We are halfway through the NHL season and writers are starting to give out team grades and analyzing the halfway mark. The Carolina Hurricanes have 33-points and are fighting to stay afloat. It would be easy to go through and just point out everything that has gone wrong with the ‘Canes this season. Instead you can dissect the ‘Canes a bit and get a good sense of what the team can do throughout the rest of the season to insure they will put a winning team on the ice in the future. That recipe might not come together next year, or the year after that, but the ‘Canes have had some points this season that can give fans some joy in a season at the bottom of the conference. So lets meet the ‘Canes halfway.
Cam Ward Seemingly Returning to Form
A lot of people gave up on Cam Ward before the start of this season. Ward battled injuries and bad play throughout recent seasons. Cam Ward started the season strong, making great saves and keeping a lackluster offense in games that they should have been out of. Cam Ward has been bright spot for the Hurricanes. He blew the league away with probably one of the best saves of year early in the season against the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins. Ward has just been steady guiding light for this team. He might get traded, and even though that seems bad for ‘Canes fans it might be a bright spot. With his level of play the ‘Canes might be able to get players or picks for him that might help the team in the future. Anton Khudobin has also shown that he is a good replacement for the long time Carolina Hurricanes goalie.
Skinner and Staal Hitting Milestones
Both of these players are important to the ‘Canes now, and stay or go, they will important to the ‘Canes in the future. Jeff Skinner hit a career milestone scoring his 100th goal as an NHL player. All of his goals have been as a Hurricane, and it was a positive in a rough season for Skinner and the team. Skinner has struggled to put up the goal numbers that he scored in past seasons. A goal for the ‘Canes in the second half of the season needs to be working towards finding another center that can really help out with Skinner, a great goal scoring winger.
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) January 9, 2015
Eric Staal has been the best forward for the ‘Canes this year, and he hit a milestone of his own this year. Losing his brother early in the season was definitely involved in the slow start for the captain, but he has hit his stride and now is leading the ‘Canes in goals and points.He scored his 300th career goal this season which was a high point. Saying all that, he is still projected to have the lowest point totals in his career. The return of Jordan has really helped him offensively, and hopefully will boost his point collecting throughout the rest of the season. He has 13-goals and 13-assist this season. He is more to the ‘Canes then scoring points, and it looks like he will stay on the roster for the rest of his contract as reports say he won’t waive a no trade clause.
Justin Faulk the All-Star
A lot of fans outside of Raleigh are upset that Justin Faulk is in the All-Star game. He was the only Eastern Conference defenseman selected, but isn’t ranked in the top 10 for points for a defenseman this season. His selection over players like P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, and Kris Letang is infuriating people over the current All-Star selection process. Faulk might not be an All-Star in the eyes of the league, but he has been the most reliable defenseman for the ‘Canes. There is only one player on the ‘Canes roster with more points than Faulk (Eric Staal). Its understandable that people get mad that each team, no matter their struggles, gets someone in the All-Star game. It is also understandable that the NHL wants to encourage fans who cheer for bad teams to have something cheer for in the All-Star game. ‘Canes fans will get some joy this year when they get to watch Justin Faulk in the All-Star game, and I am sure he will try his best to prove his worth.
Young Players Getting an Opportunity
Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask are getting their chance this year to prove they are a big part of the ‘Canes future. Elias Lindholm, like Eric Staal, has benefited from the return of Jordan Staal to the first line. Lindholm has 8-goals and 10-assists this year, and has been clutch in the shootout for the ‘Canes recently. Victor Rask has also helped out in the shootout recently clinching a needed win for the ‘Canes in a season where they need all the wins they can get. Rask has 6-goals and 7-assists and like Lindholm he isn’t really blowing the world out of the water with points this year. What he has done is prove that he has the ability to become a capable NHL player, and his speed will transfer over in the league. Rask could be the center that Jeff Skinner needs to explode on the scene but I don’t think it will happen this year for the young forward. Rask is having a season that is similar to the season Elias Lindholm had last year.
Lets Meet Them Halfway
It is halfway through the season and we already know the ‘Canes aren’t going to make the playoffs. It has been rough for fans to watch this team struggle. There was promise to start the season, but injuries, and lack of NHL level talent have helped sink this ‘Canes team. There is always a bright side. One of those bright sides is that the ‘Canes are still fighting hard in every game, and there is no sign of give up in this team. They are winning games against teams in the same predicament as them (see the last win against Buffalo) and they are making talented teams work hard to beat them in most games. Fans get to see Justin Faulk represent the team in the All-Star game even if the team “deserves” an All-Star or not. The NHL is about the fans, and fans deserve to watch their favorite players in the All-Star game even if their team is in the bottom of the league. The Staal brothers are playing great hockey now and it will a treat for ‘Canes fans to get to watch them mesh well for the rest of the season. The trade deadline is closely approaching, so this team we saw in the first half of the season might to start to look very different in the second half. The future of this team will start to morph moving forward into the second half of this season, and I think the future will have a lot in-store for the Carolina Hurricanes. For now, lets just get used to meeting the ‘Canes halfway, while management, coaches, and players try to figure out what they need to put on the ice to make the fans happy.
Philip is a Sports Journalist covering the Pittsburgh Penguins. Duquesne University Journalism Grad 2013.