The Carolina Hurricanes held a dinner last night on the floor of the RBC Center to thank the ‘group leaders,” or those who bought tickets in mass quantities last year. After the plates were cleared and autographs were signed, John Forslund, the ‘Canes’ TV personality, conducted a long Q&A with assistant coach Kevin McCarthy. Much of it was fluffthrowing out thank-you’s to the audience, making vague connections between 2006 and the upcoming seasonbut McCarthy and Forslund brought up several interesting points.

  • When asked about rule changes, McCarthy said that coaches had received a memo saying that they will be looking at blows to the headchecks from behind, elbows, fists, everything that could injure a player from the neck upeven more closely this year. Forslund announced a brand-new rule change that will have more of an impact: From now on, when a team ices the puck just before a TV time-out, the time-out will not occur. Teams have abused that rule in the past, looking for the TV light between the penalty boxes and icing the puck intentionally. Although the same guys have to stay on the ice after the commercial break, they have had an entire minute and a half to rest, which according to Forslund, defeats the purpose. The league took notice, and now those icing-abusers will have to find another way to manipulate the rules.
  • McCarthy gave his thoughts in the Southeast division, saying that it bears little resemblance to last year’s mess, of which only Washington made the postseason. Three out of five of the teams have new coaches (Washington and Carolina being the exceptions) and the Lightning has undergone a massive overhaul of players and staff. McCarthy is wary of the Lightning, but says that he expects Washington to continue to their dominant play of the last 40 games of ’06-’07. Florida’s defensive core is much improved, but they lost a large chunk of their offense and leadership with the trade of Olli JokinenMcCarthy expects more of the same from them. He predicted that Atlanta’s ‘growing pains” would continue, and that they will not contend for the SE title as they did two years ago.
  • You heard it here, folks: Jeff O’Neill is training as a center instead of his natural left wing. If the whole Brandon Sutter thing doesn’t work out (Carolina expects him to fill its fourth-line center hole, but he can still play with Red Deer, his junior team, for one more season if he doesn’t perform well in training camp) O’Neill could potentially assume his role. There has been much speculation about whether the ‘Canes have room for their all-time leading scorer to join the team again, and now we know where he fits in: as a back-up forth line center. O’Neill must be very pleased.
  • McCarthy wavered on the topic of Cam Ward, saying that he and Michael Leighton would volley for the No. 1 spot, but also that Ward was unquestionably the team’s No. 1. He said that the staff believed that Ward would lead them to another cup … but that Leighton would be there if he couldn’t get it done.
  • McCarthy explained his nickname of 30 years, ‘Cato,” with a funny anecdote. McCarthy was an NHL defensemen for 10 years with the Flyers, Penguins and Canucks. During a road trip, he decided to hide in a closet and scare his roommate, current Flyers GM Paul ‘Homer” Holmgren, and his teammates named him after the character Cato in the Pink Panther movies.