Hurricanes hope Kaberle move pays off
It's been feast or famine for the Hurricanes in the past decade. When Carolina does get into the playoffs, it usually hangs around for a while. The Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006, reached the Final in 2002 and made the conference final in 2009. But they didn't even make the playoffs in the other six seasons in that span, including each of the last two years. Carolina came close last season, finishing ninth in the East and just two points out of the final spot.
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The 'Canes are looking to end that drought this year, and if they do get back into the postseason, they've proven in the past that they are tough to get out.
2010-11 record: 40-31-11, 91 points (3rd Southeast Division; 9th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for the playoffs)
Key additions: D Tomas Kaberle (free agent); G Brian Boucher (free agent); F Alexei Ponikarovsky (free agent); F Anthony Stewart (free agent); F Tim Brent (free agent); F Justin Soryal (free agent); F Chris Durno (free agent)
Burning question: Will Kaberle be a better fit in Carolina than he was in Boston?
Kaberle struggled mightily upon his arrival to Boston in February, but his play did pick up as the postseason wore on, albeit with his minutes reduced. Kaberle might have performed better this season with a full training camp to complete the adjustment to Claude Julien's system, but the Bruins weren't willing to commit the kind of money and years it would have required to retain him.
Kaberle instead moves south to Carolina on a three-year deal with a $4.25-million cap hit identical to his previous contract. While it's a risky move by the Hurricanes to bank on the 33-year-old defenseman to return to his Toronto form, there are a few reasons for optimism. Kaberle will be reunited with his former Toronto coach, Paul Maurice, whose system he has excelled in before. Kaberle might also benefit from getting away from the spotlight of playing in Toronto and Boston, and he'll have some decent help around him on the blue line with Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason. Will that be enough to make this change of scenery work out better than his last one?
2011-12 outlook: While Kaberle will be counted upon to help shore up the defense, the key to Carolina's fortunes comes from an offense led by captain Eric Staal (33-43-76 last year) and reigning rookie of the year winner Jeff Skinner (31-32-63), as well as Ward's play in goal. Staal and Skinner are supported by Tuomo Ruttu (19-38-57) and Jussi Jokinen (19-33-52), but the Hurricanes will miss Cole (26-26-52), who signed with Montreal this offseason. Ponikarovsky was added in free agency to help fill that void, but Carolina may still lack some size and grit up front. Ward (37-26-10, 2.56 GAA, .923 save percentage) will be counted upon to carry the 'Canes, with Boucher brought in to provide some support after Ward led the league with 74 starts last season.
Did you know? While the first generation of Sutters was dispersed throughout the NHL as the original six Sutter brothers spent time with 12 different NHL teams, the next generation has joined forces in Carolina. Brandon Sutter, son of current Calgary coach Brent Sutter, was the Hurricanes' first-round pick in 2007, while Brett Sutter joined the Carolina organization this past season when he was traded to the Hurricanes by his own father, then Calgary GM Darryl Sutter. The Hurricanes then added Brody Sutter, son of Duane Sutter, to the fold when they selected him in the seventh round of this year's draft.