The captain is one of the players who could use a bounceback sprint.
Yeah, this is a bit of a retread, but given the givens, why not go over it again? The major changes the Hurricanes went through over the summer involved signing Alexander Semin to a one-year, $7 million contract, signing Jeff Skinner to a 6-year, $34.35 million extension, and signing Jordan Staal to a 10-year, $60 million contract. The Hurricanes also (God help us) signed Joe Corvo to a 1-year, $2 million contract. Semin and J. Staal are both pretty big deals on their own, but together, they could make for some significant changes in how Hurricanes games tend to go.
Jordan Staal adds both offense and defensive responsibility, which is something that the Hurricanes desperately need. Eric Staal most likely won’t be browbeaten into backchecking no matter what happens, but Jordan Staal was the Penguins’ 3C for a reason. So: defensive responsibility with an upside of at least a 25-goal scorer, most likely more if past trends hold. He also increases the likelihood that Eric Staal will stay in Raleigh after his contract is up, a possibility that Rutherford’s been less than subtle about implying.
I hesitate to paint Semin as a question mark, because he’s gotten the short stick from pretty much everyone an awful lot. But the truth is, coming into a new system, no one can reliably make a call about how well he’s going to perform. The Hurricanes researched him as a player pretty thoroughly, and when he was signed, the organization and media closed ranks around him. That’s a good sign: he’s in Carolina on a trial basis, but the organization wants to give him a chance. His production hasn’t always been consistent in the past, but he’s been a 40-goal scorer before. He might never reach that again – he’s old enough that his production will, most likely, decline – but he brings considerable offensive heft to the Hurricanes, heft that’s desperately needed.
Jeff Skinner is, apparently, raring to go and more than ready for a short, furious season. He hasn’t been playing, and young as he is, going back to the NHL at an even more frenzied pace than usual could be a rough adjustment. His numbers post-concussion last year weren’t bad – he ended up with 20 goals – but they also weren’t Cullen-vampire-dazzling. He’s not like E. Staal and Ward, in that he doesn’t need to have a dramatic bounce-back year, but he does need to find some consistency (a recurring problem with the Canes).
Eric Staal and Cam Ward need bounce-back years. Period. I also have hopes that LaRose will finally find his place and quit being shuffled between being in the top 6 and being a 4th line grinder, but you know what they say about if wishes were horses. And while I’m covering forwards, the absence of Brandon Sutter means the 3C position is up for grabs. There won’t be that much intense competition, given the nature of a short training camp and no exhibition games, but it does need to shake out one way or another.
Defensively, everyone’s going to be looking to Justin Faulk to even further improve. Gleason signed an extension last year, and it’s obvious Rutherford is looking for Gleason to have something of a mentor relationship with Faulk. Additionally, signing Joe Corvo indicates an acknowledgement that the d-corps is going to have a lot of fresh young faces, and some older balance is needed. (Even if that balance comes in the form of Joe “old shoe” Corvo.) Rutherford has praised Sanguinetti as a reliable defenseman, and he might see some ice time with the Hurricanes, though admittedly not as part of the top d-pair.
Goaltending-wise, Cam Ward’s still the top guy and Brian Boucher, Dan Ellis, and Justin Peters are going to be duking it out for the backup position. My money’s on Peters, but that could be because the idea of Dan Ellis as the Canes’ backup goalie makes me want to weep, no matter how good he’s been with the Checkers. So, we’ll see – but I lead a “feeling sorry for Justin Peters” life.
In a sprint of a season, who’s to say how things will turn out? I’m not going to pretend to have that kind of expertise. I will say, though, that while the Canes’ lineup is a lot more promising than it was last year, that’s no guarantee of runaway success. They have a lot to put together and virtually no time to do it in. Canes fans might get lucky and see a team that clicks instantly and has a good half-year; then again, we also might see a team that struggles to find its footing and lands squarely in the realm of mediocrity yet again. Such is the way of sports.