This article was originally posted at TheHockeyWriters.com
Following a three-game win streak, the Carolina Hurricanes have lost six of their past eight, shooting them down to 11th in the Eastern Conference standings. There has been much discussion over what has led to the Canes’ recent slide — unemotional play, lack of comradery, too many mistakes, etc. But in the end, Carolina’s constant failure boils down to the lack of production from the team’s highest paid players. Let’s take a look at the four Hurricanes with the fattest contracts and assess how well they’ve done so far:
Eric Staal — 2011 salary: $8,250,000
Team captain and franchise cornerstone Eric Staal continues to struggle, as his league-worst plus/minus rating currently rests at -16. He has yet to score at even strength and only has three goals in total — not exactly the numbers one would expect from a perennial All-Star. More so than anyone else, Staal is going to have to start playing at the level fans are accustomed to if the Hurricanes hope to turn their season around.
Cam Ward — 2011 salary: $6,300,000
Ward generally avoids criticism because of the poor defense he is perpetually surrounded by, but he hasn’t been as sharp this season as in the past. His .912 save percentage is 27th in the league and his 2.85 GAA is good for 33rd. Yes, Ward faces more shots than just about every goalie in the NHL, but this is nothing new for him. He’s always been able to handle the workload that comes with being the Hurricanes netminder, but this year just hasn’t been the same.
Joni Pitkanen — 2011 salary: $4,500,000
Pitkanen, who is in the midst of his fourth season with the Canes, was signed to a 3-year, $13.5 million contract this summer. The Finnish defenseman got off to a fast start — accumulating six points in his first six games — but that didn’t last long. In the past seven games he has no goals, one assist and a -6 plus/minus rating. Pitkanen eats up a lot of minutes and has been productive in the past, but the Hurricanes are going to need him to step up his play to a higher level.
Tomas Kaberle — 2011 salary: $4,250,000
Kaberle was brought in during the off-season to solidify Carolina’s blue line and give their power-play a boost; so far, he has failed to do either. His defense has been average at best, and his zero goals and two assists have hardly help the Canes’ goal scoring problem. Given Kaberle’s disappointing season with the Bruins last year and his poor start in the 2011-12 campaign, it’s safe to say the cash-strapped Hurricanes could have invested $12.75 million in a better way.
The bottom line is that Carolina — a team that operates on a lower budget than nearly every team in the league — is not getting their money’s worth from those they are spending the most on. For them to get back to their winning ways, the players with the highest expectations are going to have to start earning their paychecks.
For updates on the Hurricanes from the press box and locker room, follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewhirsh