Can the Jerks recapture the magic?
Carolina caught lightning in a bottle last season under rookie coach Rod Brind’Amour. Defensively the Hurricanes were pretty good, ranking top-10 in goals against and penalty killing, but otherwise they were middling. Captain Justin Williams and the ‘Storm Surge’ celebrations united the team, with a little help from a sour Don Cherry. With that zeitgeist over, can this team maintain its identity? The ‘Bunch of Jerks’ moniker worked for one season, but that momentum won’t last forever. Carolina does have a nice influx of youngsters to shake things up, as the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers won the Calder Cup. Roster spots are there for the taking.
Will the goaltending hold up?
The Hurricanes re-signed Petr Mrazek, who was their designated No. 1 last season, though he only made 40 appearances due to injury and 1B netminder Curtis McElhinney. Though Mrazek had a slightly better save percentage, McElhinney was crucial to Carolina’s survival in the regular season, and now he’s off to Tampa Bay. In his place is James Reimer, who is trying to revive his career after a tough slog in Florida. Mrazek’s career high for games is 54, but that also happened to be his best season (with Detroit in 2015-16.) If Mrazek can stay healthy, we’ll get to see what his full potential is.
How good can ‘El Nino’ be?
In one of the most lopsided trades of recent years, Carolina acquired power forward Nino Niederreiter from Minnesota for struggling center Victor Rask. How bad was it? The deal actually factored into the firing of Wild GM Paul Fenton. In 36 games with the Hurricanes, Niederreiter posted 30 points and looked much more effective than he had been with Minnesota. When the playoffs hit, Niederreiter’s numbers took a dip, however, as he put up just four points in 15 games. Still, his rugged game helped and, with Micheal Ferland gone, Carolina needs Niederreiter’s size in the top six. If ‘El Nino’ can be an offensive threat and maybe hit the 60-point mark, the Canes will be hard to handle, especially with the still-developing Andrei Svechnikov and aces Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen up front.
Stanley Cup Odds: 25/1
With the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers winning the Calder Cup, the pipeline is looking good for Carolina. From that squad, center Martin Necas is the most high-profile kid looking to make the jump, as he has the speed and skill to do damage. On the back end, this is Jake Bean’s time to assert himself in the NHL.