NHL

'Canes struggles may be far from over

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Spector

At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector's NHL Blog on Yardbarker.com for NHL rumors and analysis.

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Heading into this NHL season, the Carolina Hurricanes were considered a playoff contender due to their strong showing in the 2009 playoffs — their first appearance in the postseason since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. Led by goaltender Cam Ward and star forward Eric Staal, the 'Canes upset heavily favored New Jersey and Boston before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. Expectations were high heading into this season but after a 2-2 start, the Hurricanes went into a horrible tailspin, going winless in 14 games, a streak that only ended this past Sunday with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild. Despite the win, the Hurricanes, with a 3-12-4 record, sit not just at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings but also in the basement of the league's overall standings. Compounding their problems was the loss of Ward and Staal to injury. Staal has been sidelined day-to-day with an upper body injury. Ward's status is more serious, placed on injured reserve after suffering a leg laceration in a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 7. Their respective performances prior to their injuries, however, were anything but stellar. Staal had only 3 goals and 5 points in 13 games while Ward had a 2-9-3 record with a 2.97 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. This summer, both players were considered on the short list to make Team Canada'for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. But with their performances thus far this season, they may have played their way off Team Canada. Staal and Ward, however, aren't the only members of the Hurricanes off to a tough start. As of Sunday, Aaron Ward and Joni Pitkanen were tied for the second-worst plus-minus in the league amongst defensemen with -12 while team captain Rod Brind'amour at -14 had the worst amongst NHL forwards. The Hurricanes have struggled at both ends of the rink, scoring a league-worst 37 heading into action on Sunday while giving up the most-goals of all 30 NHL teams. Their special teams have been anything but, ranking 25th in power-play percentage and 21st in penalty killing.
What's been lacking this season is the strong team work ethic the 'Canes displayed in the 2009 playoffs as age may be catching up to a roster that is the oldest in the league. GM Jim Rutherford recently suggested changes could be in the offing for his struggling roster if things didn't improve soon, sparking rumors of trades or a coaching change. Rutherford has stood by head coach Paul Maurice, leading to the obvious conclusion changes could be coming soon to the roster. Eight players — forwards Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen and Scott Walker, defensemen Joe Corvo, Aaron Ward and Niclas Wallin, and goaltenders Michael Leighton and Manny Legace — are currently eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, making them potential trade candidates. Whitney, Walker and Wallin have "no-trade" clauses in their contracts so they'll have to approve any attempt by Rutherford to move them. A recent report in the Chicago Daily Herald cited multiple sources claiming the Blackhawks might have interest in Cullen as a possible replacement for injured center Dave Bolland. One player who could prove difficult to move is the 39-year-old Brind'amour as years of wear and tear appear to be catching up with him. Combine that with another year remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $3.6 million and it's doubtful he'll attract much interest in the trade market. With over 60 games remaining on their schedule, the Hurricanes still have plenty of time to get themselves back into the playoff race. But given how deep of a hole they've dug, it's unlikely they'll climb out of it by April. Expect the current Hurricanes roster to look quite different by season's end.
Tagged: Blackhawks, Hurricanes, Kings, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Aaron Ward, Niclas Wallin, Matt Cullen, Scott Walker, Ray Whitney, Manny Legace, Joni Pitkanen, Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Dave Bolland

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