2013-14 record: 36-35-11
Acquisitions: Ben Holmstrom, Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Drew MacIntyre
Departures: Manny Malhotra, Justin Peters, Brett Sutter, Mike Murphy
Top five fantasy options: Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin, Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Bill Peters takes over his first NHL bench after a three-year apprenticeship in Detroit, where Mike Babcock has spawned several other success stories. Peters hopes to increase the work ethic in Carolina, and it’s a noble cause, because he has talent to work with.
Up front, the Hurricanes have top-end players in Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and Alex Semin, while Elias Lindholm has the potential to take a big leap in his second NHL campaign. If the core stays healthy, there’s some very nice firepower on hand.
The D-corps is dotted with puckmovers, and Andrej Sekera is coming off a career season in Carolina after years bobbing around in Buffalo. Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy also excel with the puck.
In net, Anton Khudobin was a breakout player for the Hurricanes, and Cam Ward will have to fight to get the No. 1 job back. That sort of competition bodes well for the team, which has the pieces, on paper, to push for a playoff spot.
Bust: If Khudobin doesn’t keep up his stellar play, Carolina could sink to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, unless Ward rolls back the clock to his Conn Smythe days, which isn’t likely.
The top end of the offense may be solid, but Eric Staal already hurt himself during summer training, and if he goes down during the season, the Canes don’t have the depth to bail themselves out. Carolina had just five players hit the 40-point mark in 2013-14, and Eric Staal was tops with 61, putting him outside the NHL’s top 35. The team did nothing over the summer to improve the attack, meaning there’s little hope for what was a woeful power play.
Bringing back Tim Gleason makes the blueline a bit tougher but not better, and this was a team that needed an upgrade, despite Sekera’s breakout campaign. As for Peters, there will be little time to acclimate to his first season as an NHL bench boss. He takes over a frustrated group, mired in mediocrity after five straight seasons missing out on the playoffs.
Bottom Line: With other teams in the division getting better and Carolina treading water, at best, the Hurricanes are in for a world of hurt. Not only will they fall to the Metro’s basement, but getting a top-three pick in the draft is no sure thing under the NHL’s new lottery rules. Since the 2015 class is loaded, Carolina fans can bank on getting a great pick regardless, but they’d rather cheer for more than just the potential of Connor McDavid landing in Raleigh.
Prospect to Watch: In his first full season as a professional last year, Victor Rask scored 16 goals and 39 points in 76 games for the Charlotte Checkers of the American League. He’ll be on the team’s roster at the annual Traverse City prospects tournament and could make the NHL team out of camp with a strong pre-season showing. But even if Rask starts the year back in the AHL, expect him to get a call-up or two – especially if the Canes are at the bottom of the standings as we predict.
Stanley Cup odds: 150:1
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Eighth in Metro Division
Contributors: Ryan Kennedy, Rory Boylen