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Droschak: Carolina's Players of the Decade

by David Droschak / Carolina Hurricanes
Editor’s note: The second in a three-part series highlighting the Carolina Hurricanes’ accomplishments this past decade as seen through the eyes of feature writer David Droschak, who has covered the team since its North Carolina inception.

In this article, Droschak takes a look at Carolina’s best players of the last decade. We would love to hear your feedback or some of your favorites over the last 10 years in Raleigh, either via email or on our message boards.

Up next: Decade’s most memorable moments.  

Scoring, defense, longevity, leadership, league awards and championships – all components that help make some of the best players in hockey. Ranking the top 10 Carolina Hurricane players of the last decade was a fun, yet challenging process that is surely open to subjective interpretation. 

The list includes four players drafted by the Hurricanes, three others who came via trade and some with free-agent acquisitions. What can’t be debated is each player has left a lasting impression with their performances on the ice and as popular players with the Caniacs.

  1. Rod Brind’Amour: Despite his diminishing role recently, the captain’s 10-year stint with the Canes has produced a Stanley Cup championship, another Finals appearance in 2002 and an Eastern Conference final run last year. Heading into the last few days of 2009, No. 17 has played the most games (652), registered the most points (462) and logged the most assists (295) of any Carolina player this decade. He also has scored 59 power-play goals and tallied 10 short-handed scores – which is second-best in franchise history. Brind’Amour has six playoff game-winners this decade and won the Selke Trophy in 2006 and 2007 as the NHL’s best defensive forward. With the Canes down 0-2 and in danger of going into a major hole in the first-round series against Montreal in 2006, Brindy scored the game-tying goal with five minutes left to send the game into OT. Carolina went on to win the game, the series and eventually the Cup. This decade alone, Brind’Amour has logged his 1,400th game, 400th goal and 700th assist in a Carolina uniform.

  2. Eric Staal: After spending a year in the minors during the 2005 work stoppage, Staal became one of the NHL’s elite all-around players in the second half of the decade. The former No. 2 overall draft pick is one of just five players who have scored 30 or more goals in each of the last four seasons. Staal’s 172 goals is tops for all Carolina scorers this decade. He also registered the only 100-point season since the Canes moved from Hartford, is a three-time All-Star and was recently named to the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. The 6-foot-4 center has been clutch in his two playoff appearances, getting 43 points in his 43 career playoff games and is one of the NHL’s ironmen, having missed just one game prior to an injury early this season.

  3. Ron Francis: The franchise’s best player ever, but Francis’ retirement after the 2004 season lands him third on the decade’s list. In 355 games in the decade, the former captain had 271 points, including 39 power-play goals. Twice Francis registered 50 assists in a season. In 2001, he became the first player to total 1,000 points with the franchise and in 2003 played in his 1,616th career game to move into third place on the NHL’s all-time list. Also this decade, Francis won the Lady Byng Trophy for the third time in his illustrious career. Against a team filled with future Hall of Famers and not given a chance to even win a game in the ’02 Cup Finals, Francis scored less than minute into OT in Game 1 to shock the Red Wings in Detroit. His No. 10 jersey was retired in 2006 and Francis became the first Carolina player elected to the Hall of Fame a year later.  

  4. Cam Ward: Ward’s playoff heroics alone land him in the top five, but he also has 125 regular-season wins this decade and a 2.84 GAA as the team’s top goalie. The former first round draft pick is 6-1 all-time in playoff deciding games, including 4-0 in Game 7s in the last four seasons. In his rookie year, Ward took over for Martin Gerber after the first two playoff games and went 15-8 with a 2.14 GAA, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason MVP. Ward is 23-18 overall in the pipes during the playoffs. In the six most recent playoff series clinching wins for the Canes, Ward has allowed just 10 goals.  

  5. Ray Whitney: As one of hockey’s free agent steals of the decade, Whitney has scored 301 points in 329 games since signing with the Canes out of the lockout. He’s led the Canes in scoring two times in four seasons, and again is battling for the team lead this year. Thirty-three of his 108 goals with the Canes have come on the power play, where the Wizard is a calming force with tremendous stick skills. Whitney had 15 points in 24 playoff games during the 2006 Cup run. He has also served as one of the team’s alternate captains.  

  6. Glen Wesley: The only defenseman to crack the list, the redhead logged 538 of his 913 games played for the franchise this decade before retiring after the 2007-08 season. That included a productive 146 games after many thought Wesley would hang up his skates when he won the Cup in 2006. As one of the team’s alternative captains, Wesley was a picture of true grit and professionalism, coming back from two serious injuries (neck and jaw) to perform at an extremely high level. Traded to Toronto in 2003 for a draft pick, Wesley returned to the Canes on a series of one-year handshake contracts with Rutherford. His No. 2 jersey now hangs in the RBC Center rafters next to Francis.  

  7. Arturs Irbe: Another one of Rutherford’s all-time signing steals, Irbe’s throwback style in net and his productively during the 2002 playoff run to the Cup Finals made him a fan favorite and one of the game’s top goalies early this decade. The team’s all-time leader in wins (130) and shutouts (20), Irbe won 92 games this decade and went 10-8 with a sparkling 1.67 GAA in the ’02 postseason. Irbe was a workhorse in net, playing in an NHL-high 77 games in 2000-01, winning 37 with six shutouts. 

  8. Jeff O’Neill: Joins Staal as one of only two Carolina players this decade to score 40 or more goals in a season. One of the NHL’s top snipers over a three-year period in which he scored 41, 31 and 30 goals in leading the team in scoring twice. O’Neill was a clutch performer on the power play and when the game was on the line, evidenced by his 47 man-advantage goals and 25 game-winners over a 4 1-2 year span.

  9. Erik Cole: A member of the famed BBC line during the 2002 Cup Finals run, Cole has logged 455 games for the Canes this decade, scoring 303 points. Only Brind’Amour, Staal, O’Neill, Francis and Sami Kapanen have more in Carolina history. A member of the 2006 U.S. Olympic team coached by Peter Laviolette. Cole had 30 goals in 60 games in the 2005-06 season before having his regular season ended prematurely when he was hit from behind by Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik. Cole returned from his broken neck for the final two games of the Cup-winning season. 

  10. Justin Williams: Williams was traded to L.A. late last season after a series of injuries, but not before leaving his mark on the Carolina record books with 201 points in 265 games. Williams had 31 and 33 goal seasons and 30 points in 37 games in 2007-08 before an injury. Williams was a tremendous asset on the power play, who wasn’t afraid to mix it up in front of the net. Scored the empty-net goal that sealed Game 7 against Edmonton and the team’s first-ever Stanley Cup. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Bret Hedican, Niclas Wallin, Matt Cullen, Sean Hill, Sami Kapanen and Martin Gelinas.    

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