Hurricanes inching closer to
This summer's moves have significantly bolstered Carolina's offensive
game, but their blueline still needs work.
NEW YORK, NY -- Winning the off-season is nothing to be proud of.
There is only one victory in the NHL that a team can feel a sense of
pride about, and the Los Angeles Kings have bragging rights in that
Immortalizing yourself as Stanley Cup Champion has to begin somewhere
though, and for the Carolina Hurricanes, the summer of 2012 was a good
Inconsistency has existed in Carolina since the team moved from
Hartford. At their highest peak they were fortunate enough to raise a
Stanley Cup banner into the rafters of the RBC Center (now PNC Arena).
There was also a stretch in which they drafted in the top five, three
consecutive times in this past decade. But with the pieces in place,
Carolina hopes to contend for a sustained period of time.
Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward recounted the team's lack of success
over the past few seasons on break-up day this year.
"I've played seven years now and been in the playoffs twice," he said.
"All you want to do is get back there and have the opportunity to play
for the Stanley Cup."
The first championship was won on the backs of seasoned veterans like
Rod Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney, Doug Weight and Mark Recchi. Infused
with the youth of homegrown talent like, Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd, Eric
Cole and Cam Ward the team marched it's way to the finals ultimately
taking down the underdog Edmonton Oilers in seven games.
This time, Staal is one of the veterans of the club, and the team is
marching forward with a strong core of young players.
The first move was the acquisition of Jordan Staal.
Jordan's brother, Eric, has been a lifer in North Carolina and proudly
wears the captain's 'C.' The trade with Pittsburgh gave the team two
legitimate top six centers, something that has been proven to be a
necessity for elite teams. The trade made sense for both clubs because
Jordan did not sign the long term deal offered to him by Pittsburgh
for a myriad of reasons. The most obvious being the strong center
depth in Pittsburgh, forcing Staal to be just a complimentary piece.
"Jordan Staal can become a superstar," bluntly stated Carolina GM Jim
Rutherford. "You look at a 6-foot-4, 220-pound center who can skate
and play like him, you can't name me two or three guys in the league
who are comparable to him. Those guys are hard to find."
The first offensive piece was in place.
Step two was acquiring a complimentary scoring threat. And Alexander
Semin motivated by a one-year contract may just do the trick.
For all the insults flung at Semin over the years, the only one that
should really stick is inconsistent. There are a few aspects of his
game which scream elite, but he often fails to put them all together
for consistent stretches of time as most players do.
The end for Semin was not the prettiest in Washington, as rumors ran
rampant. And as the season ended it became abundantly clear that he
would have to find a new home. While there was plenty of speculation
of who to blame for the separation, it was definitely more complicated
than a simply not getting along with one person.
"I think the issue is with the organization, not necessarily with the
coach," Semin's agent, Mark Gandler, told ESPN's Craig Custance. "Alex
is not ready to be a role player. He wants to be a full-time player.
It's important to him."
Seven million dollars is full-time money, so the Hurricanes are hoping
they get a full time player.
The biggest area of need for Carolina however continues to be
strengthening up their back end. Ward's inconsistency can only be
blamed on inefficient play by the defense for so long before it became
crystal clear that he is not an elite netminder.
Justin Faulk had a tremendous rookie year, with many calling him a
Calder contender. He can be the anchor-piece for a Carolina blueline
that needs strong seasons out of guys like Tim Gleason and Joni
Pitkanen is they want to be taken seriously with the top contenders in
the Eastern Conference.
"The biggest thing for us, to take that big step forward, is a top
line player," explained Rutherford at his end of the season press
Unfortunately, consistent defense and goaltending were the team's
biggest deficiencies this past year. Something that Rutherford not
only did not mention at the end of the season, but also did not
address at all this offseason.
With all the top end talent up front, it's pretty easy to pencil in
the Hurricanes as the top team in the southeast division. It's a
division that has struggled to make it's name as a collection of
dangerous teams over the years, and it likely will not contend with
the Atlantic for difficulty. But winning a division is no small
matter, and should be step one for Carolina.
The Hurricanes will also enter their first full season with Kirk
Muller as head coach, which is a big reason for the lack of roster
turnover on defense. Before dismantling a team it is important to see
how a new coach can work with the players in the system given a full
training camp and preseason.
Ward agreed by saying, "We will see how the mindset changes with
Muller stating the season with training camp next year."
The acquisitions of Staal and Semin will certainly make the Hurricanes
a lot more interesting to watch this season (whenever that begins).
But without addressing the lack of defensive strength and talent on
the backend, they are still not yet in the conversation of elite NHL