieces needed to assure a play-off berth in the tough Eastern Conference. With Pitkanen, Corvo, McBain and White, the Canes can create lots of offence from the backline. Keeping pucks out of the net is another matter. They desperately need a veteran shutdown defenceman to take the heat off Tim Gleason. Jay Harrison has been an acceptable fill-in, but he isn't the man. And, the Canes never did fill their need for an elite forward, a go-to guy for Eric Staal. Currently, Staal is the only legitimate first liner on the Canes. Jussi Jokinen has had success at times but other than Jussi, it has been slim pickins'.

If the Hurricanes continue to climb back into the fray in January, expect some moves from Jim Rutherford, the Canes GM, as we approach the trade deadline. Historically, JR has been very active when the Canes are close and a few moves can make the difference. So, if JR can once again weave some of his magic and is able to parlay the likes of Samsonov, Cole, Larose, and Harrison, into meaningful assets, this could be a very interesting season for Canes fans, indeed.

So, the question is...who should JR try to acquire at the deadline? The floor is open.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Fresh Start! - Canes Preview 2010-2011

As we fast approach the start of the 2010-2011 season, I wanted to take a look ahead at what we might expect this year from our Carolina Hurricanes. If you are a die-hard Carolina Hurricanes fan like me, last year is clearly a year you want to put behind you. The Canes were 2-8-3 in October and never recovered. Ouch! A decision had been made by Jim Rutherford (JR), the Canes' President and GM, to stick primarily with the veteran-laden team that took the Canes to the division finals in 2008-2009. He felt the only missing link was more toughness on the blueline and to that end, added Aaron Ward in a trade with Boston and Andrew Alberts, a UFA from the Philadelphia Flyers. The team moved away from the attack style that Peter Laviolette had initiated and which had resulted in much success, led by an aggressive, offensive-minded defence corps, to a team with a "D" which had trouble getting out of their own zone, let alone drive the attack.

The good news is that JR got the message loud-and-clear. It was time this team had a major re-work. Add to this the current financial situation and Peter Karmanos' interest to sell-off a major portion of the team, and it was clear that austerity measures were needed. He commenced the work of cleaning house at the trade deadline, moving defencemen Aaron Ward, an unmitigated disaster, Niclas Wallin, tough but slow afoot, Andrew Alberts, average at-best, and Joe Corvo, a decent defenseman but pending UFA. In return, he acquired youngsters Justin Pogge, a former Canadian Junior Goalie-of-the-Year, and Oscar Osala, a talented Finn, plus a couple of 2nd round draft picks. He also moved out forwards Stephane Yelle, a spare part, Matt Cullen, a strong contributor but pending UFA, and Scott Walker, a likeable guy but a player who didn't figure in the Canes' future plans. All good moves. Unfortunately, he was unable to succesfully move Ray Whitney to LA, where he had a deal in the works for a 1st rounder plus. Whitney subsequently signed with Phoenix.

So, JR had some significant rebuilding to do. First order of business was to deal with Rod Brind'Amour, who had slipped to the 4th line and was a shadow of his former self last year. Mission accomplished when Rod retired from active duty and accepted a coaching position with the Canes. Next was the draft, where JR surprised many by picking Jeff Skinner, a 70-goal scorer in the OHL last year, including 20 goals in 20 play-off games. Early returns on Skinner have been very positive. He has a spot to lose, with the Canes needing more offence up-front. JR also made a couple of shrewd deals on the draft floor, acquiring former first rounders, Bobby Sanguinetti from the Rangers, who is enjoying a strong camp and oozes offence, and Riley Nash, from the Oilers, a Ron Francis favorite with plenty of upside, both for 2nd round picks acquired at the trade deadline. JR loves to acquire former first rounders and has been successful a number of times in the past, including current stalwarts Ruutu and Gleason.

But, Rutherford wasn't done there. Seeing the need to bolster the defence and bring in more offence, he re-signed Anton Babchuk, a player who should have been here all along, and signed Joe Corvo, to a two-year hometown discount deal, around 2.0M per season. You have to like the Corvo deal - traded to Washington for a 2nd round pick and Oscar Osala at the deadline, and then brought back for less money. JR, you are one shrewd horse trader! All the more impressive given the financial constraints levied on him by Karmanos. He took a while, but finally closed the deal with Brett Carson, a promising blueliner with size and moxy, who ended the season plus five in 54 games played with the Canes. With Carson, it was a two-way contract adding to the Canes flexibility this season. And, then, the piece de resistance! When local boy Patrick O'Sullivan, a former consensus first-rounder and 22-goal scorer with the Kings a a few years ago, showed interest, Rutherford pounced on him, and got his name on the dotted line for a paltry 500K, a two-way contract at that! Sure, he had a tough season in Edmonton last year, but who didn't. He can play, make no mistake about it, and as so many others like O'Sullivan have done with the Canes, he will thrive in North Carolina.

Any way you shake it, you have to like where this team is going. I can't remember the closet being this full of young talent since I started following the Canes several years ago. Led by elite players, Eric Staal, and Cam Ward, the Canes will compete every night. Add to them the supporting cast of D-men Joni Pitkanen, a horse and the league leader in on-ice time per game last season, and Tim Gleason, who impressed all with his gutsy Olympics performance and just gets better each time out, as well as forwards Jussi Jokinen, a versatile forward and 30-goal scorer, Tuomo Ruutu, a workhorse with huge potential, and Brandon Sutter, who topped 20 goals in only his second season, and there's reason for optimism. Other veterans who could play a key role are Erik Cole, Chad Larose, and Sergie Samsonov. All stumbled badly last year, but have the talent to contribute much-needed offence. Cole could surprise. What about Jiri Tlusty, another former first-rounder, who Paul Maurice has high praise for? He earned a one-way contract and could be a factor. He's big and skilled. Expect big things this season from Jamie McBain, the Wisconsin phenom, who had an impressive 10 points in just fourteen games last year (+6), and Drayson Bowman, a slick offensive winger, who impressed in a Canes uniform in his nine game audition last year and has shown strong defensive acumen in camp. Another player to watch is Zac Dalpe, an Ohio State grad, who has the size and skills to make the move to the Canes now and scored six goals in only nine games with Albany in the AHL. He's all but assured a spot on the roster. Bryan Rodney, Jay Harrison, Zach Boychuk, Osala, Riley, and Jared Staal, a virtual steal from Phoenix, all provide depth.

So, what should we expect to see opening day? Sure, there are still questions to be answered on the starting line-up, but it will probably look something like this.






Dwyer, Samsonov (injured)







Ward, Peters

My Prediction: The Canes will be the surprise team in the NHL this year. Get ready!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Decisions, Decisions!

As we fast approach the trade deadline, Jim Rutherford (JR) is being very tight-lipped about his plans. But, then again, that's his normal style, isn't it? Things are really starting to heat up. "I'm getting inquiries on more players than I expected," he was recently quoted as saying. The big question is "Will the Canes still be sellers?" After all, they have rattled off five straight wins and have won nine of their last eleven. They now find themselves only nine points out of a play-off berth.

So, what would you do, knowing that the rebuild process is well underway, but a play-off berth is still possible?

The changes started earlier this year, with the Canes elevating Brandon Sutter, Patrick Dwyer, and Brett Carson, to the big team from the Albany River Rats. They have all contributed and will be regulars going forward. Sutter has been a revelation, with fourteen goals already this year. Then, the Canes traded 2009 first round pick, Phillipe Paradis, to Toronto for former first rounder, Jiri Tlusty. Niclas Wallin, the "secret weapon", a huge favorite of the Caniac nation, was shipped to San Jose for a 2nd round pick in 2010, and Matt Cullen, another fan favorite, was sent to Ottawa for D-man Alexandre Picard and another 2nd round pick in 2010. So, that's where we are right now.

Based on these moves, you have to figure that JR will stick to his re-tooling plan, to change fully half of the team prior to next season as he has previously gone on record as saying. At the top of the list will be dealing with the UFAs. He has to move them now, if he wants any return, as he did with Cullen and Wallin. The Canes have some outstanding building blocks in Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Brandon Sutter, Tuomo Ruutu, Joni Pitkanen, Jussi Jokinen. and Tim Gleason. They also have some talented prospects in the aforementioned Brett Carson, Patrick Dwyer and Jiri Tlusty, as well as Albany farmhands Zack Boychuk, Justin Peters, and Drayson Bowman, not to mention Ohio State star, Zac Dalpe, and, my personal favorite, former Wisconson phenom, Jamie McBain. You might want to include Alexandre Picard, if he can recapture his game in Carolina as so many others have. Add to that veterans Erik Cole, Sergei Samsonov, Tom Kostopoulos, and Andrew Alberts, who has quietly had a solid season, (leads the team with +6) and you're well on your way. You can expect Rod Bind'Amour to retire at season's end, clearing much-needed cash and a center spot on next year's roster.

The Canes need more size and scoring in the forward ranks and will probably need another D-man, assuming both A. Ward and Corvo go this week, unless of course, Anton Babchuk (remember him?) returns from the KHL, where he is having a break-out season. Stranger things have happened!

So, what deals should we look for prior to the deadline? JR has made it clear that he is looking for high draft picks and prospects who can contribute now, so don't expect any household names to be heading our way. Here's my wish list.

Ray Whitney - LA - Deal is on the table, but fading - 1st rounder in 2010 & prospect (Moller,Elkins?)
Pittsburgh - 1st rounder & prospect or Tyler Kennedy & 2nd rounder
Buffalo - 1st rounder & prospect (Justin Jokinen?)
Boston - (with A. Ward) - Blake Wheeler is available
Joe Corvo - Phoenix - 2nd rounder or top prospect (Boedker, Jared Staal?)
Phoenix (with Larose) - Wouldn't Peter Mueller look good in a Canes jersey?
Aaron Ward - Boston - 2nd round pick
Vancouver - 2nd round pick
Chad Larose - Philadelphia - Ville Leino is interesting
Stephane Yelle - late round pick
Scott Walker - Nashville - 4th or 5th round pick in 2010 draft
Manny Legace - late round pick
Bryan Rodney, Jay Harrison - Both have slipped in the eyes of Canes management and could be packaged in a deal.

This is an exciting time to be a Carolina Hurricanes fan. A new era is being ushered in. The Canes don't plan to sit on the outside looking-in for long. One thing's for sure. There is nobody more astute than Jim Rutherford at wheeling and dealing. You can bet he'll get maximum return for his assets. he's made a habit of it. Look at some of his past deadline deals:

Andrew Ladd to Chicago for Tuomo Ruutu (A win for the Canes)
Josef Melichar and Wade Brookbank to Tampa for Jussi Jokinen (Are you kidding me?)
Danny Richmond to Chicago for Anton Babchuk (Danny who?)
Kevyn Adams to Phoenix for Dennis Seidenberg (Love to the the"berg" back next year!)

And who knows, we may even see Matt Cullen back next year!

This will be very interesting! Join me as I follow all of the Canes trade activity at

Sunday, February 7, 2010

RIP Brendan Burke

The world of hockey was devastated to hear the news about the tragic death of Brendan Burke, son of Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. It was Friday night, and I was just finishing up a crisis call I was dispatched to. I had to tend to a family that just lost a love one to a heart attack, and witnesses their heartache for about two hours. As I sat there, holding back my own tears, I then saw a message sent to my phone breaking the news of Brendan’s death. In an instant, I felt complete sadness. To say I was shocked was an understatement. The article that was written about Brandon was still fresh in my mind, and I was just talking about how proud Brian Burke must be to walk in the opening ceremonies as the proud American he’s always professed to be. I then started wondering, why is it people have huge highs in life, only to then have complete and utter lows.
I could not help it but to think of my father who died over 10 years ago, and like a fresh cut, I could feel my wound open up. I thought back to the days when Burke was in Anaheim and how he made it known he had to leave to be with his family. I thought Burke was a great father for making that his main priority. I thought about how close I was with my father, and how he always worried about my safety. Details of Brendan’s death were still sketchy and there was not much information until the next morning. Apparently Brendan died in an auto accident when the car he was driving slid into oncoming traffic due to snowy conditions. I remembered one time when I crashed in high school. I called my father to the scene to pick me up, and when he got there all I could think of was how mad he was going to be. When he arrived on scene, he walked right up to me, and as I formed the words to say I was sorry, he grabbed me and hugged me and said he was scared something bad had happened to me. I realized then and there, that my father actually got scared for the first time. I cannot begin to imagine Brian Burke’s reaction to the news of his son’s passing. It is a parent’s worse nightmare, and one that Brian Burke and his family are experiencing.
This weekend, the world of hockey stood together in solidarity for a family member. And forgive me for forgetting where I read this, but someone else came up with this and said that today, every team removes their logos from their chests, and puts down the hockey sticks in honor of Brendan Burke. I could not agree more. I would like to dedicate this Sunday’s column to Brendan Burke and his bravery as a human being, and as a loving son. May you rest in peace forever.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Most Memorable Jiggy Moments.

Everyone seems to be doing tributes for J.S. ever since being traded to Toronto. There are many moments that make up who Jiggy is today. I could list the 2007 Cup championship as one, but that's too easy. Instead I'll chime in with mine. I have quite a few but I think I'll just highlight five of them for the sake of time.

5. Jiggy's Father passes away- As having gone through this, I know how hard it is when someone dies, to have the spirit to want to do things right away. A person hits a low when a parent dies, and the human heart almost feels weakened by the loss. This is Jiggy's 5th most memorable moment because even though the Ducks did not achieve success by NHL standards, the mere fact that he could finish the season with respectable numbers is huge.

4.Mighty Ducks Sweep The Wild - 02/03 Playoffs R3 GM4
Once more, Jiggy helps the Mighty Ducks sweep a strong Minnesota team, and as you watch the video, look how exhausted Jiggy was at the end of the game. They always say sometimes you have to fight until you can't fight any more, and sometimes when you fight that hard, something breaks. 2003 may have been the year that broke Jiggy. It may be the year he left it all on the ice for the team. In 2007 he has an incredibly talented team in from of him, making the cup win inevitable, but in '03, it was Jiggy all by himself. I'll never forget being at this game and cheering like it was the Cup final! Nothing compared to the feeling I had on this night. Nothing would make up for it, except for the Cup winning game in 2007. And yes, you heard correctly...the announcer says Jiggy stops 122 out of 123 shots in the series.

3. Mighty Ducks 5-OT Goal vs. Stars - 02/03 Playoffs - R2 GM1
This game went to five over times! think about it. That's 2 and half games!! More amazing is the fact that in order for the team to get to that point, it took quite a performance from its goalie. In this game, you had two greats battling one another. On one side, Marty Turco, and on the other, J.S. Giguere. Watch the video as the stunned crowed quietly makes its way out of the Dallas arena!

2. Jiggy Melt Down- this game took place in 2006, when the Oilers were taking on the Ducks at home. The Ducks were frustrated by the antics of goal tender Dwayne Roloson and then Oiler Chris Pronger. In fact Pronger got under Jiggy's skin so much, that he finally cracked and was assessed a slashing penalty, and then got into a scrum with Pronger. As the whistle blew, Jiggy continued to mouth of at Pronger and then began punching Pronger in the kisser! Jiggy was received a double minor, which allowed the Oilers to score and add insult to injury. The Oilers that year eliminated the Ducks from the Western Conference Final, but it was worth it to see such raw emotion come from Jiggy. I don't have video of this, but I've attached a video having a melt down on the bench recently.

1. Triple Over Time- when the Ducks faced off against the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the 2003 playoffs, many felt it was merely a warm up for the defending champion Wings. Since 1952, history was on the side of the defending champions, as there has not been a first round elimination of a returning champion since that year. What transpired what a goalie clinic, in which J.S. stopped 63 shots in one game (or technically 2, depending how you look at things.) The game was loaded with drama and excitement as David took on Goliath, with the Ducks coming out on top in a memorable game.

Finally, here is a video tribute, one of many, that hit the net once Jiggy was traded. Its by Roochfan20 on YouTube, and I thought it summed up Jiggy nicely.

Good luck Jiggy. Toronto is embracing you with open arms. The move is going to be good for you to shake off some old skeletons, so you can give Canada a little taste of what it was like in Anaheim the last 10 years.

"I would give that one up to get the other one. The other one is much nicer and much bigger," he said. "My thought goes to all my teammates. They worked so hard in front of me and I couldn't do anything without them. This is something we'll hopefully share as a team." -J.S. Giguere 2003 after winning the Con Smyth Trophy in a loss to New Jersey Devils.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thanks for the let's play hockey.

It was just a matter of time, and could not come any sooner. J.S. Giguere, long time goal tender and most popular member of the Ducks, has been traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in return for Vessa Toskala and Jason Blake. Toronto awoke to Brian Burke shaking the foundations of the Leafs organization. In true Burke fashion, he made moves that has sparked new hope into the Toronto franchise, while causing some Anaheim fans to shed bitter sweet tears. It comes with the territory of being a professional athlete. There were reports that as recent as the last morning skate the Ducks had on the road, Giggy was told to go back to the hotel because he was being traded to the Leafs. He apparently hugged some of the coaches goodbye, and left. It was obvious that Giggy was headed north after the Ducks re-signed Hiller to a four year deal cementing him as the number one goalie in Anaheim. As a fan of the Ducks, I also hope this move breaths in new life to the Ducks organization. It was probably a good thing all of this occurs right before the Olympic break, so there is enough time for the dust to settle. The Ducks made headlines last season when they traded half the team in a move that had some experts shaking their heads. In the end, the moves were enough for the Ducks to make it to the playoffs and upset the number one team in the NHL, San Jose Sharks.