After their worst season since relocating to North Carolina, the Carolina Hurricanes looked to rebound. Would their efforts be enough to earn a playoff berth?
This is the seventh installment in my Rewind series, taking a look at the Carolina Hurricanes of seasons past. To check out my prior articles, click a season:
Despite finishing dead-last in the NHL in scoring for the 2002-03 season, the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t see a huge influx of talent to rectify those issues. General manager Jim Rutherford did add some help to the 27th ranked blueline, acquiring Danny Markov and Bob Boughner. The team bid adieu to the underachieving David Tanabe, sent to the Coyotes in the Markov deal.
Up front, Rutherford picked up bottom-six forward Marty Murray from the Philadelphia Flyers, a solid depth move but hardly the offensive shakeup that was needed. As it turned out, the biggest move of the offseason came at the entry draft where the Hurricanes selected big center Eric Staal. The OHL standout jumped straight into the NHL, showing glimpses of what he was capable of.
In the crease, the Hurricanes returned the duo of Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes. While Weekes’ play had been consistently reliable, the 36-year-old Irbe was mired in decline. To help address this, Rutherford signed former first-round pick (1994, 7th overall) Jamie Storr from the Los Angeles Kings.
As the season started, things looked much the same as the year before. The Hurricanes dropped their first two games and, while they did earn points in their next three games, they wouldn’t get their first win until a 2-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins on October 23 of 2003.
Unfortunately, the lackluster play continued and, on December 15, head coach Paul Maurice was fired. At the time of the firing, the Hurricanes sported a record of 8-12-8-2.
Former New York Islanders’ head coach Peter Laviolette was brought in as Maurice’s replacement and the team responded by winning the first two games under their new coach. This success would be short-lived as the team quickly begin underperforming again. As 2003 drew to a close, the Hurricanes carried a 12-15-8-2 record and gave fans little reason for hope as 2004 dawned.
With the bad mojo continuing, Rutherford knew that more change was needed. On January 20, 2004, he pulled the trigger on a trade that would end up having a huge impact on the franchise:
At the time of the trade, Justin Williams was a 22-year-old who was on his way towards setting a new career-high in points. Philadelphia, however, needed depth on the blueline and the Hurricanes were happy to oblige. The new addition showed glimpses of what he brought to the team but the Hurricanes’ struggles continued as the season crept towards an end.
With the playoffs out of reach for the second consecutive year, the Hurricanes traded veteran center and face of the franchise, Ron Francis, to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 9. In return, the Hurricanes received a 2005 fifth-round pick but the trade was more about giving the 41-year-old Francis a shot at another Stanley Cup.
Fun fact: The pick that the Hurricanes received in the Francis trade was later moved to Columbus for another pick that, via Chicago, ended up in Toronto. The player the Maple Leafs took with that pick? Current Hurricanes’ goalie James Reimer.
So, what went wrong with the 2003-04 Carolina Hurricanes? Let’s start by taking a look at the offense.