Puckin' Around With Spector
by Lyle Richardson on 12/15/11 at 12:02 PM ET
Between November 28th and November 30th, the Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks replaced their head coaches.
Since those respective moves, only the Capitals showed some signs of improvement. After dropping their first game under new coach Dale Hunter, the Capitals by mid-December were playing .500 hockey, with a 3-3 record.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, had only one victory to show in their first seven games with Kirk Muller as their bench boss, while the Ducks, under former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, had a 2-4-1 record.
Of course, it’s only been a little over two weeks, hardly enough time for the Hurricanes and Ducks to fully turn things full, let alone adjust to their new coaches. Plenty of time exists between now and the end of the regular season in mid-April to reverse those fortunes and become competitive playoff contenders.
The sad truth, however, is the problems this season of the Hurricanes and Ducks are beyond the cure of a coaching change.
While the Capitals have the depth to turn things around, that commodity appears to be lacking for the Hurricanes and Ducks.
Both rank among the league’s worst teams in goals-against and shots-against per game. The Ducks, despite the presence of scoring stars Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, are among the lowest-scoring teams, while the Hurricanes are among the worst in power-plays and penalty-killing.
With the exception of Selanne, the Ducks other best forwards are on pace for numbers well below their stats of last season. Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, meanwhile, is having the worst season of his NHL career, and at his current pace will be lucky to reach 50 points.
The Ducks defensemen have struggled this season, especially when Lubomir Visnovsky, their best puck-moving blueliner, was sidelined by a hand injury.
Defense also remains a concern for the Hurricanes, and their recent salary dump of Tomas Kaberle to Montreal for Jaroslav Spacek isn’t expected to improve things.
The starting goalies of both clubs have struggled, largely from the lack of defensive support in front of them. Hiller recently called out his teammates in a post-game interview, while Ward went into an uncharacteristic tirade on the bench after being pulled in last Friday’s game against Winnipeg.
For both goaltenders, the frustration over their respective performances and those of their teammates finally reached the boiling point.
It’s no secret Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford has been in the market for scoring depth. Prior to dealing Kaberle to Montreal, Rutherford offered him along with a second round pick to the floundering Columbus Blue Jackets for young forward Derick Brassard, but the Jackets declined.
Ducks GM Bob Murray was also busy entertaining offers for Ryan before deciding instead to replace Randy Carlyle as head coach with Boudreau.
The optimists can point to how much time remains in the season to turn things around, but the pessimists – or in this case, realists – point to the Hurricanes stuck in the bottom of the Eastern Conference a full nine points out of a playoff berth, and the Ducks eleven points out in the West, and see holes perhaps too deep to climb out of by season’s end.
So what to do?
The natural reaction for the fans is to call for a trade, but the sad reality is the kind of deals which could turn these floundering clubs back into playoff contenders aren’t to be found; at least, not at this time of the season, and certainly not in today’s salary cap world, where blockbuster deals during the season are rare.
Sure, the Ducks could put Bobby Ryan back on the market in the New Year, but really, what purpose would it serve? Any return they get won’t help them this season. If Ryan’s to be shopped, the return would be more lucrative in the off-season, when teams have more available cap space and willingness to invest it.
The Hurricanes have even less to offer. It’s rumored winger Tuomo Ruutu, a UFA whom Rutherford isn’t expected to re-sign, could be shopped at the deadline, but he’ll fetch far less than Ryan.
Ultimately, these two teams, which some observers considered playoff contenders entering this season, simply aren’t that good, and require help beyond changing coaches.
Boudreau and Muller obviously are part of the long-term equation for their respective teams. They should play significant roles in getting these two teams on the right path, but they’re likely only the first of many changes to come, which for their respective rosters should start around the February deadline, with the significant overhaul coming in the off-season.
Barring a stunning mid-season turnaround, fans of the Hurricanes and Ducks should prepare themselves for a long, painful second half, followed by what should be an interesting rebuild during the summer.
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About Puckin' Around With Spector
I’m Lyle Richardson. You might know me from my website, Spector’s Hockey, my thrice-weekly rumor column at THN.com, my weekly column at Eishockey News (if you read German), and my former gig as a contributing writer to Foxsports.com.
I’ll be writing a once-weekly blog here with my take on all things NHL. Who knows, I might actually find time to debunk a trade rumor or two.