STATE OF THE UNION
Heading into the 2009-10 season, there is one certainty in Carolina -- Paul Maurice isn't going anywhere.
The Hurricanes' coach, who replaced Peter Laviolette on Dec. 3, 2008, solidified his job status by leading his sixth-seeded team on a remarkable journey to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, it's a matter of Maurice -- with a fresh three-year deal in his pocket -- finding a way to build on the success the team enjoyed in April and May.
"I don't think there was necessarily a doubt that we were both interested in working together," Maurice said of his relationship with Carolina GM Jim Rutherford. "But we just both wanted to make sure it was as good as we thought it was and it turned out to be."
It definitely worked out in 2008-09, as the Hurricanes flourished after the coaching change, going 33-19-5 -- including a 13-1-2 stretch from March 3 to April 7 -- under Maurice during the regular season before knocking off the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins -- the East's No. 1 seed -- in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Carolina scored twice in the final 90 seconds to win Game 7 at New Jersey in the opening round.
"I've said all along that I don't know if it was at the All-Star break or after we had just lost five in a row (Jan. 8-17), but something switched for this team," said veteran forward Scott Walker, who had a goal and six assists in 18 playoff games. "I've played a long time in this League and this is one of the closest teams I've ever been a part of. It certainly makes it easier when times are tough. No one believed in us except ourselves in the first two series and that was the difference. Everyone stuck together."
"I've said all along that I don't know if it was at the All-Star break or after we had just lost five in a row (Jan. 8-17), but something switched for this team. I've played a long time in this League and this is one of the closest teams I've ever been a part of. It certainly makes it easier when times are tough. No one believed in us except ourselves in the first two series and that was the difference. Everyone stuck together."
-- Carolina forward Scott Walker
The feeling in Raleigh is that the 'Canes can do it again -- and why not? With Cam Ward between the pipes and the lineup virtually intact, Carolina is primed for bigger and better things this time around.
While the Hurricanes were relatively quiet when the free-agency period opened July 1, Rutherford was able to keep key players Erik Cole and Chad LaRose in the fold. Cole, who was re-acquired by the club from the Edmonton Oilers in February, signed a new two-year deal. And after setting career highs in games played (81), goals (19) and points (31), the 'Canes also rewarded LaRose with a two-year contract.
"Chad has grown into a key player for our franchise," Rutherford said. "He had his best year last season and is an important penalty killer and popular player in our locker room and with our fans."
It certainly helps that the Hurricanes aren't short on players who have won in the past, as several roster members -- Cole and LaRose included -- were also a part of the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship squad.
"There's no reason why we can't be in the same situation next year with the same team," said Ward, who posted a 2.67 goals-against average and a .915 percentage in the playoffs and was also the backbone of the '06 run. "Everybody's gotten a taste of what it takes, for the guys that haven't been in the playoffs. For the guys that were in the playoffs, it was just another taste of how much enjoyment we had (in 2006).
"A lot of guys are going to be working extremely hard this summer to do whatever it takes to get ourselves ready for another great run next year."
Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has done a solid job of building through the draft in recent years and has been able to assemble a quality group of prospects along the way.
In the past three years, Carolina has gone from drafting No. 11 in 2006 to No. 27 in 2009 -- a strong indication that the Hurricanes are on the right path. This past season, fans in Raleigh got their first look at Zach Boychuk, as Carolina's top pick from 2008 (No. 14) made the jump from junior hockey to the NHL near the conclusion of the regular-season campaign.
Here is a look at the five biggest prospects for the Hurricanes:
Zach Boychuk -- The 5-foot-10 left wing ended his junior career in tremendous fashion, tallying 28 goals and 29 assists in just 43 games for the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Western Hockey League, giving him 110 goals during four seasons. Boychuk finished the 2008-09 campaign with the Hurricane organization, as he had an assist in two games for the AHL's Albany River Rats and also appeared in two contests with Carolina.
Drayson Bowman -- This power forward enjoyed another big season with the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL, going 47-36-83 with 107 penalty minutes in 62 games before adding another 8 goals and 5 assists in 12 playoff contests. A winner at the junior level, Bowman is ready to be a contributor within the organization. His first stop will likely be in Albany.
Jamie McBain -- Although he was a second-round pick, McBain was actually Carolina's first selection (No. 63) at the 2006 Entry Draft. After compiling 37 points in 40 games with the University of Wisconsin last season, the offensive-minded defenseman made the jump to the AHL, where he had a goal and an assist in 10 games with Albany.
Zac Dalpe -- Taken in the second round in 2008, the 6-1 center enjoyed a solid freshman campaign with Ohio State University this past season. In 37 games for the Buckeyes, Dalpe had 13 goals, 12 assists and 25 penalty minutes.
Mike Murphy -- Is he a late bloomer? The former sixth-round pick (2008) could very well be just that, considering he racked up 40 victories with the Belleville Bulls (Ontario Hockey League) last season while posting a 2.08 goals-against average and a phenomenal .941 save percentage.
Their somewhat-surprising surge to the Eastern Conference Finals left the Hurricanes with pick No. 27 in the first round of the 2009 Entry Draft, and GM Jim Rutherford used it on center Philippe Paradis, a 6-foot-1 center from Dolbeau, Quebec.
Paradis, 18, had 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) in 66 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2008-09. He also had 12 points in 21 playoff games, as he played a major role in Shawinigan's journey to the league finals.
"He plays with an edge," Rutherford said. "He can play physical. He's a good skater. This is the type of player we hoped would be available to us, so we're pretty pleased with the pick."
Rutherford's weekend in Montreal wasn't all that busy after the opening round, as Carolina had only five picks for the remainder of the weekend. Here is a closer look at the Hurricanes' selections:
Brian Dumoulin -- A 6-3 Maine native, Dumoulin was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last season. Dumoulin, who doesn't turn 18 until Sept. 6, had 30 points in 41 games for the Junior Monarchs. Taken at No. 51, Dumoulin will play for Boston College next season.
Mattias Lindstrom -- The Swedish left wing brings plenty of size to the table at 6-4 and 203 pounds, but he also has some skill. In 31 games with Skelleftea in the Swedish Junior League, Lindstrom tallied 8 goals, 5 assists and 46 penalty minutes. He also had a goal in eight games for Skelleftea's big club in the Swedish Elite League.
Matt Kennedy -- With No.131, the Hurricanes opted for a big winger (6-2, 202 pounds) out of Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League. Kennedy, an Ontario native, had 33 goals, 40 assists and 95 penalty minutes in 67 games to earn team MVP honors. He finished the season with the American Hockey League's Syracuse Crunch, netting a goal in four contests. He'll turn 21 (March 4) before next season concludes.
Rasmus Rissanen -- The Finnish defenseman had 9 points and 56 penalty minutes in 29 games for Kalpa in the Finnish Junior League last season, a strong indication that he likes to play a physical game. Rissanen, who was taken at No. 178, represented his country on the Under-18 World Junior Championships, where Finland won the bronze medal.
Tommi Kivisto -- Stay-at-home defenseman had a goal, 21 assists and 49 penalty minutes in 65 games in his first season with the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League. Just like Rissanen, Kivisto also represented Team Finland at the Under-18 World Junior Championships. He had one goal in six games in that tournament.