The NHL season is finally upon us. With a 48 game season planned for each team, the season will be a mad dash to the finish, and each team will be encounter some unexpected hardships along the way. For the Carolina Hurricanes, the challenges have already begun, as power forward Tuomo Ruutu went under the knife in early January to have season-ending hip surgery. Ruutu is expected until be out until at least May. The excitement in Raleigh is palpable and although the lockout may have costs the organization some fans, the building is expected to be rocking for the season opener. With a few key additions, the Hurricanes are expected to contend for the Southeast division crown, and may be in contention for a top spot in the Eastern conference.
Key Arrivals: Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin
The first trade that shook the foundation of the Carolina Hurricanes happened during the 2012 NHL entry draft. Commissioner Gary Bettman took to the podium and announced that the Carolina Hurricanes made a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for power forward Jordan Staal. Staal was then immediately signed to a 10 year extension, ensuring that his services will be given to the Hurricanes for years to come. Playing alongside big brother and captain Eric seemed to be a possibility at one point for Jordan, however the Hurricanes have decided to strengthen the team down the middle. Jordan will be centering the second line while Eric centers the first, although both may get the opportunity to play together on some special teams units. Jordan is a huge, gritty forward who can play great defensive hockey as well. He’s great in the faceoff dot, and should add a strong second line center to the mix. He can kill penalties, win draws, and put a big body in front of the net to disrupt goaltenders.
The addition of Alex Semin is also a huge boost for the top 6. Semin was signed out of free agency to a one year, 7 million dollar contract. He’s a sniper who can dangle and shoot with the best of the league, and has the potential to put up 40 goals in a season. The thought is that Alex will be flanking Eric Staal on the first line, a combination which could prove deadly on the score sheet. There are several questions surrounding Semin, such as his work ethic, backchecking ability, or his drive to win. However, Canes GM Jim Rutherford believes that the contract will give Alex a second chance in a new place to start fresh.
Key Departures: Brandon Sutter, Bryan Allen
Brandon Sutter, the defensive forward and third line center for the Hurricanes, was sent to Pittsburgh in the Jordan Staal deal, where he’s expected to play a similar role as a center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Sutter’s defensive prowess was heralded here in Raleigh, as his ability to kill penalties and drive the net were matched by no one else. Sutter’s faceoff percentage was consistently the highest on the team, and his general hockey knowledge was unmatched. He will be a great player for the Penguins and the Hurricanes will certainly miss his services.
Defensive defenseman Bryan Allen signed a 3-year deal through free agency with the Anaheim Ducks. Allen was the Hurricanes’ best shot blocker, and is a true defensive giant. Although not so quick on his skates, his positioning and ability to stand up for teammates will be hard to replace.
Biggest Question: Will the defense be alright?
The loss of Bryan Allen makes the defense suspect at best. The top pairing is projected to be puck mover Joni Pitkanen and the defensive Tim Gleason. The Hurricanes also brought Joe Corvo back into the mix for his third stint in a Hurricanes uniform. The rest of the defense will be filled out by Jamie McBain, Justin Faulk, Bobby Sanguinetti, and Jay Harrison. The Hurricanes may carry 7 defensemen throughout the season, but with the additions of the high powered offensive players, the defense will be the question mark through much of the season.
The top six will be fun to watch for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. With the brothers’ Staal, Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlusty, and Jussi Jokinen all viable for each of the top two lines, the combinations are endless. The powerplay unit should also be a big strength with multiple formations and options that could be run. Will the top 6 gel with only a week of training camp set to begin any day now? Only time will tell.
The Hurricanes have a serious opportunity to win the Southeast division in this truncated season. If they are able to avoid the injury bug, a top 3 finish in the Eastern conference isn’t out of the question. They have more offensive firepower than ever before, and with Cam Ward in net, they look strong on both sides of the puck for the first time in a long time. Look for the Canes to compete in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, and may even be a dark horse to win the coveted trophy.