It’s hard to imagine an offseason go more according to plan than this one did for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The core of the team is largely unchanged from the Conference Finals team of three months ago, with a number of intriguing players added to shore up the depth chart. Whether it be size, toughness, character or leadership, the additions of Andrew Alberts, Tom Kostopoulos, Aaron Ward and Stephan Yelle all bring something valuable to the table, complementing the pieces that were already in place
Long story short, today’s Canes are what the team’s management hoped they would be.
“Everyone kind of recognized where we needed to improve our team, and I think Mr. Rutherford was up front about that all along,” said Erik Cole. “He went out and did exactly what he said he was going to do.”
Adding size was arguably the top priority. From the draft on, Hurricanes players in Raleigh, Albany and the junior and college ranks are on average a lot bigger than they were one year ago.
That’s not to say they’re a bunch of lugs who can’t play.
“We’ve been a big team before, but I don’t think we’ve had the same amount of skill and speed to complement it as we do now,” said Cole, now an eight-year Canes veteran. “I think that will be the biggest difference.”
Cole is one of a handful of players who have been skating at the RecZone in advance of training camp, which officially begins on September 12 when players report for physicals. Also attending Thursday’s skate were Rod Brind’Amour, Tim Conboy, Joe Corvo, Chad LaRose, Sergei Samsonov, Scott Walker, Niclas Wallin, Aaron Ward and Ray Whitney.
Off the roster, Bates Battaglia and his brother Anthony resumed their annual ritual of skating with the team. With Carolina’s regular goaltenders not participating, practice goaltender Jorge Alves and Jeff Zatkoff, a Los Angeles Kings prospect whose girlfriend lives in Cary, filled the nets.
That makes Ward the only “new guy” in town, not that he can fairly be called that given that his family never left town when he signed elsewhere in July of 2006. Still, when the new players do arrive, they shouldn’t have any problem fitting in.
“When you keep the core of the team together, it’s easier to pick up where you left off and for other guys to fit in,” said Cole. “We’ve always had a good environment for that in this locker room.”
If any area of the roster has gone through significant changes, it’s on defense, where Alberts and Ward will fill the skates of Anton Babchuk and Dennis Seidenberg. It’s a unit that seems to look quite different every year - except for one constant.
“For all us old goats, everything comes to an end at some time,” said Niclas Wallin, who is entering his ninth year with Carolina. “Guys like Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican are done playing, and others have moved on as well. I know the new guys we have now are character guys and good guys, because we’ve always had that strategy.”
Having participated in each of the Hurricanes’ long playoff runs – the 2002 finals, 2006 championship and 2009 conference finals – Wallin may have a better sense than anyone on what it takes to be successful. Although admittedly sad to see a few friends leave the team, he’s also excited about the new additions.
“It looks really good, but at the same time we had a good team last year,” he said. “We did a lot of good things last year, and now we’ve built on that.”