General manager Jim Rutherford laid down the law in training
camp: "Players who have been here are going to have to work to
show they fit on this team." To that end, coach Paul Maurice put
the club through hourlong drills that left many players doubled
over with fatigue. Jeff O'Neill, Carolina's leading scorer last
season, said it was the toughest training camp he's had in eight
years with the team.
But more than most clubs the Hurricanes will benefit from a
survival-of-the-fittest approach. Last season they lost 293
man-games to injury, 180 more than the previous year, and ended
the season with an 11-game winless streak. The team that couldn't
stay healthy went from Stanley Cup finalists in 2001-02 to having
the league's worst record in '02-03. If nothing else, the
Hurricanes may have led the NHL in bad luck. On Jan. 30 left wing
Erik Cole broke his left leg when his skate got caught in the ice
at Tampa Bay. Less than two weeks later enforcer Jesse Boulerice
got knocked out with one punch by the Stars' Aaron Downey and
missed the rest of the season with a concussion. A month after
that, rookie wing Damian Surma injured his right shoulder when he
tumbled into the boards while celebrating his first NHL goal.
Trying to reverse the team's fortunes will be Maurice, who at 36
is the longest tenured coach in the NHL despite a 260-279-91-14
record in eight years. While Carolina upgraded its defense with
the addition of solid Danny Markov and tough-guy Bob Boughner in
off-season trades, the Hurricanes did little to improve an
offense that was last in the NHL with 171 goals.
Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe split time in net last season, but
Weekes is now the undisputed No. 1 goalie. Given Carolina's
ineptitude last season, his numbers were respectable (14-24-9
with a .912 save percentage and a 2.55 goals-against average).
Speaking of respectable, this may be the final year for classy
40-year-old captain Ron Francis, who enters the season with 1,758
career points, fifth alltime. Too bad he'll spend it on a team
likely to struggle. --B.C.
COLOR PHOTO: ELSA/GETTY IMAGES (O'NEILL) JEFF O'NEILL
( 1 Best - 30 Worst )
POWER PLAY 22
PENALTY KILLING 22
G.M. AND COACH 21
For the Hurricanes to have any prayer of making the postseason,
they need to play a tight defensive system.... G.M. Jim
Rutherford did a nice job of remaking the defense into a bigger,
meaner and more skilled unit by obtaining solid blueliners Bob
Boughner, Danny Markov and Glen Wesley.... The pressure is on
coach Paul Maurice. Making the playoffs is important to his job
security, but Maurice also needs to give ice time to young F's
Eric Staal, Josef Vasicek and Jaroslav Svoboda.