It hasn’t been since 2006 when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup that the Hurricanes have won the Southeast Division. In arguably one of the easiest divisions in hockey in the past five seasons the Hurricanes have completely struggled. There have been a few seasons where the Hurricanes will muster out hope in the last two months of the season but there have been numerous in season issues with the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes struggles begin in the front office where they have had gone through three coaches since their Stanley Cup. The Hurricanes have been one of the worst teams in the free agent market in the past five seasons as well. Their three biggest signings in the past three years (in terms of money spent) Tomas Kaberle, Joe Corvo, and Tom Kostopoulos, all are no longer with the team. So the question is while teams like Los Angeles, Edmonton and Washington having built from the ground up since 2006 why are the Hurricanes consistently falling lower and lower in the standings and can this be an immediate fix?
One of the main reasons of the Hurricanes problems is a lack of depth and with that the blame falls in the hands of the GM Jim Rutherford. The Hurricanes three highest paid players in this off season (based off of salary per season) were Tomas Kaberle, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Brian Boucher. Kaberle was traded to the Canadiens after a lackluster performance. Ponikarovsky was traded to the Devils after a lackluster performance. Boucher has been injured the past two months, but has yet to pick up a win since debuting for the Hurricanes.
The previous season, Kaberle had been traded to the Boston Bruins from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 1st Round Pick, a 2nd Round pick and a prospect. The Hurricanes managed to muster Jaroslav Spacek out of a trade with Montreal. Spacek is in the last season of his contact and it is doubtful that he will end up staying with the Hurricanes after this season. If he does stay the Hurricanes have a soon to be 38 year old Defenseman who is at the end of his career.
A year prior Ponikarovsky was one of the most viewed players at the trade deadline. He would get traded to Pittsburgh for Luca Caputi and former 1st Round pick Martin Skoula. After a poor season in Los Angeles, Ponikarovsky would sign with the Hurricanes and after already improving on his stats from the previous season was traded to the Devils for a 4th round pick and a prospect. Now I know some of you are going to say that Ponikarovsky doesn’t have much value. That may be true, but value is highly increased on the trade deadline. If you don’t believe that statement talk to the Los Angeles Kings who spent a 1st and 3rd pick, plus a prospect to gain Dustin Penner who has five goals since becoming a King. Why not wait a month or two and increase your player and your pick?
As you have seen, lack of consistency has been a problem year after year for Hurricanes signings. During the 2010 off season our three signings were Joe Corvo, Anton Babchuk, and Patrick O’ Sullivan. Anton Babchuk was traded to the Flames mid season. Corvo was traded during the off season to the Bruins a year later because the Hurricanes brought in Kaberle and it clustered the defense core of the Hurricanes. O’ Sullivan was waived a month into the season. You think that this is it… but the trend continues.
The Hurricanes attempted to have a good free agent class during the 2009 off season spending money on Andrew Alberts, Tom Kostopoulos, Stephane Yelle, Manny Legace, and Jay Harrison; Harrison of course being the only person to survive the Rutherford signing class of ’09. Alberts was traded to the Canucks mid season in 2009. Yelle was traded to the Avalanche during the trade deadline. Kostopoulos was traded to the Flames the next season. Legace never resigned for the Hurricanes after a poor performance during the season.
The 2007 and 2008 free agent classes were so dismal I can put them into one and you will still forget about them. The Hurricanes signed Josef Melichar, Wade Brookbank, Jeff Hamilton and David Tanabe between 2007 and 2008. In that time Brookbank, Melichar and Tanabe would combine for three goals and seven assists in the 92 games between them. Hamilton played a little over half a season with the Hurricanes before leaving the NHL to play overseas in 2009.
The question after seeing all this information is how can the Hurricanes keep throwing together competitive teams without spending any money at all? The Hurricanes have only finished 5th or higher in the Eastern Conference Standings three times since 1997, all three of those times by winning their division. Does the lack of spending money solely cost the Hurricanes a chance at winning? Not at all, but I think to give the coaching staff, players, and fans a fair chance at a competitive team the ownership (including Jim Rutherford himself) is gonna have to evaluate how poor the General Manager has been in the past five seasons.