Originally written April 28, 2013 on Fox Sports Carolinas:
Losing the season finale 8-3 Saturday against the Penguins while giving up five goals in the third period wasnt exactly how the Hurricanes wanted to end this season. But then again, maybe it was fitting as the 'Canes finished 19-25-4 with 42 points, ahead of only two teams in the Eastern Conference. Now that the postseason has officially launched, the organization must deal with not being a part of it for a fourth consecutive season. Only the Jets, who were the Thrashers until two seasons ago, have failed to make the playoffs from the East over that stretch. On paper, the Hurricanes looked like a possible contender when the season began, making the slide which included dropping 14 of 15 games in one stretch even more discouraging. The 2013-14 campaign must be different, making this a crucial offseason. Here are three things that went right and three things that went wrong this season: Three Things That Went Right 1. The Return of Eric Staal Not that he ever left or was injured, but the anchor of the franchise, who is four years into a seven-year, 57.25 million contract, struggled horribly to close the 2011 season and wasnt entirely the player the brass expected last year. But, he got going again this season, looking more like the player that had 100 points in '06 and 82 in '08. Staal scored just 18 goals, but had 35 assists and finished sixth in the NHL with 53 points. In a full season, those numbers would project to 31 goals and 71 assists for 102 points. That is big-time. This season, Staal was more captain-like and the face of the franchise in the locker room as much as on the ice. That in itself is a terrific development that should only help the team moving forward. 2. Future Backup? Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford may kick himself for not actively pursuing another goaltender when Cam Ward went down for the season on March 3, but moving forward, that may have been a valuable decision. The team still has to decide on a backup to Ward for next season, but at least its armed with more information than it would have had if Ward never went down. Dan Ellis, who played 19 games in net, doesnt have a contract for next season, while Justin Peters does. That makes Ellis the odd man out. Peters, who was Wards primary backup in 2010-11, was slated to spend the entire season in Charlotte before Wards injury, but ended up playing in 19 games, too. If Peters is the man, Carolina will have a far more experienced backup than was the original plan. Or, perhaps the team saw enough and will find a player currently outside of the organization. Either way, getting a serious look at Peters this season could pay off next winter. 3. Youth Infusion Six players made their NHL debuts for the 'Canes, which would be a remarkable figure in a full 82-game season, much less a lockout-shortened 48-game one. A positive from the many injuries that afflicted the 'Canes was that Rutherford and coach Kirk Muller got to look at many of the franchises prospects in person and against NHL competition as Brett Bellemore, Chris Terry, Michal Jordan, Nicolas Blanchard, Ryan Murphy and Jared Staal all saw action. Staal helped make history when Carolina dressed three brothers in the same game for just the 10th time in major sports history, and Murphy made his anticipated move to the NHL before returning to Kitchener of the OHL to further refine his game. He likely will be up for most or all of next season. The younger 'Canes will push some older players in camp for roster spots, but instead of just what happens in September, the brass will be able to draw from the players stints this season to better gauge what decisions to make. Three Things That Went Wrong 1. Injuries Carolina lost 171 man games, as only Eric and Jordan Staal and Jiri Tlusty played in all 48 contests. Jay Harrison played in 47, missing the finale Saturday at Pittsburgh. Consider, had Jeff Skinner not missed six games, Justin Faulk 10, Joe Corvo eight, Tim Gleason six, and Tuomo Ruutu 31, the Hurricanes would have been a more successful team. Continuity is so important in this game. Then add that Ward was in net just 17 times and the other injuries that afflicted the franchise and its hard to imagine the team not imploding as it did. The Hurricanes were atop the Southeast Division with 25 points when Ward went down, but from that point on went 7-17-3 with only 15 points. 2. D-E-F-E-N-S-E Carolina finished the season ahead of only the Panthers (3.54 goals per game allowed) by surrendering an average of 3.31 goals per outing. Injuries were part of the problem. In addition to the previously noted defensemen, Jamie McBain and Joni Pitkanen missed significant time, too. The group has some nice components in Harrison, Corvo, and Faulk, who will be a regular All-Star perhaps beginning next season. But its not physical enough. The 'Canes were 28th in killing penalties at 77.6 percent, ahead of just Nashville and Florida and in the stretch where they lost 14 of 15 games, the team was outscored 60-24. The offense certainly had its issues during the slide, and theres no doubt not having Ward put the club at a mental disadvantage. 3. Skins Thats how the guys in the room refer to Skinner, the talented 20-year-old who has struggled a bit the last two seasons after a sensational rookie campaign. In Skinners defense, he suffered a concussion Dec. 7, 2011 and missed 18 games. He had 12 goals at the time of the injury and scored only eight more the rest of the season. Skinner had five goals in the first five games of this campaign and was playing as quick and fast as any time in his career and he was at eight goals and seven assists after just 13 games when another concussion sidelined him. Skinner spent just two weeks on the shelf, but still took quite some time to get into a groove, though he scored three goals in the teams final eight contests. A scrapper and not afraid of taking on bigger guys on the ice, Skinner isnt going to change how he plays, nor should he. But he and the organization cant afford any more concussions.
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