The Carolina Hurricanes Won the Summer of 2005
For die-hard NHL fans, the loss of the 2004-05 season was a tough pill to swallow. As the lockout dragged on, questions emerged about the league’s future and viability. Despite the ongoing turmoil, General Managers across the NHL continued working to ensure their team would be ready to play once the stalemate drew to a close.
For Jim Rutherford, that meant bolstering an offense that finished dead last during the 2003-04 campaign. To help address this, the executive shrewdly turned to two league vets who went on to play huge roles for the Hurricanes.
Jimmy Goes Shopping
After spending nine seasons split between the Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues, Cory Stillman was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stillman, who averaged 17 goals and 39 points per season, experienced a breakout campaign in his lone season in Tampa. While his 80 points (25 goals; 55 assists) placed him 2nd in team scoring, Stillman’s offense dropped during the Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup (21 games played; 2 goals; 5 assists).
With a core including Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Brad Richards, Stillman—despite coming off a career year—was allowed to hit free agency. Rutherford saw an opportunity and signed the winger to a 3-year contract on August 2, 2005.
Not content, Carolina’s GM returned to the market just five days later and signed Ray Whitney—another winger—to a 2-year deal. No stranger to moving, Whitney had spent 13 seasons playing for five different teams. Having averaged 15 goals and 40 points through his career, adding the Fort Saskatchewan native was a no-brainer depth move.
Now, you might think this pair of savvy moves boosted the Hurricanes’ profile as the 2005-06 season began.
You would be wrong.
Yes, a few outlets recognized that their team speed would cause trouble for the opposition but, the consensus was that the Hurricanes weren’t good enough to do any serious damage. In truth, some of the skepticism was warranted. Martin Gerber was brought in to be Carolina’s #1 goalie after just two seasons as J. S. Giguere‘s backup in Anaheim. Would second-year center Eric Staal show the talent that made him a second-overall pick? Was there enough offensive depth to boost their previously anemic output?
Dawn of a New League
When the new-look NHL opened play in October 2005, the Hurricanes quickly began to silence their critics. By the time the calendar turned over to 2006, Carolina boasted a record of 24-10-4. The offense came through, showing that the team was never out of a game, even when facing multi-goal deficits. They scored at least five goals 20 times, including four games with six goals, three with seven, and two in which they scored eight goals.
What about the free-agent duo?
Stillman appeared in 72 games and finished in a tie with Justin Williams for second place on the team, scoring 76 points (21 goals; 55 assists). Of those points, 34 (10 goals; 24 assists) came with the man advantage, helping raise the Hurricanes’ power play by 7%.
Whitney, while held to just 63 games, added 17 goals and 38 assists. Not to be outdone, he added 36 power-play points (12 goals; 24 assists).
The pair continued their strong play into the postseason, most notably Stillman who pick up 9 goals and 26 points in 25 playoff games. One standout moment came when he beat Montreal’s Cristobal Huet from just inside the blue line, clinching the opening series for a Carolina team that started the postseason with back-to-back losses on home ice. He followed that up with the OT winner in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Buffalo Sabres.
Speaking of that game-winner, guess who got the primary assist?
If you guessed it was Whitney, you get a gold star. Of his nine playoff goals, three came against the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final, two of them on the power play. Of course, no retelling of Ray Whitney’s performance in the 2006 championship series is complete without acknowledging his exuberant F-bomb on live TV, encapsulating what many Hurricanes’ fans felt.
Or maybe that’s just me.
It’s no secret that the Hurricanes struggled after capturing the 2006 Stanley Cup, missing the playoffs in each successive season (save for 2009) until the 2018-19 campaign.
Stillman remained with the team until being traded to the Ottawa Senators in February of 2008. The team re-acquired him three years later, and he picked up 5 goals and 16 points in 21 games before retiring from professional hockey. Following his retirement, Stillman joined the Florida Panthers as a development coach before returning to the Hurricanes as Director of Player Development/Director of Forward Development. He held this role for five years before coaching the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves for three seasons, accumulating a record of 94-89-16. Since 2020, Stillman has served as an assistant coach with the Arizona Coyotes.
Whitney stayed with the Hurricanes through the 2009-2010 season and led the team in points in both the 2006-07 and 2008-09 seasons. He also notched 3 goals and 11 points in Carolina’s run to the Conference Finals in 2009. After leaving the Hurricanes, Whitney played two seasons apiece for the then-Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars before retiring in January 2015.
For two under-the-radar signings, Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney were big pieces in Carolina’s 2006 Cup Championship. Stillman came up huge in that run and Whitney made an impact on the team for a half-decade, not the least of which was his numerous interview bombs.
Not bad for two “cast-offs.”
Thank you for reading! If you want some more Canes content, check out my recent posts on Sean Burke and Trevor Kidd.