While the Carolina Hurricanes made an 11 point improvement in the standings over last season, 2010-11 will still be considered a disappointment after the Canes failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
The ending was particularly painful. Had the Paul Maurice’s club won their season finale at home against division rival Tampa Bay, they would have qualified for the postseason. Instead, the Carolina defense allowed too many odd-man rushes and quickly fell behind 3-0 en route to a 6-2 loss and an early trip to the golf courses.
Despite the bitter disappointment, there are some real positives that can be taken from this season:
1) The play of goalie Cam Ward: Ward served as a workhorse for the Canes, starting 74 of the club’s 82 games. He finished with a 2.56 GAA and a save percentage of .920. Most importantly, he kept his team in a lot of games they had no business being in. Ward faced more shots and made more saves than any goalie in the NHL this season. That being said, team defense has to improve next season if the team is to take the next step forward.
2) The emergence of rookie Jeff Skinner: Skinner led all first year players with 63 points and is the favorite for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Skinner was his consistency despite the fact that he was one of the youngest players in the league. He never seemed to hit the infamous “rookie wall.” He has the chance to develop into a special player but can he avoid the sophomore jinx?
3) Eric Staal: Staal was by far the Hurricanes best skater and team leader. He led the team in goals, assists, points, power play goals, shorthanded goals and shots. He missed only one game all season and if the Canes lost him for any length of time, they’d be in deep trouble.
4) The play of rookie defenseman Jamie McBain: McBain scored seven goals and 30 points in his first full season with the club. While he was inconsistent at times, he showed the potential to develop into a very good defenseman in Raleigh for a long time to come.
5) The coaching of Paul Maurice: Maurice had a team with little depth but managed to keep them in contention for all 82 games. The Hurricanes stuck together through some tough times and because of their lack of scoring depth, Maurice had to do a lot of line juggling. More often than not, he found the right combinations. He kept the club winning down the stretch when the pressure was on, at least until Game 82.
MVP: It has to be Ward although Staal would be a close second. Without the stellar play of their number one goalie, the Canes are an also-ran team.
Rookie of the Year: Skinner has to be the choice with McBain a distant second. Not too many 18-year-olds score more than 30 goals in the NHL.
Unsung Hero: Erik Cole had 26 goals was second on the team in hits and led the team in game winning goals. Fans outside of Raleigh may not know much about him, but he was an important cog in the Canes machine this season.
The Canes are not known for having large amounts of money to spend but there are plenty of needs to fill including a banger on defense and as much secondary scoring as GM Jim Rutherford can find. Rutherford will have his hands full trying to re-sign his own UFA’s, which include Corey Stillman, Cole, Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen. Brandon Sutter and Jiri Tlusty are RFAs so the team may look drastically different next season. Considering how much Maurice got out of this team and how few injuries they suffered, that may not be a bad thing.
About the Author
Written by Brad Kurtzberg
Hockey writer for more than 10 years. Has been published on Fox Sports, MSG Network, Huffington Post and Inside Hockey. Wrote the book, "Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, Hockey's Most Colorful Team" on the old California Golden Seals and is presently working on his second book.