Williams, the first line right winger, missed the final 45 games of last season. 43 of those were due to a blown ACL. Since joining the Hurricanes, Williams has been nearly a point-a-night producer and will be sorely missed, just as he was down the stretch in 2007-08.
This is indeed horrible news. RBH had Williams projected at 73 (36/37) points this season, second most on the team.
Jim Rutherford stressed the fact that although this is terrible, the entire season won’t be lost:
“It’s certainly a setback for us. We were looking forward to Justin having a big year. This doesn’t mean he won’t be a part of it. He can come back for the most important part of it.”
He also stressed that the Hurricanes have some depth and will be able to fill the void. Just not as well.
Patrick Eaves will be handed an excellent chance to earn his mettle. Suddenly, the injury-prone youngster who arrived in a blockbuster trade last February, will be on the team’s top line. RBH had Eaves projected at 32 (16/16) points as a second line right wing. The other good that comes out of this is that Ryan Bayda, who has worked his tail off, will be guaranteed a spot on the big team.
The other thing that arises from this situation is that it almost guarantees Jeff O’Neill a job. After a disastrous year on and off the ice just before the lockout, plus the tragic death of his brother, O’Neill was traded to Toronto, and few people were sad to see him go. Although he didn’t return to his 40-goal form, he started to show promise with the Leafs. He spent last season out of hockey entirely, but continued to skate and work out. This summer, the Hurricanes all-time leading goal scorer (176 goals) was offered a tryout contract. All indicators are that he’s been looking good.
I’ve been hyper-critical of O’Neill in the past. He looked terrible in his final year here, and the DUI (two of them) didn’t help. But I’ve also been able to look at Jeff O’Neill vis-a-vis the summer of 2008 in a completely objective manner. He’s been working hard, and he means business. He’s gotten married and has a kid on the way. That makes a man change quite a bit. This isn’t the old Jeff O’Neill. Before I knew about Williams’ injury, I commented to a friend just today that I would be the first guy to tip my hat to O’Neill if he makes the team. That looks like an inevitability now.
The lines will have to be shuffled, and O’Neill is huge because he can play any forward position. Camp hasn’t even opened yet, but here’s how I imagine opening night:
Ray Whitney / Eric Staal / Patrick Eaves
Sergei Samsonov / Rod Brind’Amour / Scott Walker
Tuomo Ruutu / Matt Cullen / Jeff O’Neill
Chad LaRose / Brandon Sutter / Ryan Bayda
So, Caniacs who still have those dusty old 92 sweaters might want to pull them out of the closet.