After missing the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford knew something had to change. Traditionally a small spender under owner Peter Karmanos, Rutherford was given the ability to spend whatever was necessary to have the team return to the playoffs. Rutherford’s free agent signings of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin was the signings they needed to restore a sense of optimism in the Carolina fan base.They aren’t blessed with elite talent side the Staal-Staal-Semin line, but they have plenty of quality pieces in place for Kirk Muller. Muller will be entering his first full season in charge and if he can continue the momentum he acquired when he took the job in November, he has the potential to contend for a playoff spot. But before they start talking playoffs, they might have to rely on acquisitions of older and more experienced players as much of their roster features young players. The Semin deal is only for one season, which gives Rutherford the flexibility to re-sign or let the winger go at the end of the season.
The rest of the offensive unit is a big X-factor for them. They have Jeff Skinner who will score 20+ goals again but besides that there will have to be someone on the second or third line to step up and score timely goals. If you need any further proof, they went 1-6 in the shootout last season seapite having Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen is ranked second all-time shootout goals, and he tallied two of the four shootout goals the Hurricanes scored all season. Further down the lineup, Anthony Stewart could rise as that dark horse player who is due for a rebound season. Stewart scored 14 goals with Atlanta two years ago before tallying only nine last season. It’ll be a challenge, but he could reach the 15-goal plateau which could only help the team. He’s entering the final year of his contract, so expect him to put up good enough numbers to raise his stock value.
Defense was an area of need and the Hurricanes saw the most turnover on the blue line. Gone are Jaroslav Spacek and Bryan Allen and they were able to bring back Joe Corvo for his third tour of duty with the organization. Corvo was brought in to give the team a right-handed shot on special teams as well as someone to compliment Tim Gleason. In his rookie campaign last year, Justin Faulk rose up the depth chart and he’s penciled in on the top pairing with Joni Pitkanen. The success of someone who could fall spell to the sophomore curse (Faulk) and someone who can break through to become an elite defenseman (Pitkanen) will have a lot to say about how good they really are on defense.
In goal, they are set with Cam Ward being penned to carry most of the load again. Ward, 28, has risen up the list of elite NHL goalies and he’s been able to play the last two seasons injury-free. One of his strengths is his ability to remain calm and make key saves when his defense breaks down in front of him. The backup role will be turned over to 26-year-old Justin Peters while Brian Boucher recovers from shoulder surgery. Expect Boucher to return in December.
Overall, the Hurricanes have the pieces needed to fight for a bottom-four playoff spot. But before we call them a playoff team, fans need to see an adequate sample size because they have a lot of questions to be answered. Can the Staal brothers play well together? Will long will the Semin honeymoon last before he becomes a malcontent? How will Muller mesh with the new team? Did Rutherford’s off-season additions payoff?