Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Carolina Hurricanes. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take.
For the Hurricanes, 2010-11 was a story of what could have been. They kicked off their season with a pair of wins over Minnesota in Finland and finished the campaign by winning seven of their last 10.
With too many losses in between though, the Hurricanes ran out of time down the stretch falling two points shy of the playoffs with a 40-31-11 record. They just had to win their last game of the season - at home against a Tampa Bay team that had nothing to play for - in order to make the playoffs. And they fell flat.
Despite missing the playoffs, the Canes still have a strong foundation to build upon. Eric Staal, now a veteran leader on a young Carolina team, turned in another solid season while Jeff Skinner won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie last year.
Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford was a fairly active player in the free agent market this summer acquiring head coach Paul Maurice's former Maple Leaf skaters Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The team also locked up some of their own key pieces in Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen.
The biggest loss for the Hurricanes via free agency was Erik Cole, who signed with Montreal after finishing fourth on the team in scoring last season with 26 goals and 52 points.
Prospect Report: Zac Dalpe played 15 games for Carolina last season (scoring four points) and scored 57 points in 61 AHL games. He could be playing a top-six role for the Hurricanes this season.
Ryan Murphy, the Hurricanes' top pick in this year's draft, will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his former Kitchener Rangers teammate in Skinner and try to make the jump straight to the NHL. Murphy was a Top 10 prospect according to most scouts. So when he fell to Carolina at No. 12, even the Hurricanes (who have had a history of not drafting defencemen in the first round recently) couldn't pass him up. Murphy is a slick-skating, offensively gifted blueliner. He scored 26 goals and 79 points to finish second among OHL defencemen in scoring.
Another prospect in the Hurricanes' system to watch for over the coming seasons will be Keegan Lowe, Lowe has a solid hockey pedigree as he is the son of former NHLer and current Edmonton Oilers executive Kevin Lowe. Lowe is a stay-at-home blue-liner who brings character and a lot of grit.
Breakout Player to Watch: Jeff Skinner. Carolina's first pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, Skinner made a huge impact for the Hurricanes last season earning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. He was the youngest player in the NHL last season and racked up 31 goals and 63 points to lead all rookies in scoring. The Hurricanes will certainly be hoping Skinner can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and continue his progression in his second season. If Skinner gets much better he will find himself amongst the very best scorers in the game.
Brandon Sutter is another young player to watch. In 2009-10, Sutter had a solid year with 21 goals and 40 points. Last season, the Hurricanes made him an alternate captain but his numbers slid back a bit as he finished with 14 goals and 29 points. The Canes made it clear that Sutter is a big part of their future though, locking him up to a three-year, $6.2 million deal this summer. If he can get back to being a 20-goal scorer, it will make the Hurricanes that much more exciting to watch.
Marquee Match-Up: December 13 at the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kaberle and Ponikarovsky are familiar to head coach Paul Maurice from their time in Toronto and it's not a coincidence that these were the players that the Hurricanes signed in the offseason. With Jiri Tlusty and Tim Brent also in the mix, there will be plenty of familiarity in the game night program.
Other Dates To Watch: The Hurricanes will begin what could be an important six-game home stand against their division foes the Washington Capitals on Feb. 20. Following that game, the Canes will get Anaheim (Feb. 23), Florida (Feb. 25), Nashville (Feb. 28), the Rangers (March 1) and Tampa Bay. This is the Canes' longest home stand since the 2007-08 season and with three games against division, the stretch could go along way to determining Carolina's playoff aspirations.
Reason To Get Excited: This is a young Carolina team that has the potential to be good for years to come. Staal and Cam Ward are already grizzled veterans at 26, while Skinner (18), Sutter (22) and the Canes' youthful corps means this team will have plenty of time to grow together.
Home Hardware: Cam Ward was an All-Star last season and had a career-best .923 save percentage. If he can repeat that type of performance and the team is able to put a few more checks in the win column, Ward could very well earn some Vezina consideration.
On The Hot Seat: Despite getting his name on the Stanley Cup with the Bruins, Kaberle was a disappointment in Boston. The Bruins acquired him from the Leafs with the hopes that he would boost their power play down the stretch. That never happened, as Kaberle ended up having a very limited impact in the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes ponied up the dough signing Kaberle to a three-year, $12.75 million deal. Now it's up to Kaberle to show that he deserves it.
It's Your! Call: Can Carolina get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09?
With their core of young talent, the Hurricanes will be a headache for opposing teams in the Eastern Conference for years to come. If Kaberle can be the player the Bruins thought they were getting last year, Carolina could very well get back to the playoffs. Kaberle may have been a disappointment in Boston, but over his career he has shown that he is a solid puck-moving defenceman and should help anchor the power play.
Can Carolina get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09? Or will it be another building year of looking to the future for the talented but youthful Hurricanes?