Now comes the tough part: What can they do for an encore?
Nearly a decade has passed since a team won the Stanley Cup two years in a row, but the Hurricanes hope they’ve found a formula to sustain their success – keeping the nucleus of last year’s team intact while adding a handful of complementary players.
“When some players are tired and tired emotionally from the long run of the Stanley Cup we hope that’s enough players that can bring the new energy in to carry us through the rough spots,” general manager Jim Rutherford said.
Carolina’s exhilarating run to the championship in June brought hockey’s most famous trophy to a region ruled by big-time college basketball, and during the summer the Cup visited several local hot spots.
It travelled to Camp Lejeune, the East Coast’s largest Marine Corps base, and to Durham and Chapel Hill, cities more used to NCAA basketball titles won by Duke and North Carolina.
But after four months, the celebrations are almost over. Next season is here and the quick turnaround has left little time for the Hurricanes’ pesky bumps and bruises to heal.
And a discouraging pre-season performance – they went 1-4 – didn’t give the Hurricanes much of a chance to rediscover their swagger.
“This was a different kind of pre-season for most of us, coming off a late year,” defenceman Mike Commodore said. “The party’s over here. Last year’s (been laid) to rest. Teams are going to be gunning for us. We have the talent. The talent will take care of itself. We just need to work.”
A few of the players who helped bring North Carolina its first major professional championship are gone – most notably defenceman Aaron Ward plus forwards Matt Cullen and Josef Vasicek.
But most of the mainstays of the Cup run return and that has the Hurricanes believing they can remain among the league’s elite and become the first team to win consecutive Cups since the Detroit Red Wings repeated in 1998. It all starts with Wednesday night’s home opener against the Buffalo Sabres in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final.
“Obviously, it’s important to get off with a (strong) start,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “But it’s a long season (and) you’ve got to win an awful lot of home games. What we need to do is not worry about the win and the loss, but about the way we’re playing the game. That, to me, determines the win or the loss.”
The Hurricanes made several moves to deepen their bench. They traded for forward Scott Walker and signed forward Shane Willis and reserve goalie John Grahame.
Then came last week’s shocker – they dealt top prospect Jack Johnson and defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky to Los Angeles in a four-player trade that fetched young defenceman Tim Gleason and forward Eric Belanger.
Rutherford said the move was made largely because the Hurricanes needed immediate NHL-ready help at forward and on defence – especially now that forward Cory Stillman and defenceman Frantisek Kaberle will miss significant time after off-season shoulder surgeries.
“It’s important for us to stay in this strong cycle,” Rutherford said. “Coming off the Stanley Cup and having a good core of players here, we have a chance to win it again. … It is important to keep the team strong and to make moves like” the Johnson deal.
The Hurricanes certainly didn’t look strong during the exhibition season.
They were outscored 20-10 in their first four games before wrapping up the pre-season with a 4-2 victory at Washington. Several players blamed their slow start on the dreaded Cup hangover, leaving Laviolette promising better effort from his team.
“I know what’s in that locker room,” Laviolette said, “and I know with the right mind-set and the right will to win, we can be successful.”