Commentary

DeCock: Ellis can backstop Hurricanes, but he needs help

ldecock@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2013 

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The Canes Dan Ellis (31) makes a stop during the first period of an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Ottawa Senators at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 1, 2013.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

There is no such thing as “good news” for the Carolina Hurricanes when it comes to Cam Ward being out for an extended period of time, particularly when the 6-8 weeks he’s expected to miss is likely to encompass the rest of the regular season.

So while a sprained medial collateral ligament that does not require surgery is leaps and bounds better than a torn anterior cruciate ligament that would require extended rehabilitation with implications for Ward’s career, it doesn’t change the fact that the Hurricanes will have to soldier on without him for the rest of this shortened season, when weeks might as well be months.

This team is built around the concepts that Ward is good enough to make up for a run-of-the-mill defensive corps – which he wasn’t to begin the season but had been of late – and if the Hurricanes can just get into the playoffs, Ward is capable of getting hot and winning games on his own.

Both of those concepts are out the window now.

Fortunately, Dan Ellis is as good of a backup as the Hurricanes have had since 2006, when Ward stepped in for Martin Gerber at the beginning and end of the season. The end of the Carolina bench has been a career-snuffing Bermuda Triangle for so many goalies over the years – Pat Jablonski, Kirk McLean, Mike Fountain, Eric Fichaud, Mark Fitzpatrick, Tyler Moss, Patrick DesRochers, Jamie Storr, John Grahame, Manny Legace, Michael Leighton – but Ellis has gone about resurrecting his career with aplomb.

He’s in good form, he’s been a No. 1 in his career, his statistics are actually better than Ward’s this season and he’s won the confidence of his teammates. Ellis has proven more than capable of carrying the load.

So Ward’s injury may not require a trade for a goalie, but it should put pressure on general manager Jim Rutherford to make a move and shore up the defense.

The Hurricanes’ blue line has called out desperately for a strong defensive presence all season long, but never more than now. With an excess of mobile defensemen who can pass the puck, the Hurricanes need another body in the Tim Gleason-Jay Harrison mold to avoid being outmuscled in their own end.

Those defensemen aren’t easy to find – the Hurricanes had one in Bryan Allen, who cashed in as a free agent in the offseason – but it may be worth taking a look at 6-foot-4, 235-pound Mike Komisarek, who is on the outs with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Komisarek’s career has been on a steady decline since he left the Montreal Canadiens to sign with the Leafs as a free agent in 2009, but a change of scenery and reunion with Kirk Muller might be just what he needs. (He would have to approve any trade.)

Komisarek has a $4.5 million cap hit, but he’s only due $3.5 million this season and next, and the Leafs may be willing to pick up some of that, a maneuver allowed under the NHL’s new labor agreement. Any other options would come at similar expense, which the Hurricanes could afford if they’re ambitious about it. They demonstrated that ambition over the summer when they traded for Jordan Staal and signed Alexander Semin. It’s time to double down.

That was true even before Ward’s left leg was pinned against the goal post on Sunday. Florida’s Jack Skille and Justin Faulk crashed into the net in an entirely legal play that unfortunately buckled Ward’s left knee in the process.

That injury isn’t the end of Carolina’s playoff hopes, not with Ellis around. It’s a call to action, to make a move and save them.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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