If the offseason for the Carolina Hurricanes is any indication of what’s to come for the team during the 2012-13 campaign, then buckle up. Here are the top story lines to follow for the upcoming season.
1. Brotherly Love. The addition of two-way center Jordan Staal on draft day shook the foundation of the team to its core. In one surprising move, the Hurricanes were suddenly viewed as a potential landing spot for high-end free agents. The Hurricanes traded for, and signed Staal to a long term deal, which was a beneficial move for both parties. Jordan expressed interest in playing with big brother and team captain Eric, and he got his wish. Now the question remains, can the brothers coexist on the same team? Both play the center position, both are big, strong, and are able to put the puck in the net. Will the Hurricanes have a single line featuring both brothers? That move would displace Eric from center ice to a wing position. Will they split them up and have two strong centers on the first two lines? This option seems to make the most sense, but Eric and Jordan may want to try their luck together at some point. Expect these two to get lots of time together on the powerplay, and to make a difference for the Hurricanes.
2. Can the top 6 gel? After signing Jordan Staal, the Hurricanes went out and signed winger Alex Semin to a one year contract. Semin, who has some of the best hands in the league, adds another player to the top 6 who could potentially score 40 goals. With two Staals, Semin, young sensation Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, and Jiri Tlusty all expected to battle for spots on the first two lines, the Hurricanes have some major offensive firepower for this season. However, putting big names together doesn’t automatically mean they will gel immediately. They will have to become familiar with each other’s tendencies if they want to be successful on the ice.
3. Can the injury bug be avoided? This story line isn’t an exclusive one to the Hurricanes obviously. All teams have injuries they have to work around in order to succeed. The Hurricanes already lost backup goaltender Brian Boucher for the majority of the season with a shoulder injury earlier this offseason. Will everyone be able to stay healthy throughout the season? The forwards need as much time together as possible to be able to play well with each other, and the already weaker defensive rotation could be devastated by a few key injuries. The Hurricanes need to train hard, prepare, and hope to get lucky so that the dreaded injury bug stays out of the locker room. (There should also be buckets of Purell around for when flu season hits.)
4. The Kirk Muller Era. This will be the first time that Head Coach Kirk Muller has the reins of the team from the start of training camp until the end of the season. He sparked the team last season when he became coach, and the team seemed to respond well to his coaching abilities and knowledge of the game. It will be great to see what the team can do with Muller leading them throughout and entire season. The team should be energized and focused come October, and a strong start out of the gates will show the rest of the league that the Hurricanes are for real.
5. Who rounds out the roster? With all the focus on the top two lines this offseason, the bottom two lines have been somewhat neglected. There is an incredible log jam at the bottom right now. With young players battling for roster spots, and others being demoted to third line duty due to the additions of J. Staal and Semin, there is going to be a lot of competition to make the team. Teams generally need a full four line rotation in order to be successful in the playoffs, and the Hurricanes have no shortage of players who can come in and play huge minutes in order to give the stars a rest. There may even be a few of these players moved for another defenseman before the season begins. All of these players will get ample opportunity to show their skills during training camp and, most likely, a few preseason games.
6. Who plays defense? The weakest aspect of this team will undoubtedly be the defense. The Hurricanes lost shot-blocker Bryan Allen to free agency, and brought back 3-time Hurricane Joe Corvo. While this will ultimately help the offensive numbers from the blue-line, it does little to help the defensive aspect of the game. Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison are the only two defensemen on the roster who could be considered “defensive minded”. With Corvo, Joni Pitkanen, and Jamie McBain expected to help out on the powerplay, who will take the initiative to block shots and stand someone up with a big hit? As mentioned earlier, the Canes may add another defensive defenseman before the season starts, but GM Jim Rutherford seems content on the current defensive roster. Youngster Justin Faulk will be expected to play a larger role on defense, and could help bridge the gap between offensive and defensive defenseman.
7. Post-season glory? With all of the moves that were made during the offseason, people are wondering if it will be enough to get the Hurricanes back to the post season, somewhere they haven’t been in three years. If history says anything, the Hurricanes can be a dangerous team in the playoffs. Whether or not they make it back to post-season glory is the question on everyone’s mind. This season is going to be an exciting one for the Hurricanes, and there hasn’t been this much hope in the fan base since that fateful June day in 2006.