A look at the Carolina Hurricanes’ & Hartford Whalers’ All-Decade team for the 1990s
This is part of a series detailing the all-decade team for every NHL franchise for the 1990s. The all-time teams were compiled using a mix of skill, longevity and statistics; it is not necessarily the best, most memorably or most talented players. Instead, this is the list of players by each position who had the best numbers over a prolonged period (i.e. at least three full seasons between 1990-91 and 1999-00) during the regular season.
Team: Carolina Hurricanes (1997-98 to 1999-00) & Hartford Whalers (1990-91 to 1996-97)
299-387-100, .444 WIN PCT, 2,213 GF vs. 2,509 GA, -296 Diff, 3/10 Playoff Appearances, 0 Stanley Cups
The Whalers were always a lovable team of losers to me. And I don’t mean that with any disrespect; they were a small market team with a very loyal fanbase and some talented players, but they were never really able to achieve anything of consequence. In 17 NHL seasons, the Whalers were .500 or better just three times, and one exactly one playoff series. But I always had a soft spot for them, which is why it pained me to see the team move to Carolina. But I have to admit, the move worked out, culminating in their Stanley Cup victory in 2006. But I digress. The Whalers made the 1991 and 1992 playoffs, largely because they managed to be less awful than the Quebec Nordiques. But as the Nordiques improved after the Eric Lindros trade, the wheels fell off for Hartford, and they missed the playoffs in each of their final five seasons as the Whalers. They had a .420 win % as the Whalers in the 90s, with a -286 goal differential in seven seasons. The move to Carolina didn’t pay immediate dividends, as they were still a sub-.500 team and out of the playoffs in ’97-98. But they made the playoffs for the first time in seven years in ’98-99, and fell just shy the following season. Their first three years in Carolina saw them post a .496 win percentage, including their only above-.500 seasons during 1990s. In fact, their .524 win percentage in ’98-99 was the franchise’s first winning season since ’89-90, and only their second since ’86-87.
Overall for the 1990s, the Hurricanes/Whalers’ 44.4% win percentage ranked them 22nd out of 26 teams that played at least four seasons during the 1990s. The only non-expansion team worse than Carolina/Hartford in the 1990s was the New York Islanders (the other three teams behind them were Ottawa, Tampa Bay and San Jose. Carolina/Hartford’s Achilles heel was their lack of offense: they scored 2.82 goals per game, which ranked 21st (the worst of any non-expansion team in the decade). Their defense wasn’t much better, ranking 17th while allowing an average of 3.19 goals against per game. But that ugly -296 goal differential ranked 23rd out of 26 teams. I miss the Whalers, but I have to admit that despite playing in a market that is more focused on college and automotive sports, the Hurricanes have done well for themselves.
Left Wing: Geoff Sanderson (479 GP, 196-173-369, -54, 195 PIM, 26 GWG)
Geoff Sanderson was always one of my favourite players during the 90s. He was a solid offensive threat on a team that was starved for goals. He had great speed and a solid shot, which he used to hit the 40-goal mark twice and the 30-goal mark on two other occasions. He likely would have hit 30 goals in ’94-95 had the lockout not held him to 46 games (he scored 18 goals). He had a high of 89 points in ’92-93, and three others in the 65-67 points range. His +/- was weak (only one positive rating, and one negative), but the team was pretty dismal defensively during his tenure. From ’92-93 to ’96-97, he scored 175 goals and 320 points in 373 games. The move to the Hurricanes didn’t go well for him; his offense slowed, and he scored 17 points in 40 games before being traded to Vancouver, who then sent him to Buffalo just one month later. He finished out the decade without much fanfare, before reviving in Columbus (he had two 30-goal seasons with the Blue Jackets). Sanderson was a solid threat on the powerplay, scoring 36 PPG between ’92-93 and ’93-94. He also managed a healthy 26 game winners, 13% of his goal total, despite playing on a losing team. He was one of the few bright spots for the Whalers in the 90s, and he represented the team at the 1994 and 1997 All-Star games.
Centre: Andrew Cassels (438 GP, 97-253-350, -40, 220 PIM, 11 GWG)
Andrew Cassels was a player that the Whalers outright stole from the Montreal Canadiens in one of their best-even trades. He would have been better suited as the #2 centre on a good team, but he did a fairly admirable job at the Whalers #1 centre. He had 41 points in 67 games during his first year in Hartford, and then exploded for 85 points in ’92-93. He then scored 58-66 points in three of the next four seasons (and scored at a similar pace during the lockout-shortened ’94-95 seasons, with 37 points in 46 games). He also scored 20+ goals three times, and had 16 goals in ’93-94. His +/- alternated between awful (a low of -21) and respectable (+8). Although not a big goal scorer, roughly a third of his goals (33 of 97) came on the powerplay. He also chipped in 11 game winners. He moved with the Whalers to Carolina, but was dealt to Calgary before the Hurricanes played their first game. He had four more seasons in the 50-68 points range, and even reunited with Sanderson in Columbus during ’02-03 and ’03-04.
Right Wing: Pat Verbeek (353 GP, 148-166-314, -38, 916 PIM, 17 GWG)
Pat Verbeek rounds out the All-90s forwards for the franchise, and completes the Whalers’ starting line from the NHL ’94 video game. Where his linemates Sanderson and Cassels were finesse players, Verbeek was willing to get physical, as attested to by his averaging 216 PIM per season from ‘9091 to ’93-94. He had a high of 43 goals in ’90-91, and two others in the 37-39 range. He twice hit 82 points, and had another season of 75 points. He managed 10-16 powerplay goals per season, and was typically good for 200+ shots on goal during a full season. He was a leader on a team that needed veteran leadership, and he scored 17 game-winning goals (11% of his total).
Defense: Glen Wesley (418 GP, 36-107-143, +2, 296, 5 GWG)
The cost to acquire Glen Wesley from the Boston Bruins after the ’93-94 season was pretty steep: three first round picks (’95-97), which turned into Kyle McLaren, Jonathan Aiken and Sergei Samsanov. But I think it might have been worth it for Hartford/Carolina. Wesley played for the Whalers in their final three seasons and, aside from a 7-game stint with the Leafs in ’02-03, spent 10 more seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was a rock on those weak Whalers teams; he scored 72 points in 184 games, and managed a respectable -15 rating. His best year (’96-97) saw him post 32 points and an even +/- rating. The move to Carolina went well also; three seasons in the 22-25 point range, and two with positive +/- ratings (including +14 in ’98-99). He didn’t score many goals (36), but he made them count: 12 were on the powerplay, and 5 were game-winners. He played clean (only once getting more than 50 PIM in a season), and he was a solid, reliable, veteran presence on a team that lacked steady, experienced players.
Defense: Zarley Zalapski (229 GP, 44-121-165, -54, 276 PIM, 3 GWG)
Honourable Mention to Adam Burt
Zalapski was one of the premier offensive defenseman in the NHL during his prime. He was brought in late in ’90-91 in the infamous Ron Francis trade with Pittsburgh, and scored 6 points in 11 games. The following season he scored 20 goals and 57 points, with a semi-decent -7 rating. He posted 14 goals and 65 points the following year, but his -34 rating was pretty brutal. His final year with the franchise was ’93-94; he had 37 points in 56 games with a -6 rating when he was traded to Calgary at the trade deadline. He chipped in quite a bit on the powerplay (15 of his 44 goals), and he was a solid threat from the point: he had 230 shots on goal in ’91-92, and 192 in ’92-93. While he had the misfortune of never being able to live up to the deal that brought him in (the Whalers also gave up Ulf Samuelsson), he was one of a select few offensive talents in Hartford during the 1990s. An honourable mention to Adam Burt. While not as flashy as Zalapski, Burt spent nine seasons with Hartford/Carolina. His durability was a little suspect (he only had three seasons of 70+ games), but he was consistently able to chip in offensively: he had seven seasons in the 12-24 points range. He never had a positive +/- rating though, with his best being an even mark in ’94-95. Burt was also chippy, with three 100+ PIM seasons. But Zalapski had arguably a bigger impact while he was there, so Zarley gets the nod.
Goalie: Sean Burke (281 GP, 107-131-29, 11 SO, 3.09 GAA, 0.903 PCT)
And now we round out the NHL ’94 Whalers love-fest with Sean Burke. His only true competition for best goalie in Whalers history is Mike Liut from the All-80s team, and I would lean towards Burke. He never had a record above .500 (twice having an even W-L record), but he kept the Whalers FAR more competitive than they had any right to be. His first season (’92-93) was rough: 16-27-3 with a 4.16 GAA and .876 PCT. But he settled in after that. In the next five seasons his GAA was only once over 3.00 (3.11 in ’95-96), and his save percentage only once dipped below .900 (.899 in ’97-98). Over the five-year span from ’93-94 to ’97-98, his goals-against average was 2.87 and his save percentage was .909. He also went 91-104-26 with 11 shutouts, quite respectable considering his team was 145-191-42 during that time (his win percentage was 47.1%, vs. the team’s win percentage of 43.9%). He had five straight seasons of 16+ wins, including a high of 28 in ’95-96. He twice posted four shutouts in a season, and he played 50+ games three times (including 42 of 48 games in ’94-95). Easily the best goaltender for Hartford/Carolina in the 1990s.