When Carolina acquired defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh from the
Avalanche in a draft-day deal in June, Hurricane Sandis blew into
Raleigh with such force that he changed the team's entire game
plan. Ozolinsh is the primary inspiration behind Carolina's
tactical transition from a dump-and-chase style to a more
aggressive attack, with the four-time All-Star expected to carry
the puck through center ice and create scoring chances. Ozolinsh
is among the most offensive defensemen in the NHL and among the
least defensive--although he does get defensive about his defense.
"In the past I admit I believed that going for a two-goal lead
was worth risking a tying goal, but I hope I'm smarter now," says
Ozolinsh, who becomes the second Latvian on the Hurricanes, along
with goalie Arturs Irbe, a.k.a. Archie. "Archie and I are old
friends, but if I leave him facing lots of two-on-ones, we won't
be friends by the end of the season."
Can Ozolinsh maintain his career 46-point average with a club
that struggled to score last season (18th in the league) and then
chose not to re-sign unrestricted free agents Gary Roberts, Sean
Hill and Paul Coffey, its third-, fifth- and sixth-best point
producers? Carolina will add speed with talented youngsters such
as right wing Shane Willis and defenseman David Tanabe, but the
club needs a solid season from 11-year veteran center Rod
Brind'Amour, who was acquired in a January trade with the Flyers
for holdout center Keith Primeau and scored just four goals in 33
games with the Hurricanes. "After the trade I was upset and
frustrated, but time heals that," Brind'Amour says. "This team
reminds me of my early teams in Philly, which eventually grew
into a Cup contender."
First, the Hurricanes, who were 37-35-10-0 in 1999-2000, must
reach the playoffs, a feat that has eluded them in seven of the
last eight years. Coach Paul Maurice (whose five seasons in
Carolina rank him, amazingly enough, second to Detroit's Scotty
Bowman in tenure with his current NHL team) has survived
everything from the unsettling Hartford-to-North Carolina move
three years ago to the distracting saga of Primeau last season.
"We've never made excuses, but it's nice that we no longer have
to pretend to ignore things we really couldn't ignore," Maurice
says. "This is a pivotal year for this franchise to establish the
sport in this area, and you can only do that with winning,
These Hurricanes may finally be gathering strength; this season,
though, they are still an imperfect storm.
In just two seasons with the Hurricanes, goaltender Arturs Irbe
has cracked the franchise's alltime top five in wins, shutouts,
and games and minutes played.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 25 How long can Francis carry Hurricanes?
DEFENSE 24 Ozolinsh brings offense, but his D is poor
GOALTENDING 21 Need to find proven backup for Irbe
SPECIAL TEAMS 28 Brind'Amour must rebound from poor season
MANAGEMENT 30 G.M. Rutherford doesn't seem to have plan