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NEW PLAYERS 13
Until this season Martin Gerber had been lodged in goaltending purgatory as the backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Over two unsatisfying seasons in Anaheim, Gerber appeared in only 54 games and had 17 wins. Then in June 2004 he made it known he was ready to move on. "I am confident I can be a Number 1 goalie," Gerber said. "I just need the chance."
He has a golden opportunity in Carolina: His backup, Cam Ward, 21, has never played an NHL game. A 31-year-old from Switzerland, Gerber returned during the lockout season to Europe, where he had played six years and led Farjestad into the finals in the respected Swedish Elite League. Gerber is now ready for the NHL spotlight. "I'm going to [play] more games, so I have to be physically prepared," Gerber said.
The Hurricanes will need exceptional netminding because they don't have a surefire scorer. In 2003--04 coach Peter Laviolette cut against the league's defense-oriented grain in favor of a two-man forecheck that took advantage of his forwards' speed. The tactic both worked and failed. Carolina generated scoring chances, taking 244 more shots than their opponents. But without any reliable finishers, the team ranked last in both goals (172) and power-play percentage (10.6).
The Hurricanes have just one 20-goal scorer from '03-04: winger Cory Stillman (25-55-80), who signed as a free agent from Tampa Bay in the off-season. They'll count on him to set up Eric Staal, Carolina's first-round pick in 2003, and Justin Williams, who, despite scoring just five goals in 32 games after coming from the Flyers in a midseason trade, had a career-high 44 points in '03-04.
"The critics didn't pick us in 2002," says G.M. Jim Rutherford, recalling his team's surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals. "They didn't pick Anaheim in 2003 or Calgary in 2004." The comparison would be charitable for this year's Hurricanes. --B.C.