In an effort to bolster the Carolina Hurricanes’ poor power play, General Manager Jim Rutherford brought in an NHL legend. Did it help?
As December 1998 was wound down, the Carolina Hurricanes were treading water at 16-14-5. They had made a splash in the offseason, bringing Ron Francis back to the franchise that he had broken into the league with. The signing came less than seven months after the team failed to bring in Detroit superstar Sergei Fedorov via an offer sheet.
The Hurricanes had experienced a whirlwind (pun absolutely intended) of activity, though their on-ice success couldn’t compare to the headlines. The only thing keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive was their inclusion in the newly formed Southeast Division. Nicknamed the “South-least” by many, the division lived up to its billing early.
One of the biggest hurdles that Carolina faced was their ineptitude on the power play. Defenseman Steve Chiasson, the team’s quarterback, aggravated an injury in the team’s 24th game, a development that sidelined him until April. The team needed help and Rutherford went to work.
On December 29, Carolina’s GM sent winger Nelson Emerson to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Paul Coffey. A key member of 4 Stanley Cup Champion teams (3 with Edmonton and 1 with Pittsburgh), Coffey had made a career as an offensively gifted rearguard. Still, the move was a risk for Rutherford.
Acquired by the Blackhawks in the summer of 98, back problems held the 37-year-old Coffey to just 10 games in Chicago. Yes, he had amassed 1,477 points but if he couldn’t play, the Hurricanes would be in a worse position, having dealt away Emerson.
As it turned out, Coffey did play, appearing in 44 of the Hurricanes’ 47 games after the trade. Averaging 19:41 of ice time per game (4th among Carolina defensemen), the veteran put up 2 goals and 8 assists. He added one assist in five playoff games as the Hurricanes were eliminated in the opening round.
While his ailing back undoubtedly hindered his play, it wasn’t quite the performance that Rutherford had been hoping for. Perhaps it was the end of the line for the future Hall of Famer.
Yeah, not quite.
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While Coffey was limited to 69 games in the 1999-00 season, he still tallied 11 goals and 29 assists. His 40 points placed him 7th on the team and 2nd among defensemen, trailing only Sean Hill. At 38, he had posted his best offensive season since the 1995-96 campaign, his last full season in Detroit.
It’s worth noting here that Coffey left Detroit as a part of the deal that sent Keith Primeau to Hartford in exchange for Brendan Shanahan. Coffey appeared in just 20 games for the Whalers before being shipped off to Philadelphia.
After his resurgence with the Carolina Hurricanes, Coffey signed with the Boston Bruins, who were in need of help after trading franchise mainstay Ray Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche. Coffey appeared in 18 games for the Bruins, picking up 4 assists before being released. He announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2000-01 season.