After winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 and making a surprising run to the conference finals in 2009, Carolina kept its aging core together and even added more veterans last summer by re-acquiring Aaron Ward and adding Stephane Yelle in hopes of making one more run. Instead, the Hurricanes bottomed out with a disastrous first half and never recovered. They sold off most of their veterans at the trade deadline and watched others like Rod Brind’Amour (retired) and Ray Whitney (signed with Phoenix) exit in the offseason, leaving Carolina to usher in a youth movement built around holdovers Eric Staal and Cam Ward.
2009-10 Record: 35-37-10, 80 points (third in Southeast Division; 11th in Eastern Conference; did not qualify for the playoffs)
Bruins record vs. Hurricanes: Boston leads the all-time series 92-64-16-2 and won three of the four meetings last year. The Bruins routed Carolina 7-2 at the Garden on Oct. 3, then after falling 5-1 in Carolina on Jan. 24, they bounced back with a 5-2 win down there on March 16 and closed out the season series in memorable fashion with a 4-3 win in Boston on April 10. The Bruins scored an NHL record three short-handed goals on one minor penalty at the start of the second period in that game, with Daniel Paille, Blake Wheeler and Steve Begin each scoring with Matt Hunwick in the box for hooking.
When to watch: Boston hosts the Hurricanes in a matinee the day after Thanksgiving on Friday, Nov. 26 and the Bruins also open a home-and-home series at the Garden on Monday, Jan. 17. The Bruins go to Carolina on Tuesday, Jan. 18 and Tuesday, Feb. 1.
Familiar faces: Forward Sergei Samsonov, the eighth overall pick in the 1997 draft the same year the Bruins took Joe Thornton first, begins his fourth season in Carolina, where he found new life after bouncing around from Edmonton to Montreal and to Chicago before being claimed on waivers by the Hurricanes. Carolina drafted Boston College defenseman Brian Dumoulin (Biddeford, Maine) in the second round in 2009.
Key additions: D Bobby Sanguinetti (trade with N.Y. Rangers); D Joe Corvo (free agent); F Jonathan Matsumoto (trade with Philadelphia); F Jared Staal (trade with Phoenix); F Riley Nash (trade with Edmonton); F Jeff Skinner (draft)
Key losses: F Ray Whitney (signed with Phoenix); F Rod Brind’Amour (retired); D Brian Pothier (signed with HC Geneve-Servette, Swiss National League); F Tim Conboy (signed with Buffalo); D Alexandre Picard (signed with Montreal); G Manny Legace (free agent)
Burning question: How quickly can the young Canes come together?
With such a heavy turnover, chemistry could be an issue as the Hurricanes learn to mesh together. They’ll also have to do it without the veteran leadership of players like Ward, Whitney and Brind’Amour. Staal, 25, took over as captain midway through last season and that seemed to spark Carolina out of its early-season stupor. It was too late to climb back into the playoff picture, but the Hurricanes could return to the postseason this year if their young talent develops quickly enough. Brandon Sutter, 21, and Zach Boychuk, 20, will be key players this year, and first-round pick Jeff Skinner could even make the leap right away.
2010-11 outlook: Staal is the key to the Canes after leading the club with 29-41-70 totals in 70 games last year. Jussi Jokinen (30-35-65) and Tuomo Ruutu (14-21-35) will help out, and they’ll need Erik Cole (11-5-16 in 30 games) to stay healthy. Joni Pitkanen (6-40-46) and rugged Tim Gleason lead the defense, while Ward, who won the Conn Smythe as a rookie when Carolina took home the Cup in 2006, must prove he’s among the league’s elite netminders. Carolina has only made the playoffs twice in the last seven years, but they tend to stick around when they do get in, so this could be a dangerous team again soon.
Did you know? It’s been barely 15 months since Scott Walker’s overtime goal eliminated the Bruins in Game 7 of their second-round series in 2009, but in that short time the Hurricanes have undergone a major overhaul. Ten of the 21 Carolina players who appeared in that series are no longer with the club, including Walker and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who is now with the Bruins. Seidenberg joins a Boston squad that has seen nine of the 21 players from that series move on as well.
One player who does remain in Carolina is Staal, which is bad news for Boston. Staal has long been a Bruins killer, collecting 11-12-23 totals and five game-winning goals in 24 career games against Boston in the regular season. He also led Carolina with 4-2-6 totals in that 2009 playoff series.