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By Matt Canamucio, NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - For years the Carolina Hurricanes were doing their best to solidify Raleigh as a true hockey market.

Well, maybe they weren't doing their best. Until 2005-06.

The Canes enter the upcoming season as the defending Stanley Cup champions, as they became the second straight Southeast Division club to lift the chalice. The youthful Hurricanes' style matched the new offense-first mentality of the post-lockout NHL, and that helped the club march through the postseason. The journey culminated with a Game 7 victory over upstart Edmonton in the Finals.

Now the Canes have a challenge ahead of them, and that is to recapture the magic of last spring and repeat. Not since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98 has a club won back-to-back Cups.

This offseason the Carolina door saw more significant people going than coming. Mark Recchi, Martin Gerber, Matt Cullen, Josef Vasicek, Aaron Ward and Doug Weight -- each of which played a key role at one point or another last season -- are all gone.

As for acquisitions, there were are no star names on the list. Brad Isbister and Trevor Letowski were signed as free agents, while Scott Walker was obtained from Nashville in the Vasicek deal. Defenseman David Tanabe returns to the place where his career began, while former Lightning netminder John Grahame returns to a more suitable role as a backup.

All in all, though, the core of this club remains intact and any holes that may arise would likely be filled via trade, the way things went down obtaining Recchi and Weight last season. If you're thinking that the Hurricanes were a fluke, you're sadly mistaken.

FORWARDS - Captain Rod Brind'Amour, a second-line center behind Eric Lindros or Ron Francis for much of his career, finally received a chance to be a go- to-type guy and thrived in the role. He finished with 31 goals and 39 assists in 78 games, but those numbers only begin to tell the story of his value to this club. He won the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward, a trait he showed in the postseason series after series against the opponents' top line. And he turned into Mr. Clutch come spring, posting four game-winners in the playoffs.

Eric Staal, meanwhile, is still growing into his leadership role on the team. However, his on-ice contributions are ahead of schedule. The former No. 2 overall pick erupted from his shell with 45 goals and 55 assists to place seventh in the NHL points race.

The Canes have a bevy of goal producers down the depth chart, with Justin Williams, Cory Stillman, Ray Whitney and Erik Cole remaining in the fold. Cole's story was somewhat of a sad one, until he returned from a serious neck injury to play in Game 7 against Edmonton. He tallied 30 goals in 60 games before he was plowed head-first into the boards by the Penguins' Brooks Orpik.

In addition, Walker comes to town after an injury-plagued effort last campaign. However, if healthy he is a gutsy guy who plays bigger than his 196- pound frame. And he can give you 25-30 goals if all goes right.

Overall, the Canes are still going be a club that can beat you with three lines. And the fourth unit, which will consist of Kevyn and Craig Adams, is one of the top grit lines in the league.

DEFENSE - In losing Ward the Hurricanes had a stable and physical presence removed from the roster. Tanabe was added back into the fold, and while he can inject speed and offense to the blueline he leaves a lot to be desired defensively.

Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican remain the stable forces of the corps, while Niclas Wallin has emerged as emerged as a dependable guy who uses his 220- pound frame to his advantage, Mike Commodore, who helped key Calgary's run to the Finals in 2004, was huge in the playoffs last spring and led the club with a plus-12 rating in the regular season.

Overall, this group of defensemen lost a lot when Ward fled for the Big Apple, and his presence must be accounted for. Last season there was a nice balance of flash and brawn on the Carolina blueline, and that formula somehow has to come about in 2006-07 as well.

GOALTENDING - A brilliant playoff run and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy can do wonders for your job security.

While Cam Ward was pegged as the Hurricanes' goaltender of the future, I don't think anyone down on Tobacco Road expected him to do what he did during the club's Cup run. Ward went 15-8 with a 2.13 goals-against average and .920 save percentage, including a pair of shutouts. This was all after yielding the starting job to Gerber for most of the season and appearing in only 28 games.

http://146.145.120.3/default.asp?c=hockeynews&page=nhl/news/adn4042364.htm
 
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