To be clear, the point of this article is not to say that the Hurricanes are destined to win another Stanley Cup, but I do think the team has played its way up into the category of teams that have a chance. Rather, the aim is to try to use the 2005-06 team as a bit of a measuring stick to see if the current team could have what it takes.
The goalie position was an interesting one for the 2005-06 season. The story everyone remembers was Cam Ward rising up as a rookie in the playoffs and playing a huge role in ultimately winning the Stanley Cup. But the season itself had many more twists and turns. The 2005-06 season started with veteran starter Martin Gerber injured in the first game. Rookie backup Cam Ward seized the opportunity and played decent or better as the team around him rose up. But Ward ultimately faded and was not so great as a starter before Gerber returned and did the majority of the heavy lifting in the regular season as the team surged. But the run later proved to be enough for Ward to get acclimated to the NHL and seemingly build confidence that would be significant later.
Who knows how the 2020-21 season turns out, but the parallels between Alex Nedeljkovic are striking enough that the potential for a repeat is at least possible. Just like the 2005-06 season, the starter was injured early giving Nedeljkovic a chance in net which he has seized. Knock on wood, but Nedeljkovic has not suffered the same coming back to Earth dip that Ward did.
More generally, I would say the 2020-21 Hurricanes are comparable to the 2005-06 team in that Mrazek has played really well this year despite not generally being included among the NHL’s top netminders. Gerber was similar in 2005-06. And Ward and Nedeljkovic match up as unproven rookies who at least showed flashes of potential during the regular season.
In all of the Hurricanes first three deep playoff runs, the team did so with blue lines that were minus big names. The 2005-06 blue line featured a top four of Bret Hedican paired with Mike Commodore and Frantisek Kaberle paired with Aaron Ward. A bit of it is the changing game with defensemen in general more involved offensively, but Kaberle was the only one of the group with an offensive leaning, and all of the four were more steady than spectacular. How well that 2005-06 played in terms of just being sound and capable should not be underestimated, but at the same time I think it is fair to say that the 2020-21 top four are a better group. Hamilton is among the top of the NHL in terms of scoring production on the back end, and Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce have finally begun to receive the recognition they deserve as being among the NHL’s best defensively. The 2005-06 team had a solid veteran third pairing of veterans Glen Wesley and Niclas Wallin. The 2020-21 third pairing is a bit of an unknown with Hadyn Fleury out and Jani Hakanpaa in, Jake Gardiner just returning from a recurring injury and Jake Bean still just gaining NHL experience. But by virtue of the top four, I think the 2020-21 team is superior.
Pre-Erik Cole injury and pre-trade deadline, the Hurricanes were seven forwards deep by my count in terms of generating offense/scoring across the lineup. The top line of Cory Stillman, Eric Staal and Erik Cole was among the NHL’s best with two young skating power forwards and a crafty playmaker who seemed to generate scoring chances for them every shift. The second line featured Rod Brind’Amour and Justin Williams with probably forgotten Niklas Nordgren at wing before a rookie Andrew Ladd took that slot. The third line was driven by Matt Cullen and Ray Whitney who were a nightmare of a skating third line in a new NHL where hooking, holding, tackling and other obstruction as a strategy defensive tactics were suddenly outlawed. Chad LaRose added a third player who could skate. My math has Nordgren and a rookie LaRose as capable complementary players not true scoring top 9 forwards. Worth noting is that the scoring depth on that team and makeup of the third line was on the cutting edge in a league that was just starting to transition away from a standard lineup that had a third line as a checking line and a fourth line that was grinders and enforcers. The fourth line for the 2005-06 team did produce offensively but was still mostly from the checking line mold with Kevyn Adams and Craig Adams at the core. The forward group looked different heading into the playoffs though. Erik Cole was lost to a (mostly) season-ending injury, but the team added veterans Doug Weight and Mark Recchi to the mix via trade. Andrew Ladd made decent strides as a rookie to add more depth. And suddenly the team was incredibly deep at forward entering the playoffs. The volume of leadership and experience was also through the roof. All of Eric Staal, Justin Williams, Doug Weight and Mark Recchi wore a C at some point in their career.
When I compare the 2020-21 forward group, the team has similar depth. In the top 9, I would consider Brock McGinn, Jesper Fast and Warren Foegele to be complementary players who can produce offensively but are not higher-end scorers. I would have said the same about Jordan Staal prior to this season. If Teuvo Teravainen gets back up to speed after injury he would bump someone out of the top 9 and get the Canes up to 6 scoring forwards in the top 9. Even on a team that seems to be firing on all cylinders this season, the edge for depth, especially comparing playoff rosters, would go to the 2005-06 team. Maybe more significant is the experience level. With consecutive playoff berths, the current team has collected some playoff experience but at the same time still has steps to take in terms of growth. The 2005-06 team had a number of players who had literally been through everything already. I think the big question for the 2021 playoff Hurricanes will be to what degree the team’s young guns can perform and outplay the best players on other top teams.
What say you Canes fans?
1) In what areas do you think the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes are superior to the 2005-06 team?
2) In what areas would you give the 2005-06 team the edge?
3) In what ways do you think the two teams are most similar? In what ways do you think they are most different?