Just How Bad is the Forecast for the Carolina Hurricanes?
The numbers don’t lie. Twenty-second overall in goals scored. Nineteenth in goals against. An anemic power play that ranked 28th and a penalty kill that wasn’t much better at 81.7 percent, 17th overall in the NHL in 2013-14.
And with marginal off-season moves (at best) to improve the club to date, what is the forecast for the 2014-15 Hurricanes as they look to improve in the Eastern Conference and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009?
New general manager Ron Francis wasted little time making changes when he fired head coach Kirk Muller and most of his staff in early May, bringing in former Detroit Red Wings assistant Bill Peters. Francis is obviously hoping that Peters brings with him some of the enormous success the Red Wings have enjoyed, including 23 straight playoff appearances in the motor city.
Despite failing to make any headline moves in the offseason, the Hurricanes aren’t without a solid foundation to build upon. Captain Eric Staal led the Canes in scoring with a more than respectable 61 points, while young sniper Jeff Skinner compiled a team-best 33 goals. But only one other forward, Alexander Semin, scored more than 20 goals (he had 22), so the Canes’ continue to be a fairly top heavy offensive team that rely too much on too few players (and one line) to put the puck in the net. They will need more from the likes of Jordan Staal, Nathan Gerbe, and Jiri Tlusty.
The Canes also don’t scare anyone on the blue line, despite a breakout season by 28-year-old Andrej Sekera, who came over from Buffalo and put up career best of 11 goals and 33 assists. Again, bringing back veteran Tim Gleason isn’t horrible, but also isn’t a game-changer.
A healthy Cam Ward between the pipes would certainly help (he was limited to just 30 games a year ago due to injury), although Anton Khudobin filled in admirably, fashioning a 19-14-1 record in 36 games to go along with a 2.30 GAA. There were rumors that the Canes had been attempting to deal Ward but found no takers, at least not at their asking price. Look for some stiff competition between the two netminders in training camp.
Is a bounce-back season in the works for the Canes possible in 2014-15? It’s certainly can with the likes of Staal and Skinner leading the way. The trouble is that the rest of the Eastern Conference has spent most of July getting better, and the Canes simply may not have done enough to push them back into the playoff picture.
The Canes’ forecast for 2014-15? Looks like stormy weather ahead with a strong possibility of extending its postseason drought.