Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Ghosts of 2002

Those who do not learn the lessons of history...
The 2002 NHL season started on a night much like tonight with the Hurricanes raising a banner to commemorate their Eastern Conference Championship. I was able to get tix to the game and I remember the energy in the building early that evening. It reminded me of the one playoff game I got to attend that spring - game two vs. the Devils. After Bates Battaglia deflected in the game winner in OT, nobody left the arena a stranger. I must have high-fived 30 complete strangers on my way to the car. Winning the conference championship was huge for a franchise trying to find its niche in ACC hoops/NASCAR crazed Raleigh. But the residual energy and optimism that carried over from the '02 playoffs peaked and died that night in the RBC. The Hurricanes lost to the Rangers that night 4-1 and spent the rest of the season in a constant state of hangover.

JR made some moves during the 2002-2003 season in an attempt to right the ship. They were really crappy moves. Rock-solid Marek Malik to Vancouver for Euro-soft Jan Hvlac. Euro-soft Radim Vrbata for a struggling Bates Battaglia.

The hangover continued thru the '03-'04 season and ended with Coach Mo and Captain Franchise losing the hearts and minds of the team. That collapse also speeded the rebirth of the franchise. The Canes parted with two guys that had become expensive garnish when they moved Ron Francis at the trade deadline and let Jeff O'Neill go the free agent route. And JR made the first in a series of bold moves during the 2003 season when he snagged rising star Justin Williams for Danny Markov.

Last year JR was uber-bold. He signed Cory Stillman and Marty Gerber while the rest of the league slept. Both were under-the-radar guys at the time who made a huge difference. Then around trade deadline time, he brought in Doug Weight and Mark Recchi for picks and garnish.

I like the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes. Weight and Recchi are gone. Both were great adds for the PP and that playoff run, but neither brings the speed and physical resiliency that have made the Lavvy system the envy of the league. Scott Walker for Joe Vasicek is an upgrade in both the speed and heart departments. I also think the additions of Trevor Letowski and Eric Belanger should make up for the loss of Matt Cullen. Cullen played hurt a lot last year, looks like Belanger get hurts a lot. The Canes go into this season with three scoring lines and a proven grind line.

If Cam Ward proves to be the real deal long term, then the loss of Marty Gerber won't hurt either. As a 'Ning, John Grahame showed flashes of brilliance. He's the kind of guy who can come in when called and perform spectacularly. Marty G had a tremendous '05-'06 season and one good playoff game. I hope he brings that kind of mojo to the Sens. Tim Gleason for Oleg Neverdovsky should prove an upgrade right now with the potential to be huge as Timayyyy !!! matures (I like David's idea of that South Park line becoming a stadium rant when Gleason touches the puck). That being said, I still think the Canes will miss AWard in a big way. I'll miss AWard in a big way. I already hate seeing him in a Rangers sweater.

Bottom line - there is no reason the Canes shouldn't contend again. JR signed his core guys to love-you-long-time contracts and they should still be hungry. Andrew Ladd should emerge as a star this year. Anton Babchuk might be another pleasant surprise. And with all the late trade activity, everbody has forgotten about David Tanabe as well. I'm not ready to give up on a young guy, on a second chance, who might have something to prove. If Tanabe steps up, there will be no euro-softies or no-loads on this team. Plus there are enough guys (including the captain) who remember the long hangover that started the night of October 9, 2002.

Big test for the Hurricanes tonight. The Sabres were equal parts heart, skill, opportunism and smack during the conference finals. The woulda's, shoulda's and coulda's started during those games and have continued to this day. And da Slugs are the pre-season faves for many pundits.

I've got the DVR cued up. The Dos Equis is on ice and limes are at the ready. Let's drop the puck and see how a Stanley Cup Champion defends their crown. Huzzzzzah!!!!

4 comments:

Tom L said...

Cason,

Just a little pre-game smack coming from me (which, as you'll see I'm really bad at).

I hope everything goes really badly for your guys this year... but, your traffic counter goes through the roof.... :)

Good post btw. I hear there are still tickets for the game tonight, per WGR550.com :)

Vive la Slugs!

Ta,

The Acid Queen said...

Oh, go solo Naxxramas. ;)

CasonBlog said...

Tom - Is the champagne on ice yet in Buffalo?

Tom L said...

Nope, it's not, Cason, and after last night's game I don't think anyone cna predict what's going to happen, except that if we meet in this year's playoffs it's gonna get fugly.

AQ, my guild hasn't even made it through the first boss in BWL, no less Naxx.

Damn, I'm still happy to get AQ20 and ZG drops ferchrissakes.

me == newb

Ta,