"Eyes on the Enemy" is a continuing bi-annual series on the NY Rangers Blog giving fans updates on the Rangers closest rivals. Part 3 of the Olympic version of 'EotE' will focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Any contract figures listed below are courtesy of capgeek.com
Standings: 26-22-9 (25 ROW) Five points behind Philadelphia for third in Metro; Three points behind Detroit for final wild card spot.
Record vs. NYR: 0-1 (NYR @ CAR 3/7; NYR @ CAR 3/11; CAR @ NYR 4/8)
Available Trade Deadline Cap Space: $6,120,817 (LTIR)
For this edition of Eyes on the Enemy, I reached out to Matt Karash who blogs for the Hurricanes at hockeybuzz.com for greater insight into the Hurricanes 2013-14 season thus far.
Neill Fowler: Tale of two halves for the Hurricanes again. Rough 2013, but a good January has the team in the thick of the playoff race. Any reason for the turnaround?
Matt Karash: Anton Khudobin was phenomenal in January (10-4 with 0.927 Save % and GAA barely above 2.00) in winning player of the month. The team also benefitted from a scoring surge from Alexander Semin (8 goals and 5 assists in January) after a sluggish 1st half of the season scoring-wise. A favorable January schedule also played a part.
NF: Cam Ward has been out injured since 12/31. How has Anton Khudobin held up in his place? Is Ward still the first option in net?
MK: As noted above, Anton Khudobin played very well in earning the NHL player of the month for January. The Canes have a busy schedule after the Olympic break (like everyone else) and play 6 back-to-backs. The team will need 2 goalies and will need both to play well to have any chance at making the playoffs. Coming out of the break, Khudobin will be #1, but Ward will be in the mix early. How the starts get split as the schedule wears on will depend on whether Khudobin can maintain his high level of play and if Ward can shake off any rust and find a high level himself.
NF: Jordan Staal recently played his 100th game for Carolina. Looking back, was the trade worth it? Knowing what you know now about Staal's production so far and the assets sent to Pittsburgh for him, would you still do the trade?
MK: Jordan Staal struggled during the 2012-13 season. Having to adjust to a new team, a slightly different role and bigger responsibilities and the pressure that comes with them got the best of him. I also think that pairing him with Jeff Skinner whose freelancing, creative offensive style was wildly different from mostly textbook checking line mates in Pittsburgh was probably part of it. Jordan Staal's 2nd season in North Carolina has been much better. The scoring totals are still modest, but he is eating up as many minutes as possible against the other teams' best players and holding his own doing it. With the majority of his minutes with Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Dwyer and second unit power play time, his scoring is not spectacular but not horrible when you correctly consider role, situation and the players around him. I am on record as thinking that the Canes overpaid by 1 asset in giving up Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumolin AND a 1st round pick. I thought one of the latter two was enough and still do. But this said, if you want to add young players for your top 6 via trade, you have to pay.
NF: Briefly talk about a couple of the kids. Anything behind the Ryan Murphy demotion? Is Elias Lindholm living up to the draft hype?
MK: In about half of a season at the NHL level, Ryan Murphy looked all of a promising young offensive NHL defenseman. But he is 20 years old and was making a huge jump straight from juniors and has some work to do to round out his game. When John-Michael Liles was added to provide a serviceable point option for the power play, Murphy found his way to the press box. His development is much better served playing 20+ minutes nightly in the AHL especially after a good run of games in the NHL to build a list of areas for improvement. Overall, I think Murphy is ahead of schedule. His skating and ability to rush the puck up the ice translated very well from juniors to the NHL, but he needs to improve his defensive play without the puck and his ability to move the puck (not just carry it). Elias Lindholm's season has been very disjointed primarily due to injury. He missed the second half of training camp and has missed time during the regular season with short-term injuries. He has had games in which the skill level that made him the #6 pick overall in a strong draft has been there, but his 2013-14 campaign thus far has leaned much more toward learning than being a nightly difference-maker at the NHL level.
NF: What's the one biggest need on the roster right now? Will Jim Rutherford buy, sell or stand pat at the trade deadline?
MK: Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said in January that the team was looking to add another top 9 forward, ideally a center. Lindholm was originally slotted to be the 3rd line center. When he proved unable to just parachute into that role as an 18-year-old, the position became of a revolving door of mostly players who are overslotted there and lacking the offensive skill set to pair with Jeff Skinner to create a 3rd line that leans offense and can prey on lesser defensive matchups. If the price is not too high, look for Rutherford to add a single forward. Dave Legwand would be a decent example. It is also interesting to note that the Canes are on outside edge of the playoff race right now and staring at a 5-game road trip coming out of the Olympic break. If that trip goes awry and Rutherford instead becomes a seller, the Hurricanes have a couple good inexpensive rental players. Ron Hainsey ($2M), Manny Malhotra ($600k) and Anton Khudobin ($800k) only if the team cannot re-sign him all have very cap-friendly salaries that expire this summer. The team will want to keep Khudobin, but the questions are whether he is ready to move on to somewhere where he is the guaranteed starter and also what it would cost to keep him.
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