RALEIGH, N.C. – At first glance, this looks a lot like the same Carolina Hurricanes team that missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year.
The new faces in new places are the guys calling the shots, not taking them.
The Hurricanes kept their roster largely intact this off-season. Instead, they’re counting on the new management team of coach Bill Peters and general manager Ron Francis to jolt Carolina back into the post-season.
Since they raised the Stanley Cup in 2006, they’ve made only one playoff appearance since—in 2009.
“I think what we’re really looking for is coming ready to work every day and being a consistent hockey team and playing with the players we have, which is a good group of players in that locker room,” defenceman Justin Faulk said. “When we get it all rolling, we’re all going to be pretty excited that we’re going to have a good team.”
The big challenge, of course, has been getting the inertia moving forward in the first place.
Peter Laviolette couldn’t keep it going after the Cup run. Neither could Paul Maurice after his ’09 playoff push. Kirk Muller never got it started in three years.
Now it’s Peters’ turn.
The former assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit has brought a quicker pace to practice and a sharper attention to detail, hoping that taking care of the small things now will lead to bigger things in the spring.
“These guys have played a lot of hockey—they’ve played for a lot of different coaches over the courses of their careers,” Peters said. “As long as they’re dialed in mentally, they’ll pick it up quick.”
Peters’ hiring was the first major one by Francis, who moved up one rung on the organization’s ladder shortly after last season ended. Longtime GM Jim Rutherford stepped aside to make way for Francis, then wound up being hired for the same job by Metropolitan Division rival Pittsburgh.
During his first off-season in the GM’s chair, Francis didn’t make any splashy signings or blockbuster trades. His biggest moves were bringing back veteran defenceman Tim Gleason, signing centre Brad Malone from Colorado, letting lower-line centre Manny Malhotra leave for Montreal and deciding to keep former All-Star goalie Cam Ward.
Those moves, or lack thereof, seem to indicate that the management team believes in the returning core of players.
“Every player here is trying to be better than last year,” captain Eric Staal said. “If everyone elevates, obviously, we’ll be in better position.”
Some things to know about the 2014-15 Carolina Hurricanes:
INJURED STAAL: The Hurricanes will be without Jordan Staal until at least January after the centre broke his right fibula in the team’s second exhibition game. Peters says the team figures to replace Staal’s minutes by committee. “We’re going to miss him, but it’s our job to move forward,” Peters said.
WHO’S IN GOAL? Francis winnowed Carolina’s once-crowded goalie situation down to two men by allowing Justin Peters to leave via free agency, leaving Anton Khudobin and Ward to compete for playing time. Khudobin late last season beat out Ward, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Ward said he’s worked on not overthinking things when he’s on the ice and, “I’ve done everything I can this summer to prepare myself to play with confidence.”
GETTING VALUE: The Hurricanes need their big-money players to play like, well, big-money players. That didn’t always happen last year: The four highest-paid players all had subpar seasons. Leading the way was Eric Staal ($8.25 million), who finished with 21 goals—his fewest in an 82-game season since he had 11 as a rookie 10 years ago—and had just one power-play goal. And Alexander Semin ($7 million) had just 42 points after putting up 44 during a lockout-shortened 2013.
SPECIALTIES: Every year the Hurricanes say a priority is improving the specialty teams. Maybe this will be the year it actually happens. Carolina’s power-play unit ranked 28th last year, scoring just 14.6 per cent of the time. The penalty-kill unit was solid, ranking 17th with a kill rate of nearly 82 per cent. A sign of optimism: The Hurricanes scored five power-play goals in their first three preseason games.
DREJ ALL DAY: Was Andrej Sekera’s big 2013-14 season a flash in the pan, or another step forward in the defenceman’s development? He had 44 points—third on the team—and won team MVP honours last year after being picked up in an overlooked trade with Buffalo.
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