We had a nice bout with Brian LeBlanc of Canes Country this weekend, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us!
We answered some questions that Brian and the Canes country gang had as well, and you can find them over at their site here. Without further ado:
1. Which new player for Carolina has had the biggest impact so far? Going forward, do you think that will continue? Were/are Canes fans more excited about acquiring Jordan Staal or Alexander Semin?
It's a bit hard to quantify impact from the newcomers because both were brought in to fill different roles and, largely, both have met those expectations. Jordan Staal has been as advertised, solid defensively (although a bit penalty-prone so far, for some reason) and a contributor on a rather lethal power play unit with his brother, Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin and Justin Faulk, and as for Semin, he's been the Canes' most dangerous offensive threat. It's been a bit strange to see Semin play, since the Canes have never had a sniper with his skill set; it's almost like he's thinking the game ahead of his teammates, and it's taken a while for everyone else to catch up. Eric Staal has centered Semin most of the time, and it seems like he's catching up in fairly short order. If they really start to click, as they looked to start doing with Staal's hat trick Thursday night against Buffalo, look out.
I think fans were excited for both players, but for different reasons. Jordan's acquisition cost the team Brandon Sutter, who's in Pittsburgh doing largely the same thing he did in Raleigh and was a very popular player here, but most everyone understood that Staal was a significant upgrade offensively and a mild one defensively. The excitement surrounding Semin was a bit more nuanced, and the fans' enthusiasm is in part due to Semin's skill set but also because he represents the Canes' willingness to actually spend money in free agency for game-changing players. That's something the team has never really done, so expectations have been significantly raised as a result.
2. Our old buddy Joe Corvo is back with you guys this year. How is he typically used in Carolina? Does he play big minutes? Does your fanbase hate him like ours did? What is the deal with that hair/beard combo?
Ah, yes, a Joe Corvo question. Third in line behind death and taxes. Corvo doesn't have nearly the toxic reputation here as he does in Boston (and in Washington, for that matter), mainly because we've seen him for parts of five seasons now and we know what we're getting. It all depends on who he's playing with and whether he's in a good mood. Happy Joe is a good offensive contributor and a bit underrated defensively. Sad Joe is a disaster at both ends of the ice. It's still an open question how much he'll be used in his third tour of duty with the Canes since he's never played under Kirk Muller, and was actually a healthy scratch Thursday for the first time anyone could remember. In the past he's been a big minutes-munching guy, and had his greatest success here playing alongside Dennis Seidenberg in 2008-09 where they were the best pairing the Canes had. These days, though, that role is filled by Tim Gleason and, to a lesser extent, Jay Harrison, and Corvo may find himself caught out in a numbers game. As for the hair...well, it's Joe Being Joe. He's the Manny Ramirez of American defensemen.
3. What's the goalie situation looking like for you guys? Looks like, for all accounts and purposes, Dan Ellis is playing a bit better than Cam Ward. Is that misleading/too small a sample size/etc?
Ward is a known slow starter, and it took three games for him to get his legs underneath him. Ellis playing in Buffalo on Friday was a planned start, and while it can be tempting to look at the numbers and say that he is outplaying Ward I think that's a bit superficial. Ellis has been playing in Charlotte (AHL) all year, so he's been in live game action much more than Ward, who didn't play during the lockout and was noticeably rusty during training camp. Ward has improved in every game, and it still seems like his gig to lose, though there's probably something to be said for keeping him fresh and not playing him in 46 games or some ridiculous number. I wouldn't be surprised to see Ellis play once in the next week, maybe against Ottawa on Friday, but the larger point is that the Canes, for the first time since Ward himself was the backup in 2006, actually have a backup they can trust and will play more than a handful of games.