2010-11 NHL season preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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paulmauricecoach.jpgLast season: (35-37-10, 80 points, 3rd in Southeast Division, 11th in Eastern Conference) It seems the Hurricanes alternate good seasons and bad seasons. One season they charge deep into the playoffs (or even win the Cup), the next they don’t even make the playoffs. In 2009-10, they had one of those bad seasons.

Head coach: Paul Maurice is their coach, one of those rare guys who was fired only to be re-hired by the team. If he falters, GM Jim Rutherford will be in big trouble too.

Key departures: F Rod Brind’Amour (retirement), F Ray Whitney. The Hurricanes didn’t lose a lot of players, but both guys were big parts of the team. Rod the Bod was a heart-and-soul leader and a big part of the team’s Cup-winning run while Whitney is an underrated playmaker. Both will be missed.

Key arrivals: D Joe Corvo, D Anton Babchuk, F Jeff Skinner. It’s almost as if Rutherford lacks a pro scout as he goes the nostalgia route with a lot of his moves. Corvo and Babchuk both have been to Carolina, left and came back again. Kind of like Maurice.

ericstaalsweaty.jpgUnder pressure: Don’t worry, Eric Staal. All you have to do is carry an offense full of castoffs such as Sergei Samsonov and guys who turned around their careers like Jussi Jokinen. The team depends on Staal and goalie Cam Ward to carry the load, so if they don’t succeed, neither does Carolina. No pressure there.

Protecting the house: Last season, Ward went down with an injury and his team collapsed with him. With a Stanley Cup on his resume and plenty of hockey ahead of him, he’s one of the genuine franchise goalies in the NHL. Unfortunately, the team depends too much on Ward. If he gets injured, backup Justin Peters doesn’t seem like a goalie who can handle the workload. Will they need to turn to someone like Manny Legace in desperation again this season?

Wow, that defense isn’t very good. Joni Pitkanen is a solid player who would be fantastic on a deeper blue line, but I’m not sure I’d want him to be my No. 1. Perhaps the group will be decent if promising youngster Jamie McBain improves, but I’m not very impressed by a group that includes Tim Gleason, Corvo and Babchuk.

Top line we’d like to see: Jokinen-Staal-Tuomo Ruutu. There’s an obvious drop-off from Staal to every other forward on this roster. Still, this line would include the elite talents of Staal, the crafty skills of Jokinen and the rugged play of the superior (but more injury prone) of the Ruutu brothers.

Oh captain, my captain: How could it not be Staal?

Street fighting man: The Hurricanes aren’t big fighters, but Tom Kostopoulos would be the man to throw some punches.

camwardgoalie.jpgBest-case scenario: The Hurricanes use their hard-charging style to take the second spot in the division. Staal, Ward and Cole stay healthy and play their fullest potential. Samsonov bounces back from injury problems while Jokinen keeps up the positive momentum from last season. The team makes it to the Eastern Conference finals by playing aggressive, exciting and opportunistic hockey.

Worst-case scenario: The season ends up being a mirror image of last season, with Carolina falling short of the playoffs while not getting a good enough pick to nab a high-end prospect.

Keeping it real: The Hurricanes are alarmingly dependent on their two best players, but Staal and Ward are legitimately good. The problem is that they’re no longer the only semi-competitive team other than the Capitals in their division, so getting into the playoffs by default isn’t an option any more. Expect a season on the playoff bubble for Carolina.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Carolina deserves a 2. I almost want to say they should get a 3, but this team only went backwards this summer. They seem to work off of mojo and momentum, though, so I wouldn’t put it past them to have another Cinderella run.

Brandon Pirri makes Rangers’ offense so deep, a trade may be needed

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 10:  Brandon Pirri #73 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck during a game against the Washington Capitals at BB&T Center on December 10, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Want to make your brain hurt a little? Try to narrow down the New York Rangers’ forward group to a mere 12 after the whip-smart signing of Brandon Pirri became official.

To start, you have the obvious guys: Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes. Then you add new arrivals in Pirri, Jimmy Vesey, Nathan Gerbe, Michael Grabner and Josh Jooris.

The list above includes 11 mostly-viable options and we haven’t even discussed the likes of Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast and fringe types such as Tanner Glass.

Throw in prospects such as Pavel Buchnevich and Marek Hrivik and … well, it sure becomes such a strength that things feel pretty crowded after some reflection.

Blueshirt Banter makes a strong case that something has to give; they believe that Pirri’s signing points to a possible trade. Maybe even a significant, multi-part one:

And this is where things get interesting. The Rangers are still floating around the Kevin Shattenkirk rumors, and the persistent Rick Nash speculation isn’t going anywhere, either.

It’s something that Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman apparently pointed to.

Well, isn’t that interesting.

General Fanager puts the Rangers’ jam-packed roster about $1.4 million under the salary cap ceiling as of this moment.

With that in mind, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton probably isn’t in a desperate situation to move someone – whether it be a big name such as Nash or not – but New York might amass enough forward pieces to jar a quality defenseman loose

Even as is, the team sure looks more formidable now than it did entering the off-season. Forward depth was one of the strengths of the group that made it to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final (recall useful supporting cast members including Benoit Pouliot), so maybe Alain Vigneault would really excel with another deep group?

Vacation-mode is just about over, so perhaps the Rangers have something interesting up their sleeves? It’s a reasonable question to ask.

Poll: Where will the Canadiens finish in the East this year?

MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 17:  Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens watches play during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals  of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 17, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Senators 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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Expectations were high for the Montreal Canadiens going into last season.

In the first month of the 2015-16 season, it seemed like the high expectations were justified, as the Canadiens jumped out to a 9-0-0 start.

They continued their strong play through the month of November.

In November, the Canadiens lost both Carey Price (knee) and Brendan Gallagher (hand) to injury. The Price injury, in particular, really hurt the Canadiens.

Price was initially supposed to be out for 6-to-8 weeks, but he never ended up returning. Without him, the Canadiens just weren’t the same team.

“It’s been hard mentally,” Price said last April, per NHL.com. “This has been the most trying year of my career. I feel more tired now than I do when I play hockey,” Price said. “Watching, I don’t know how fans do it to be honest. It’s hard to sit and watch and not be able to do anything about it. It’s the hardest part about this process.

“I think I’ve learned a lot of things in the aspect of preparing myself for a long season. I’ve changed a few things like my diet plans and my preparation for practices. As you get older (Price turns 29 on Aug. 16), you have to do more things like that. And I think I can carry that into next year and it will be beneficial.”

Now, it sounds like Price is back to full health and that can only be a good thing for Montreal. With Price, it’ll be interesting to see if Montreal can find their winning ways.

Montreal also added Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw via trade. Both players figure to be important parts of the team in 2016-17.

How high do you expect the Canadiens to finish in the Eastern Conference standings? How do they stack up against the Panthers, Lightning, Red Wings, Bruins, Senators, Sabres and Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division?

Time to vote!

Adding toughness was an offseason priority for the Canadiens

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 12: Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks collides with Shea Weber #6 of the Nashville Predators at the United Center on January 12, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 3-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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After a miserable 2015-16 season, the Canadiens needed fixing. This offseason, it became clear that Montreal wanted to be bigger, tougher and meaner.

It’s an interesting time to take that approach, especially when the NHL seems to be moving in a different direction.

The Pittsburgh Penguins used speed and skill to their advantage during their 2016 Stanley Cup journey and we should expect to see more teams try to emulate that this season.

But GM Marc Bergevin clearly isn’t interested in following the latest hockey trends.

Bergevin made two trades on draft night. He sent Lars Eller to Washington for a pair of draft picks and he acquired Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Two Stanley Cups in five years,” Bergevin said of Shaw, per NHL.com. “I like guys who don’t like to lose. Everybody likes to win, everybody’s happy when you win. I want guys, when you lose, it gets them inside. It hurts. And then you go back to work the next day.

“Andrew Shaw has it. I was in Chicago long enough to know they don’t take losing with a grain of salt. I want guys who don’t like to lose.”

Days later, Bergevin stunned the hockey world when he shipped P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber.

Again, Subban is no push-over, but he isn’t as nasty as Shea Weber.

“He’s the toughest defenseman to play against in the NHL and I’m glad I don’t have to do any net-front battles with him again … maybe in practice,” Shaw said earlier this month, per the Montreal Gazette. “But I think it’s going to be huge for the team. He’s a good leader guy, a good team guy. He’s got that experience, too. He’s got that shot from the point that will help both on the power play and even strength as well. He’s just that big, strong man in front of the net that’s going to help out defensively as well.”

Clearly, the Canadiens feel that having Carey Price back and playing a physical brand of hockey will allow them to be competitive in the Eastern Conference.

Time will tell if they chose the right approach.

Under Pressure: Michel Therrien

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 07:  Head coach Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on March 7, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canadiens defeated the Coyotes 2-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Being a head coach in a hockey market like Montreal isn’t easy when times are good, so imagine how hard it can get when the team finishes near the bottom of the standings.

In his second stint as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Michel Therrien has had success. From 2011-12 to 2014-15, Therrien helped guide the Canadiens to a 125-64-23 record. But the “honeymoon” came to a crashing halt this season.

Montreal got off to a 9-0-0 start, but injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher derailed the Canadiens’ season.

With Price and Gallagher on the shelf, the Canadiens went through a miserable stretch in December. From Dec. 3 through Dec. 26, the Canadiens played 10 games and won just one those contests. Things didn’t get much better from there.

Without the defending Hart Trophy winner at their disposal, it’s normal that the Canadiens would dip a little bit, but the lack of solutions from the coaching staff was concerning.

The Habs have made plenty of changes to their roster after last season’s disappointment. Gone are Lars Eller and P.K. Subban and in come Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw.

The Canadiens also added Kirk Muller as an associate coach, but the rest of the coaching staff remained intact.

“Given what we went through in the last six months, to panic and change everything, I’m not ready to do that,” Bergevin said in April, per CBC.ca. “I’ll look at every aspect of the organization to see where we can improve, but to turn everything upside down? No.

“Last year we had 110 points. I’m not ready to throw people out the door based on what happened this year. Nobody is walking away with a clean slate, but we have to break down what happened. Michel learned a lot. We all learned. We’re not happy. It’s my job to address this team moving forward, but Michel will be behind the bench on opening night.”

With plenty of off-season change and the return of Carey Price, there are no more excuses for Therrien. As loyal as GM Marc Bergevin has been to his head coach during this rough patch, don’t be surprised if a slow start costs Therrien his job.

Therrien has already been fired twice before (Montreal and Pittsburgh), so this could be his last head coaching gig in the NHL.

The pressure is definitely on.