It should come as no surprise that GM Jim Rutherford needed to rework his defense.
After an excellent year in 2008-2009 where the Carolina Hurricanes advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, the team regressed mainly due to injuries, inconsistent goaltending and depth issues.
Even though the Canes finished the season in 11th in the Southeast Conference, the team let in the fifth highest goal total in the league– after Toronto, Edmonton, Tampa Bay and the Islanders. In short, something needed to change before the season started.
Rutherford knows what worked in the past and employing Joni Pitkanen for a league leading 27:22 of ice time simply did not. Not a knock on Joni, but he may not even play top-pairing minutes come next season let alone more than Duncan Keith.
What worked in the previous season was all 6’5″ of Russian defenseman Anton Babchuk. The Kiev native scored 16 goals as the trigger man on the powerplay during the 2008-2009 season before leaving the team for the KHL for the second time. If he can match that production with his 1.4 million cap hit, the 26-year-old should be an excellent bargain.
Continuing with the same trend, Rutherford also brought back offensive defenseman Joe Corvo after dealing him a few months before. This move adds stability to the blue line at a modest 2.5 cap hit while allowing young gun Jamie McBain to get a bit more NHL seasoning. Paul Branecky of the Canes Official Website noted Corvo will be a lock to play with bruising defenseman Tim Gleason.
Safe to say they won that trade.
If the blue line did not looked stacked enough with Corvo-Gleason and Pitkanen-Babchuk manning the top four, the Canes traded for blue chip defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. If you watch the AHL, you will remember Sanguinetti as the fastest skater ever to skate in their skills competition.
Much like the deal to acquire Jiri Tlusty, the Canes went after a player who is young and has success at the professional level. Both seasons that Sanguinetti played with the Hartford Wolfpack he made the All-Star team. If not for the emergence of Michael Del Zotto, Matt Gilroy and now Ryan McDonagh, he would probably be wearing Ranger blue this coming season.
If Sanguinetti or AHL defender Bryan Rodney fail to make the roster, journeyman enforcer Jay Harrison will keep their spot warm. In 38 games last season, Harrison stood up for teammates with 50 PIM and even chipped in seven points. At 28-years-old he still has plenty of gas left which made him one of the first signings by the team this offseason.
Things should look up for the Canes defensive woes. Part of the problem was the injury to Cam Ward and then the inconsistency of his predecessors. With Ward fully healthy, the team should be ready for another strong season.
During the 2008-2009 season the team finished with the eighth fewest goals allowed, which seems to be more along the lines of the playoff team they are expected to be. Of course time will tell with this new(ish) group but things certainly look up.
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