Ray Whitney arrived in Raleigh in the midst of the lineup shuffling during the summer of 2005 that was driven by the new salary cap and two years of free agents from the 2004-05 season missed due to the lockout. As a bargain pickup for only $1.5 million per year after his buyout by the Detroit Red Wings, he looked to be good value for the money. But few would have guessed how significant of a role he would play in Carolina Hurricanes history.
As part of the 2005-06 Hurricanes, he joined what grew to become a very balanced Hurricanes team and settled in on a third line centered by Matt Cullen. In the new NHL that suddenly rewarded skill and speed by clamping down on previously permitted hooking, holding and obstructing, the speedy duo was a model for the new, faster NHL. With the in-season addition of similarly small and quick Chad LaRose, the trio feasted on lesser defensemen and made the Canes three lines deep. In that season, Whitney scored at nearly a point per game pace registering 17 goals and 38 assists in 65 games.
He was just as good in the playoffs and upped his game as the pressure increased. Whitney scored in each of the Canes wins in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Buffalo Sabres and also collected three goals and two assists in the Stanley Cup Finals. In total, Ray Whitney scored nine goals and dished out six assists in 24 games on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.
Amidst the many stars created during those payoffs, Ray Whitney was one of the fans’ favorites. He was a bit of an underdog at only 5-10 and 180 pounds. And his incredibly skilled and crafty playmaking that earned him the nickname “The Wizard” was fun to watch. His unique dual personality also helped. At one moment he was a resolute and determined leader who forced accountability throughout the locker room. In the next moment he was the locker jokester playing tricks on people or making one of his regular appearances photo bombing the pre-game television interviews during warmups. This unique mix of personality and fun combined with incredible intensity endeared him with fans and teammates alike.
Ray Whitney went on to be an every year team leader in scoring during his five years in a Hurricanes uniform. In the 2006-07 he scored 32 goals and collected 51 assists. The goals were a career high for him, and the 83 points in 81 games led the team in scoring. He scored at a similar clip in 2007-08 with 61 points in 66 games and again in 2008-09 with 77 points in 82 games. Along the way, Whitney became a key contributor to Eric Staal’s scoring, an alternate captain and a key player in the Canes return to the playoffs in the 2008-09 season.
The return to the playoffs again brought out the best in Whitney. A newly minted first line of Ray Whitney, Eric Staal and Chad LaRose was the team’s best and most productive offensively in a thrilling first-round upset of the New Jersey Devils. In that series, Whitney had three goals and four assists including a scoring outburst of one goal and three assists in game six and also a goal in the deciding game seven. He was the playmaking catalyst for the line that provided the offensive fire power in that series and accounted for ten of the Canes 18 goals in that series. In the remainder of the 2009 playoffs, he went on to post another four assists as an offensive leader of an underdog Hurricanes team. The end result was two stunning series wins with game seven wins on the road before succumbing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Whitney went on to play one more season in Raleigh in 2009-10 before signing as a free agent with the Phoenix Coyotes for the 2010-11 season. When his long, successful and underrated career ended, Ray Whitney had climbed to 63rd all-time (as of August 2015) in total scoring with 1,064 points. Canes fans were lucky enough to witness 334 of those points in 372 games in his six seasons in a Hurricanes uniform.
To Canes fans Ray Whitney will always be remembered as fierce competitor, playmaking wizard and primary player in two great playoff runs, in addition to the guy who made the pre-game show interviews a can’t miss because of his photo-bombing exploits. For that, Ray Whitney deserves a permanent place in Hurricanes hockey history.