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2011-12 season preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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2010-11 record: 40-31-11, 91 points; 9th in East, 3rd in Southeast

Playoffs: Did not qualify

If the Hurricanes won just one more game, that sad category above could have been very different. Instead, the Tampa Bay Lightning absolutely flattened the ‘Canes 6-2 in a win-and-you’re-in game in Carolina. It seems harsh to sum up an 82-game season full of ups and downs by a single loss, but that defeat is the lasting image of the 2010-11 season.

This Hurricanes team only sports subtle differences compared to last season, so it’s going to come down to execution in 2011-12.

Offense

The Hurricanes basically exchanged veteran wingers Cory Stillman and Erik Cole for prospect Anthony Stewart and journeyman forward Alexei Ponikarovsky. It’s understandable that the Canes balked at Cole’s asking price, but the bottom line is that their offense might take a step back next season.

One can imagine that a Carolina fan’s reflexive answer might be “Jeff Skinner.” The seventh pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft burst onto the scene to win the Calder Trophy, but with even less offensive support, teams will be able to gear more attention toward him (although Eric Staal’s obviously remains the top threat). That might make a “sophomore slump” more probable.

Ultimately, the Hurricane’s offense looks like it will take a step back – on paper, at least.

Defense

The big defensive change is in the higher end of their offensive blueliners. Rutherford opted to sign Tomas Kaberle to a substantial contract, which forced Joe Corvo out of town (they traded him to Boston).

It’s easy to judge Kaberle too harshly for his flat performance with the Bruins after the trade deadline, but considering how well his lesser brother Frantisek fared with the Canes, one could assume Tomas will fit in better in Carolina. The Canes generated the highest number of power play opportunities since the lockout, but haven’t been able to capitalize on those chances very often. He didn’t help Boston’s PP much in that short time, but if the Hurricanes continue to force their way to the man advantage as much as previous seasons, the Kaberle signing could be very beneficial.

Kaberle could be a difference-maker, but the onus remains on Joni Pitkanen. While he’s not an ideal top defenseman, Pitkanen brings a nice set of skills to the table for a team that’s shaky in the back end. Things could look far more respectable if Jamie McBain takes “the next step” too.

Goalies

Cam Ward would have a chance to put up Vezina Trophy-level numbers if he played in a conservative defensive system. He earned 37 wins and put up an outstanding .923 save percentage in 2010-11 while making a league-leading (and franchise record) 2,191 saves.

The team simply leans too much on Ward and Staal, but at least their franchise goalie has a suitable backup next season. Brian Boucher comes in from Philadelphia, where he quietly put up solid numbers here and there despite being a frequent scapegoat. Sure, he isn’t an ideal top goalie, but you won’t find many backups who are as stable and experienced as Boucher. Of course, he probably won’t put up fantastic numbers behind a leaky Hurricanes defense, so maybe you should just ignore that positive paragraph.

Coaching

Paul Maurice continues his second tour of duty with the Hurricanes, as he was the coach who saw the team transition from being the Hartford Whalers to the Canes. (His first stint ran from 1995-2004.) Maurice seems like he does a solid job of getting the most out of an extremely top-heavy roster, but one cannot help but wonder if he’ll be on the hot seat if the team missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season.

Breakout candidate

For the Hurricanes to sneak into the playoffs, they’re going to need support beyond the usual suspects. The team has high hopes for two-way forward Brandon Sutter, who managed a +13 rating last season. If he can add a little more offensive oomph to his significant defensive chops, then the 22-year-old center could have a breakthrough year.

McBain and Stewart are also players to watch, although one could argue that McBain already broke through.

Best-case scenario

If you’ve followed the Hurricanes franchise, you’re probably aware of their remarkable tendency to rotate hot-and-cold seasons. At times, it seems like they’ll either a) go on a red-hot run deep into the playoffs or b) miss the postseason entirely. In an ideal scenario, the Hurricanes use their aggressive style to make the playoffs and ride a world-class set of seasons from Ward and Staal into the Eastern Conference finals. Skinner, Sutter and other younger players mature nicely while Ponikarovsky finds a system that suits his style. (See: Nik Antropov’s first season with the Atlanta Thrashers.)

Reality

When you have elite players like Staal and Ward, it isn’t wrong to think that you can put a deep run together. The thing is, the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning Hurricanes featured a ton of scoring depth. It wasn’t just Staal carrying the load; they enjoyed a Conn Smythe-worthy run from Rod Brind’Amour and a fleet of dangerous scoring veterans from Ray Whitney to Mark Recchi and Doug Weight. Now Staal must hope for the best from Tuomo Ruutu and other players who’ve done a commendable job of putting their careers back together.

The Hurricanes should be around the same place they were last season: the Eastern Conference playoff bubble. The problem is that a lot of bubble teams got better while they remained stagnant (or maybe got worse). ‘Canes fans aren’t crazy to hope for a seventh or eighth seed, but they’re just as likely to miss the playoffs again.

Goalie nods: Khudobin makes second start in as many months

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 6:  Anton Khudobin #35 of the Boston Bruins stretches in the warm-up prior to playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2 to take a 2-1 series lead. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Back on Dec. 23, Anton Khudobin stopped 20 of 23 shots in Boston’s 3-2 OT loss to his former team, the Hurricanes.

Since then, he’s had exactly one start.

That came back on Feb. 11 — a 4-3 win over the Canucks — and tonight, Khudobin get another look as the B’s play the second of a California back-to-back in L.A.

Tuukka Rask played and lost last night in Anaheim, allowing four goals on 25 shots, so it’s little surprise Boston’s making a switch. Rask has been one of the NHL’s busiest netminders this season — starting 48 games, tied for fourth-most in the league — and there have been concerns about potential fatigue.

The problem, of course, is that neither Khudobin or AHLer Zane MacIntyre have earned much trust. Former head coach Claude Julien didn’t have faith either could provide consistency, and Bruce Cassidy appears to be of the same mind. Cassidy has started Rask in four of five games since taking over from Julien behind the bench.

On this note, we should mention GM Don Sweeney did say the B’s could add a goalie at the deadline.

For the Kings, Peter Budaj is in goal.

Elsewhere…

Carey Price, who’s played well in his last two games (58 stops on 62 shots, a .936 save percentage), gets the call as Montreal hosts the Isles. Thomas Greiss is in net for the visitors.

— The streaking Henrik Lundqvist gets a big test tonight, as the Rangers take on the high-flying Leafs in Toronto. Frederik Andersen will be in goal for the Buds, after allowing four goals on 20 shots in a OT win over Winnipeg on Tuesday.

— It’s Brian Elliott versus Ben Bishop as the Flames take on the Bolts in Tampa.

Pekka Rinne appears ready to start in Nashville, after allowing four goals on 13 shots (and getting pulled) in Tuesday’s loss to Calgary. No word yet on an Avs starter, but Calvin Pickard has started four straight.

Mike Smith is playing well lately, have won four of five while posting a .936 save percentage, so he’ll draw back in tonight in Chicago. The ‘Hawks are countering with Corey Crawford, who has won five of his last six.

Wideman open to being traded by Flames

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Dennis Wideman #6 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The odd man out after Monday’s acquisition of Michael Stone from Arizona, Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman says he’s open to being traded, in spite of his no-movement clause.

“If that’s something that (the Flames) want to do, then they can call and I definitely would be open to it,” Wideman said, per the Calgary Herald. “I think, as a player, you don’t want to be anywhere that you’re not wanted. So if they want to move you and someone wants to take you, then it’s nice to go somewhere like that if that’s the case.”

Read more: Flames see a ‘style fit’ with Stone

Wideman, 33, is in the final year of his contract. But with a $5.25 million cap hit, he may be tough to move, even if the Flames retain salary.

Wideman was a healthy scratch in Calgary’s 6-5 OT victory Tuesday at Nashville. In 52 games this season, he has three goals and 13 assists.

Related: Treliving won’t say if Wideman’s been asked to waive NMC

B’s not planning to trade Carlo, but adding goalie is on radar

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25:  Boston Bruins General manager Don Sweeney speaks to the media during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)
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The Bruins have seven wins in their last 10, are surging under new head coach Bruce Cassidy and could be buyers as they head into the March 1 trade deadline.

One guy that unlikely to be involved any potential deal? Talented young blueliner Brandon Carlo.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe the B’s “want to be a team that believes it has internal fixes, that you are growing those players.” To that end, he’s not planning to move Carlo, who has developed nicely and played a significant role this season.

Sweeney added this organizational approach means Carlo isn’t “worried [about] going somewhere.”

Carlo, who only turned 20 in November, has reportedly been one of the pieces teams have tried to pry out of Boston (the other being Charlie McAvoy, the 14th overall pick at last year’s draft that’s currently starring for Boston University).

At 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds, Carlo has terrific size and has shouldered a heavy workload, averaging over 21 minutes through 60 games this year.

There have been rumblings of a Carlo-for-Gabriel Landeskog swap with Colorado, though reports suggest Sweeney balked at the asking price.

What Sweeney could address, though, is the club’s unstable backup goalie position. The organization appears to have little trust in either Anton Khudobin or Zane McIntyre, a big reason why Tuukka Rask has started 48 games this season, tied for fourth-most in the NHL.

“Yep, we could,” Sweeney told the Globe, when asked about adding a backup. “It’s tough to find at this time, but they exist. But it’s just a matter of teams are like, ‘Well, what are you giving up for it?’ That’s a big part of it.”

There are a few candidates that might fit the bill. Anders Nilsson is a pending UFA and having a solid campaign in Buffalo, with a .922 save percentage in 20 appearances. What’s more, he carries a relatively low cap hit ($1 million). The Sabres, though only four points out of a playoff spot, would need to jump five teams to get there and could be sellers soon.

Will injuries at forward spark deadline move for Isles?

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 26: Casey Cizikas #53 of the New York Islanders waits for the second period faceoff against the Calgary Flames at the Barclays Center on October 26, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Isles have come alive under interim head coach Doug Weight, and rallied to move into the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

There’s no question they want to keep the momentum going. Which is why today’s news might be met with action.

Casey Cizikas, on pace for a career year with seven goals and 23 points through 53 games, is expected to miss the next month with a hand injury suffered in Tuesday’s win over Detroit.

Cal Clutterbuck, hampered by an “annoying” soft-tissue injury, also left Tuesday’s contest. Another forward, Shane Price, is on IR with an upper-body ailment, and has missed the last five games.

The end result? New York finished with just 10 forwards against the Red Wings, and appear ready to insert 35-year-old AHL recall Bracken Kearns into the lineup.

It all makes for a pretty dicey situation, especially since the club has eight dates remaining on a whopping nine-game road trip.

More, from Newsday:

Perhaps it’s good that next Wednesday’s trade deadline is fast approaching.

General manager Garth Snow was already believed to be on the hunt for another forward, preferably a top-nine player. Cizikas’ injury may accelerate Snow’s talks, which have not had much traction in a market where sellers’ demands have been sky high so far.

If Cizikas misses the four full weeks, that puts him on target for a Mar. 23 return — meaning he’d miss the next 13 games. And it’s hard to say what the club can get out of Clutterbuck, who has missed 13 of the last 17 contests and is clearly playing through pain.

The Isles have made the playoffs in each of the last two years, and both times Snow’s made minor upgrades at the deadline. Last year, he acquired Prince from Ottawa, which turned out nicely — he had three goals and four points in 11 playoff games, averaging just under 14 minutes per night.

In 2015, Snow acquired both Michal Neuvirth and Tyler Kennedy, but neither had a major impact.