GLEN WESLEY | On the defense
On paper, the primary point of vulnerability for this year’s Carolina Hurricanes team is lack of depth at defense.
The team has 16 defensemen in training camp, but only seven under NHL contract. With six dressing for any given game, there’s little margin for injury. And with two of those six fighting their way back from injury, and two others not yet proven at the NHL level, there’s plenty of room for concern.
The seven “D”-men under contract include Glen Wesley, Mike Commodore, Niclas Wallin, Tim Gleason, Dennis Seideberg, Frantisek Kablerle and Bret Hedican. The Hurricanes worked on a couple of trade possibilities during the summer to bring in a good puck-moving defenseman, but were unable to make a deal that made sense to General Manager Jim Rutherford. So the hope is that the current corps will stay healthy and one of the team’s leading defensive prospects will make an impression at camp and make himself a good candidate for call-up. Gone from the defense from last season are David Tanabe (trying out as a free agent for St. Louis), Andrew Hutchinson (gone to the New York Rangers in the trade which brought Matt Cullen back) and Anton Babchuk (back at home in Russia).
Here’s how they stack up: The top three defensemen are proven and reliable. Wesley turns 39 in a few weeks and will be a solid presence on blue line, but age has slowed him. Commodore, almost 28, has matured into a solid NHL regular and provides toughness when needed. Wallin, 32, who very nearly was dealt this summer, has also matured and should provide plenty of stability. Gleason and Seidenberg were so-so last season, the former dealing with injury and the latter not reaching the level the Canes hoped for him after getting him in exchange for Kevyn Adams in January. Even though both have NHL experience, this season is critical to their development.
That leaves Hedican and Kaberle. They were mainstays in Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup-winning season, but injuries limited Hedican to only 50 games last year and Kaberle to just 27.
Hedican is a warrior whose skating skills belie his age (37), but he’s played hurt for a long time now. He had hip surgery a summer ago and struggled last year with his back as well. There was speculation he was going to retire because of his back problems, but so far, a few days into camp, so good. Kaberle had major shoulder surgery a year ago, then tweaked a knee this summer and just had minor arthroscopic surgery. He’ll likely be back in two or three weeks, perhaps in time for the season opener Oct. 3.
If both Hedican and Kaberle are healthy for the entire season, then the usual bumps and bruises amongst the rest of the blue liners will be tolerable. The Hurricanes’ power play, so potent in 2005-2006, suffered last year and was a major factor in the team missing the post-season. Hedican and Kaberle are superb in quarterbacking the man-advantage unit; with them in the lineup, the team’s record should improve.
But if they’re not at 100 percent, and the Canes are unable to find suitable replacements, all bets are off. The depth the team has at defense, and the depth it’s working on developing, will help define the season.
So far, amongst the candidates for that depth, Noah Babin has played well in camp – he scored a goal in Sunday’s pre-season opener, a 4-3 overtime against Washington. Brett Carson, Tim Conboy and J. D. Forrest will be given good looks throughout the pre-season.
Coming soon: Part 3 | Forwards