Can The 'Canes Compete For The Eastern Conference Crown?

By Benjamin Woodward

After general manager Jim Rutherford’s offseason spending spree, the Carolina Hurricanes seem poised to return to the NHL’s postseason for the first time in three years. It was the spring of 2009 when the ‘Canes last tasted the playoffs, where they were swept in four games by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Since that date, Carolina has seen seasons of 80, 91 and 82 points with no higher than a ninth place finish in the Eastern Conference.

The outlook on things has certainly brightened up quite a bit for hockey fans in North Carolina’s state capital this summer with the addition of superstar forwards Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. There is no doubt in this scribe’s mind that the ‘Canes are going to be a playoff team in 2012-13. However, should they be considered a part of the East’s elite, or are they just another run-of-the-mill one-and-done squads for the top teams to pray upon in round one?

Well, I could sit here until the end of the month typing up reasons for and against the Hurricanes’ case for “elite” status, but that simply wouldn’t make much sense. The answer to that question will come this fall (barring a lockout) when the teams hit the ice and the season gets underway.

With the dog days of August in full swing, I’ll be taking a look at the ‘Canes roster and examining how it stacks up against the other top teams in the Eastern Conference. We’ll start with the top forwards set to hit the ice in Raleigh this September.

Eric Staal – Jordan Staal – Alexander Semin

Jussi Jokinen – Tuomo Ruutu – Jeff Skinner

Chad LaRose – Jiri Tlusty – Anthony Stewart

Now, those lines are obviously subject to change at any moment as Rutherford could bring in another piece from the outside or promote one of his highly talented prospects to the big club. For the first time in a number of years, the ‘Canes have the luxury of a legitimate first line, one that may very well be the best in the conference. However, the lineup does look to be top-heavy with their projected third line combining for just 88 points (46G/42A) last season.

Here’s a complete look at the top-nine forward groups for the Rangers, Bruins, Flyers, Penguins and Capitals; the five teams that have earned their spot atop the Eastern Conference.

The question I’ll leave you all with is this: How do you think Carolina’s forward corps compare to that of their highest competition? Feel free to share your opinion in the comments section below.

Thanks For Reading!

Twitter: @_BWoodward

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