The organization established the Hurricanes Hall of Fame as a way to honor the best of the best to wear the crest since relocation to Raleigh. Justin Williams became the fifth member of the Hurricanes Hall of Fame with his induction on Monday afternoon, joining Ron Francis, Glen Wesley, Rod Brind'Amour, and last season's inductee, Cam Ward. There are plenty of deserving players who could have their names called next season, but here's who I think could be the next player to join them in the rafters at PNC Arena.
Of my four picks, this is the one that seems the most unlikely. There's no specific reason I believe this to be the case. I just think the team is most likely to tackle some of the bigger skaters before inducting another goalie. Before the days of Cam Ward, Arturs Irbe was the leader in most of the team's goaltending statistics. In fact, he had such a monopoly on the net before the 2004-05 lockout that he's one of only two goalies, along with Kevin Weekes, who meet the 100-game criteria laid out in the guidelines for selection by the organization.
Irbe is second in franchise history in games (309), wins (130), shutouts (20), and saves (7,145) behind Ward, along with Top 5 placements in GAA (2.49) and save percentage (.906). He is the owner of the most games played in a single season (77) in 2000-01, as well as the second-most (75) in 1999-00. Irbe was also in the net for three postseasons in franchise history. He made 30 appearances across three trips, going 14-16 with a 2.11 GAA and .925 save percentage. He earned a majority of the starts during the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002, sporting a 1.67 GAA in 18 games. If not for Ward playing with the franchise for so long, Irbe would likely be seen as the best goalie in Hurricanes history.
While "The Wizard" made eight stops during his NHL career, Ray Whitney played more games for the Hurricanes than any other franchise. In fact, he played some of his best hockey in Raleigh during his five seasons as a Hurricane. Signed as a free agent in 2005, Whitney was a big part of the group brought in that would win the Stanley Cup in 2006. He was also on the team during their 2009 run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Whitney recorded 334 points in 372 games, with his point total being the tenth-most in Hurricanes history. At 0.90 points per game, Whitney is second to only Sebastian Aho (0.92). Of those points, 83 came during the 2006-07 season, which is tied for the second-most points in a season, also with Aho, and only behind Eric Staal's 100 in 2005-06. He's seventh in assists (215) and fourth in overtime goals (5). Whitney also ranks in the Top 10 in postseason goals (12) and points (26) in his 42 postseason games. His best game came in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against New Jersey in 2009. Whitney factored on all four goals the team scored in a 4-0 win to help them force a Game 7.
Eric Staal's inclusion comes with a major asterisk, which is why I hesitate to say he'll be inducted next season. While not officially retired from the NHL, Staal remains a free agent for this season. One of the guidelines is that a player can't have played a professional or international game in the year prior to their selection. Currently, he meets that criteria, though I think it's more likely the organization will wait to induct him. It's not a matter of whether Staal will be inducted. It's more about when he will be.
Selected 2nd overall in the 2003 Draft, Staal is the Hurricanes leader in almost every regular-season offensive category. While Sebastian Aho could catch him in the future, Staal sits atop the franchise with 322 goals, 453 assists, and 775 points in 909 games. He was lethal at all strengths, leading the franchise with 105 power-play goals, while Aho has surpassed his 47 short-handed goals. Staal's 100-point season in 2005-06 is the lone occurrence in Hurricanes history. He also held the franchise record for postseason goals (19) and points (43) before Aho surpassed them last season. He scored many of the most iconic postseason goals in franchise history, like the buzzer-beater in Game 2 against New Jersey in 2006 to force overtime or the series-winner in the "Shock at the Rock" over the Devils in 2009. Assuming Staal doesn't play another game, he's destined to be inducted, though I'd guess it's more likely to happen in two years.
While not the flashiest choice, I think Erik Cole should be considered the frontrunner for the Hurricanes Hall of Fame next season. Like Eric Staal, Cole was a homegrown talent, drafted in the 3rd Round of the 1998 Draft. He debuted in 2001, recording 40 points in 81 games en route to a fifth-place finish in Calder voting. He added six goals and nine points during that season's run to the Stanley Cup Final, with no goal bigger than his game-tying goal of Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens in what later became known as the "Molson Miracle."
Cole was having a career year during the 2005-06 season, scoring 30 goals and 59 points in 60 games, only for his season to be cut short by a broken neck after being hit into the boards by Brooks Orpik. He made it back in time to play the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final. The team traded Cole to Edmonton during the 2008 offseason, only to re-acquire him a few months later at the trade deadline in a three-team deal that shipped this year's inductee to the Kings. During his two stints with the team, Cole recorded 168 goals, 195 assists, and 363 points in 557 games, all of which put him in the Top 10 in Hurricanes history. While I don't consider him to be a slam dunk choice like Cam Ward and Justin Williams in the last two years, he feels like the most deserving player to join their ranks.