Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A quiet word in Rutherford’s ear

As we head into Game -6 of the season, there is a definite whiff of playoff attitude in the air. Scott Gomez put the fans on notice that there aren’t any tomorrows beyond this game, at least not in the cliché’ed world that NHL minds live in.

In fact he is right. The Hurricanes game is critical. Not just because it could be two much sought points for this Habs squad, but also because of what it would do to the overall playoff race. If the Canadiens beat the Hurricanes tonight it would leave Carolina with a less than 0.015% chance of making the playoffs – essentially elimination. Given that the Canadiens are slated to play Carolina once more, the gentle persuasion of all but formal elimination could mean an easier game, or at least some rookie opposition later in the schedule.

Here’s the thing though, right now Carolina does have a chance, but it’s really only in the theoretical realm. Sports Club Stats gives them about a 0.2% chance of making the post-season, and most scenarios ask for 6 wins from the team that’s on 32 wins and 44 losses. Rather than rely on actions to do the talking, shouldn’t someone just go and have a quiet word in Jim Rutherford’s ear?

What harm could the Canes do in the playoffs?

And intrinsically tied to that: Does Rod Brind’amour even have a playoff run left in him?

A minus 29 on the season suggests he may not. With Matt Cullen gone as well and Zach Boychuk still learning at a very rookie-like pace, this is not a team with much down the centre.

A look at the wings is no more flattering. Erik Cole is not the Erik Cole of old. And as it stands, Kostopoulos is the 4th leading winger in points among healthy choices (and his 8G 11A aren’t convincing anyone he’s become a playoff machine since leaving MTL).

In short, the Canes are in transition. And it’s not a transition that will lead to Cup this spring.

How deep is the draft?

No matter what experts say, people who have ended up with 5th as their highest pick in the last 20 years know that no draft is knee deep in team-changing players. This year shouldn’t be any different. The Hurricanes currently sit in 25th position (or 6th from the bottom). As the lottery goes their best pick would be 2nd, their worst 7th, their likeliest 6th.

6th or 7th won’t turn many franchises from 25th place ones into 5th place ones, much less ones who trade Jack Johnson for virtual nothings. A 2nd or 3rd pick might.

Jim has the chance to help his team drop like a stone and rival the current bottom 5 for the cream of the crop in the draft.

Hurricanes position unique among bottom feeders

The other factor that goes in favour of a forced swoon for the Canes is the fact they look wholly different from their rivals. The Oilers, Leafs, Islanders and Panthers are perennial failures. There must be legitimate concern about fan fatigue with the futility, even in the face of a better pick.

Not so in Carolina. 4 years ago a Cup. Last season a conference final. The fans have had a fill of good hockey and probably thirst for more. That said, the realists among them must see this is not a conference final year and a quick turnaround to coincide with a Ruutu return and a Staal good year might be the ticket.

Furthermore, the Hurricanes are darlings of the NHL. A competitive success in the South. If Florida and the Islanders stink out the place, their very being could be questioned again. The Canes seem safe for now. So too is Rutherford who has won favour with his owner for patience and delivered with patience. There’s little reason to believe patience won’t be on his side this summer.

Collusion isn’t really allowed or encouraged. I am writing this half in jest. Gentle whispers and backroom deals aside, won’t Rutherford be thinking all this already? Wouldn’t any GM faced with a 0.2% of a playoff first round sweep or 1st overall possibility with 3rd or 4th in the bag see things this way?

Let the intrigue begin…

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