The Staal brothers from left to right Jared Staal, Eric Staal and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: No. 7 in Metropolitan Division
2013: 19-25-4. 13th in East.
KEY DEPARTURES: Andreas Nodl, Tim Brent, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Bobby Sanguinetti, Joe Corvo, Dan Ellis, Jamie McBain, Marc-Andre Gragnani.
KEY ADDITIONS: Nathan Gerbe, Matt Corrente, Anton Khudobin, Mike Komisarek, Andrej Sekera.
THE PROS: The Eric Staal-Jiri Tlusty-Alexander Semin line surprisingly emerged as one of the most productive in the NHL last season. The trio will surely be back and expected to carry most of the load again, but it was also promising that Jeff Skinner played 42 of the team’s 48 games after struggling with a concussion the season prior. Cam Ward did as well as he could under the circumstances. Though he faced among the most shots in the league, Ward held a record above .500 and Carolina was 12-8-1 before injury shut Ward down for the season. And though the team lacked a backup capable of keeping them close down the stretch, the addition of Anton Khudobin’s intriguing talent to play behind Ward was made to guard against a similar fate in 2013-14. Jordan Staal was a warm and welcome addition to the second line. Carolina’s top two forward lines held their own last season and may actually improve is Tuomo Ruutu can stay healthy for most of the season. But, beyond those two lines…
THE CONS: Major problems remain on defense. In adding Sekera, the Canes get a minute-muncher guy who pulled down north of 21 minutes a night in Buffalo, but he’s far from the solution to a group that was brutally exposed last season. The team allowed the 26th-most shots against last season and even though they finished in the top half of the league in offense, they were 29th in goals against and averaged being outscored by .66 goals per game. This incapable defense and a lack of reliable backup goaltender sunk the Canes in the final two months, as they finished 7-17-3 without Ward. And finally, although Semin pieced together a very impressive season in Year 1 with Carolina – one that earned him a five-year, $35 million extension – doubts over his consistency will remain until he strings together powerfully offensive seasons in a row. He fell off in Washington, who let him walk, but now he’s in Carolina for the long haul. How will he respond?
X-FACTOR: Behind this defense, goaltending will always be the X-Factor. We know basically what to expect out of Ward, who could make a strong case to be Team Canada’s goalie at the 2014 Olympics with a good first three months. Khudobin is the interesting character. After being sunk by their second and third stringers last season, Carolina added Boston’s 27-year-old backup, who posted a .920 SP in 14 appearances last season – the most of his career. If Ward goes down again, Khudobin will be the safety net and he appears better suited for the task then Dan Ellis or Justin Peters.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: Eric Staal will post a point per game, Tuomo Ruutu will get injured and, somehow, someway, Joe Corvo will find his way back to Carolina.
METROPOLITAN NO. 7: CAROLINA HURRICANES