Quietly, Whalers Move into 1st
Coming into the season, few pundits were particularly enamored with the Hartford Whalers. Coming off a championship in 1992, the 1993 season did not go as planned. Hartford flamed out down the stretch and then was unceremoniously dispatched in the 1st round by the Washington Capitals. The Whalers exit coincided with the end up Bernie Federko's career, a player synonymous with the Whalers' rise to contention, and eventually, victory. Arriving in 1986 as part of the infamous Ray Bourque trade, which also brought Gary Suter to Hartford, the move vaulted the Whalers into the conversation and culminated with a perennially competitive franchise and eventual championship. To date, Federko is the 2nd leading all-time scorer in Whalers history, putting up 650 points in 608 games, trailing only Adam Oates. But Federko's run had come to an end, and with it, many thought the Whalers would slide into mediocrity. The concerns were compounded by the loss of Jan Ingman, the extremely steady winger that Hartford brought into the fold via a contentious RFA offer sheet with the New York Rangers, also in 1986. Tim Cheveldae, the potential heir apparent to Don Beaupre, was lost in the expansion draft, and suddenly the Whalers were left with a whittled-down core of aging veterans and a sour taste in their mouths from a disappointing 1993 season.
Then, Hartford traded Paul Coffey, again, arguably the best defender in the league. The move brought back a slew of depth, which Hartford needed, but many were underwhelmed by the quality of assets that came back to Connecticut. The move signaled what seemed to be a rebuild, and rumors swirled that even Mario Lemieux could be the next domino to fall, a trade that would invariably trigger a huge franchise recomposition. But Mario was not dealt, and the Whalers decided to stand pat, adding confusion to the team's direction. Now, 12 games into the regular season, the Whalers sit atop the Wales Conference. Much can be made about the league's evolution - the formerly daunting Toronto Maple Leafs sent their entire roster to Columbus, now in the Campbell Conference, and GM Brandon Clark took a gig with the expansion Tampa Bay Lighting. The Buffalo Sabres, always so close yet so far, endured a complete demolition of the roster and are firmly back to square one. The Philadelphia Flyers boast a solid young roster, but have once again gotten off to a disappointing start where the offense simply is not clicking. The Boston Bruins have been conservative but steady in their roster building approach, but haven't been able to bring in the star power to move into the next echelon of teams. The Florida Panthers have struggled to find consistency and have disappointed so far. That void has left a natural vacuum that requires filling, and who better to do it then the tried and true Hartford Whalers? 12 games in, that's exactly what's happened, with Hartford posting a 10-2-0 record. Perhaps most impressively, the Whalers have dominated in many of their games, outscoring opponents 59-34. Recently, a Newswire article proclaimed that Randy Burridge, one of the pieces from the Coffey deal, would never surpass 50 points. But, 12 games in, Burridge has 7 goals and 11 points, filling the Jan Ingman role. J.J. Daigneault, another piece acquired, has had a strong start to his Whalers career as well, playing strong hockey in both zones.
Additionally, the Whalers have made it clear they like what they've seen, and are ready to add. Randy McKay was brought in to add depth and help the penalty kill, while management continues to kick the tires on adding additional depth. Rumors swirled late last night that the team was extremely close to adding another solid piece, but talks eventually stalled for the time being. Nonetheless, Hartford is clearly planning on being aggressive, seeing the Wales ripe for the taking. Tomorrow, Hartford has their toughest test to date as they take on the 11-1-1 Columbus Blue Jackets, led by the league's leading scorer, Glenn Anderson.
That's all for the now Whaler fans, check back later for more updates, and go Whalers!