Despite my knack for storytelling, that’s the best word that I can think of to summarize the 02-03 Carolina Hurricanes’ offense. Jeff O’Neill maintained his production, leading the team in goals and points. Ron Francis suffered a 20 point drop from the previous season despite playing in two more games.
That said, it’s hard to fault a 39-year-old from seeing an offensive decline, especially when you consider that he still finished first on the team in assists and second in points. He was also fresh off of scoring one of the biggest goals in Carolina Hurricanes’ history. He’s also one of the best captains in the team’s history and, as GM, drafted some phenomenal talent.
Brind’Amour managed to put up 37 points, a total that was hampered by a hand injury that cost him 34 games. Veteran defenseman Sean Hill also saw a decline, furthering a trend that hampered the Hurricane’s season. Sophomore winger Erik Cole, who was on pace to best his rookie numbers, suffered a broken leg that cost him the final 29 games of the season.
Perhaps the biggest and most unwanted surprise was Sami Kapanen. The two-time NHL All-Star, who had amassed 314 points since the Hurricanes’ arrival in North Carolina, struggled to find his game. Standing at 6 goals and 18 points after 43 games, Rutherford shipped the Finnish winger to the Philadelphia Flyers along with prospect Ryan Bast.
In return, Carolina received 21-year-old winger Pavel Brendl and 22-year-old defenseman Bruno St. Jacques. Brendl had struggled to live up to the expectations of being the fourth overall pick at the 1999 Entry Draft. Things were no better for him with the Hurricanes. Brendl saw action in just 8 of Carolina’s 27 games after the trade, managing only one assist despite averaging 15 of ice time.
In contrast, St. Jacques dressed for 18 games, averaging a career-high 18:15 minutes per game. The young defender, never known for his offensive touch, managed 2 goals and 7 points after arriving in Raleigh.
Rutherford executed another deal with a dozen games left in the season, shipping fan-favorite Bates Battaglia (who himself was in a bit of a decline) to the Colorado Avalanche for 21-year-old winger Radim Vrbata. The new addition performed well, notching five goals in ten games after the trade.
Let’s take a look at the Hurricanes’ top scorers and league ranking for the 2002-03 season:
The Hurricanes scored five or more goals in five games, winning all but one.
Now, let’s take a look at the defense.