Tuesday, 31 July 2012

23. Camrolina

The Canes are a pretty steady franchise, right? They always seem to be involved in the playoff race, yeah? Well.. no.. actually they aren't that successful in the regular season. Yes they usually have a winning record, but the fact that surprises me is that they've made the playoffs just 5 times in 14 seasons since the departure from Hartford. The impressive thing about the Hurricanes is their ability to make the most of those opportunities. 3 of those 5 playoff appearances have been runs to at least the conference final: that of course includes a Stanley Cup win in 2006 (which was also their only 100+pt regular season).

For the upcoming season, the forward positions will be bolstered by the acquisition of two top-six forwards. Jordan Staal (brother of captain Eric), and freshly signed Alex Semin should provide the Cane-iacs plenty to cheer about in terms of offense. Semin on a team with no Ovechkin will be an interesting phenomenon to behold: this experiment will either be a huge success or a massive failure (I don't see an in-between scenario). With the added scoring punch the ride this season is surely going to be less hectic for the stalwart Cam Ward.

his commitment to those Vaughn pads is pretty remarkable.. gotta respect that

One last thing to note before getting to the goaltending.. even with Semin's massive $7mil one-year deal, the Canes are still $12mil under the soft cap. If this team ends up in a good position by the trade deadline they will be buying a rental player or two, no doubt in my mind.

Now then: Cam Ward's numbers have never been spectacular in the regular season, last year's 2.74gaa and 91.0sv% were actually right on par (almost exactly) with his career averages. While putting Wardo down for that, you must acknowledge his ability to win when it comes down to crunch-time. His two playoff runs have been exhilirating: posting a 2.38gaa and a 91.7sv% in 41 playoff games is a lot harder than doing it in the regular season. 

Two things are for sure: Ward will post good (probably not amazing) numbers, and he can start 65-70 games. The need for a back-up therefore, is quite low. That back-up role can almost certainly be filled by the two resident 'battlers'. That is, they battle the puck sometimes. Brian Boucher and Justin Peters. Boucher was absolutely excellent with the Flyers two seasons ago with a 2.42gaa and a 91.6sv%, but he found himself struggling in just 10 games with the Canes this past year (3.41gaa, 88.1sv%). It's hard to make the playoffs when your back-up isn't giving your starter 10-15 reliable rest days, and Boosh's play was simply unacceptable.

The younger candidate, 25-year-old Peters, had a nice run in 7 games last year (2.48gaa, 93.sv%). Peters has had trouble with the main back-up role for Carolina in the past though (see 3.98gaa, 87.5sv% in 12 games the season before last). So it may be asking a bit to say he could take the job from a shaky Boucher. Some combination of the two could be a successful recipe for the Canes, but they better hope Ward stays off the Injured Reserve. If many of the starts fall to these two there will be trouble.

Since they drafted Peters in 2004 Carolina have only selected 5 goalies in the last 8 years. Only 1 of those 5 have been in a round higher than the 6th, that is the most recently drafted Daniel Altshuller a 69th overall pick. The Hurricanes feel pretty safe with 28-year-old Ward, and haven't had to utilize high picks on goaltenders.

That's where John Muse comes in. Muse is a 23-year-old Boston College boy, who's fresh off his first professional season split between the Everblades (16-6-3, 2.41gaa, 92.0sv%) and Charlotte (10-3-2, 1.81gaa, 94.1sv%). Exceptional numbers for a rookie pro. He seems to have been a bit of an afterthought on the powerhouse Boston College team that (over his tenure) boasted (among others): Cam Atkinson, Brian Dumoulin, Chris Kreider, Ben Ferriero, and Nate Gerbe. Afterthought or not undrafted 5'11" John Muse posted a 85-39-16 record with decent stats. Couple that with his recent professional performance, and the Canes just might have stolen an NHL-calibre goalie here. He's small by todays standards, but he might have a chance to pass Boucher and Peters on the depth-chart sooner rather than later.

1 massive minute eating starter, 2 below average back ups, and 1 surprisingly effective undrafted college rookie. It's not an ideal situation with the chance of either/both back-ups being inept, but Ward is as durable as goalies come. He's missed just 40 games in his career, which is about 6 per year while starting an average of 59 (that jumps to 64 if you don't count his rookie season backing up Martin Gerber). This is an above average goaltending sitch.. I give Carolina a resounding 6 rights and 2 massive uppercuts to the larynx. (8/10)

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