Hurricanes hope for better results in net in new division
Nathan Gerbe, Anton Khudobin, Mike Komisarek, Aaron Palushaj, Andrej Sekera, Kevin Westgarth.
Marc-Andre Bergeron, Tim Brent, Joe Corvo, Dan Ellis, Chad Larose, Jamie McBain.
Last year: The Hurricanes went into the 2012-13 season with very high expectations. The club united captain Eric Staal with younger brother Jordan and added even more scoring to their top two lines with the addition of winger Alex Semin.
They fared all right for the first month-and-a half of their shortened season, tallying an 11-8-1 record through their first 20 games and making a solid push for a postseason spot. But things took a turn for the worse on March 3, when goaltender Cam Ward suffered a season-ending MCL sprain on his left knee.
With Justin Peters and Dan Ellis holding the fort in net, the Hurricanes were unable to put a good string of victories together.
Following Ward’s injury, the Hurricanes went 7-17-3 the rest of the way and went from giving up an average of 2.81 goals per game in their first 21 games to 3.70 goals per game in their final 27 games.
There were some bright spots in their season of struggles. Semin finished the year second on the team in assists (31), points (44) and plus/minus (plus-14) and management was convinced that the enigmatic forward was worth keeping long term with a new five-year, $35 million contract. Winger Jiri Tlusty, who was once an afterthought with the Toronto Maple Leafs, led the Hurricanes in goals (23) and plus/minus (plus-15) and was tied for fifth in the NHL in goals.
With a healthy Ward back in the lineup, the Hurricanes hope they won't duplicate last season's free fall.
This Year: Should Ward go down again, the Hurricanes will have Anton Khudobin to back him up. Khudobin had an impressive 9-4-2 record with a 2.32 goals-against average and .920 save percentage last season, albeit with a very good Boston Bruins team in front of him.
Rutherford also added some depth skaters, signing Nathan Gerbe to a two-way contract, acquiring winger Aaron Palushaj and taking a chance on veteran defenceman Mike Komisarek.
The Canes could flourish with a change of scene (and change of division), but in order to do so, they'll need to find a way to keep pucks out of the net, in addition to getting similar output from the Staals and Jeff Skinner.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Hurricanes' performance after a shortened season?
The key to winning will be a big rebound season from Ward. To the surprise of many, he was not invited to Canada's Olympic camp so if he ends up not going to Sochi, he has less distractions to deal with than most other players and can focus on winning in the pros.
Even with a lockout-shortened 2012-13, Jeff Skinner's stats have slipped since his big rookie campaign two years ago. With a full 82 back for this season, he'll have a lot more playing time to develop and improve if he can stay healthy.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Hurricanes make to get themselves back in cap shape?
Where the salary cap is concerned, Carolina appears to be in good shape and they did not burn any of their compliance buyouts. While they're not a team that comes close to the cap ceiling, they've already identified their core players - the Staals, Skinner, Semin, Ward and Tuomo Ruutu - and have them secured with multi-year deals that will keep them together until at least the 2015-16 season.
Joni Pitkanen, who is out for the entire season with a broken left heel bone, is entering the final year of his contract that pays $4.5 million this season and that could open up space next summer to keep soon-to-be restricted free agents Tlusty, Drayson Bowman and Justin Faulk.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Hurricanes after realignment.
The Southeast Division - or SouthLEAST as some have called it - is no more and the Hurricanes are in the new Metropolitan Division without the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets to jump on.
They will still have to meet Ovechkin and the Capitals regularly, along with perennial heavy hitters Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers. Don't forget that the Flyers reloaded (again) in the offseason, while Hart Trophy nominee John Tavares and the New York Islanders are coming off a successful campaign that saw them make the playoffs.
Kirk Muller and the Hurricanes will have their work cut out for them.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Jeff Skinner, LW - With the Hurricanes' top line breaking out last season, the Hurricanes could have used more from the second unit, generally, and Skinner, specifically. He broke onto the NHL scene in 2010-2011, scoring 63 points in 82 games to win the Calder Trophy, but last season's 24 points (and minus-21 rating) in 42 games was a long way down.
There is reason for optimism, however. Skinner generated 3.79 shots on goal per game last season, a career-high rate that ranked fifth in the league. With some better luck around the net, both for Skinner and his linemates, the results could be much better in 2013-2014.
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Pressing Question: Which Alex Semin will show up for 2013-14 now that he’s locked in?
Last summer, a one-year trial for Alex Semin made sense. He had run out his welcome in Washington and needed a fresh start. Statistically speaking, he did not disappoint, finishing second in team scoring, first in team assists and averaging a point a game.
But what's dogged him his whole career has been the reputation of being a player who's good when he wants to be.
"Some nights you didn't even know if he was gonna come to the rink," former Caps teammate Troy Brouwer said. "It's tough to play alongside guys like those because you don't know what you're gonna get out of (them)."
Those remarks did little to sway the Hurricanes, who locked him up with a five-year, $35 million contract in March. GM Jim Rutherford (along with front office supporters Ron Francis and Rod Brind'Amour) have been around the game long enough to know who's a 'player' and who's not. And keeping Semin for that long at that much money means they believe he's a 'player.'
Do you believe that too? Or will we be seeing the Alex Semin of old from Washington?
- Carolina Hurricanes Preview by Kelvin Chow, TSN.ca