10/02/09 — Opinion -- Revamped Hurricanes ready to go

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Opinion -- Revamped Hurricanes ready to go

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on October 2, 2009 1:46 PM

Rebuilt, refocused and highly motivated, the Carolina Hurricanes have all the makings of an organization ready to take another step toward the Stanley Cup in 2009.

Following an exciting and unexpected run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2008, Carolina spent the off-season retooling a roster needing a facelift on defense and begging for additional weapons offensively.

General Manager Jim Rutherford brought in defensemen Andrew Alberts (Philadelphia) and Jay Harrison (Toronto). Aaron Ward, a member of the 2006 Stanley Cup squad, was brought back to Raleigh in an off-season trade with Boston.

Rutherford shed Anton Babchuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Frantisek Kaberle from a defensive unit that was severely outskated. Carolina allowed five goals a game to Pittsburgh during a four-game sweep in the conference finals.

Free-agent forwards Tom Kostopoulos and Stephane Yelle were added in hopes of providing firepower to an offense that lacked consistency a year ago.

After combining for 15 goals in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, Scott Walker, Rod Brind'Amour, Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu collectively found the back of the net just once in the conference finals.

The Hurricanes were also an anemic 6-for-60 on the power play throughout the postseason.

Goaltender Cam Ward is fully recovered from a back injury that hampered his play during the conference finals. Ward went 8-10 in the playoffs with only two shutouts. The former Conn Smythe trophy winner was rewarded with a six-year contract extension on Wednesday.

During its magical run to the conference finals, Carolina became just the second franchise in league history to win consecutive game 7's on the road in the same postseason.

The sting of disappointment from a four-game sweep against the Penguins didn't quickly subside. The Hurricanes haven't forgotten the empty feeling of having the season abruptly ended in their own building back in May.

So-called experts have once again picked Carolina to finish in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. Those bitter memories and preseason predictions should give the Hurricanes constant sources of motivation.

Carolina will be tested early as it navigates through 10 games against playoff teams from last season in its first 27 contests.

The Hurricanes returned to the postseason last year after becoming the first team in league history to miss two straight postseasons after winning the Stanley Cup.

Championships are often an accomplishment of years in the making. If that theory holds true, the Carolina Hurricanes should add another big piece to their nearly complete Stanley Cup puzzle this season.