Now that scout looks like a seer. Through Sunday the Hurricanes, who lost the Cup in five games to the Red Wings last spring, were 18-30-9-6 and in 13th place in the East. The only tiling thinner than their playoff hopes was the depth of their injury-depleted roster. Earlier this month coach Paul Maurice tried to shake up the club by singling out seven players for a 12-minute postpractice skating drill. The ordeal ended with left wing Craig MacDonald collapsed on the ice from exhaustion and right wing Jeff O'Neill, the team's lone All-Star, lashing out. "If that's the way [ Maurice] wants to carry on, he can do it," O'Neill said. "I'm playing for my teammates."
Slumps and injuries have decimated a team that couldn't withstand much adversity. Goaltender Arturs Irbe, who was nearly impenetrable in the 2002 postseason, was banished to the minors on Feb. 13 for two weeks, after his goals-against average swelled to 3.06, third worst in the league. Right wing Sami Kapanen, the team's second-leading scorer a year ago with 69 points, was traded to the Flyers last month after failing to snap out of a season-long funk in which he had just 18 points in 43 games.
Center Rod Brind'Amour (tendon damage in his right hand) and left wing Erik Cole (broken left fibula) are out for the season. Those injuries leave O'Neill and center Ron Francis as the only healthy Hurricanes who had scored 10 or more goals at week's end. With the fewest goals in the league, Carolina has little chance of defending its conference championship.
Compressed Schedule Fallout
Many Tired, Ailing Teams
Typically a club's complaints about the schedule outnumber its frequent-flier miles, but this season there's good reason to gripe. To conclude the Stanley Cup playoffs by June 9 at the latest, the league has compressed the 82-game schedule to 180 days, at least 10 fewer than usual.
"People don't understand the toll it takes on you, not only physically but mentally," says Coyotes coach Bobby Francis. "When you have a condensed schedule like this, it leads to injuries." Indeed, through Sunday the league's teams were on pace to lose 7,001 man-games to injuries, about 1,000 more than last season.