It was another disappointing year for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2011-12, as they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Multiple injuries to 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner seriously derailed the ‘Canes offense, as nearly the entire scoring burden was then placed onto the shoulders of team captain Eric Staal. The man with the “C’ on his sweater produced admirably, posting a 70-point season (24G/46A), but he simply wasn’t given enough help for the Hurricanes to make any sort of playoff push. Carolina would go on to finish the year with a .500 record at 33-33-16, good for the twelfth spot in the Eastern Conference.
General manager Jim Rutherford was on a mission this summer, and that was to improve his team enough to return to the postseason for the first time since the spring of 2009. After hearing of Jordan Staal‘s refusal to sign an extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rutherford made a preemptive strike, acquiring the star forward to play in Raleigh alongside his older brother, Eric. It was then that he turned his attention to the free agent market, inking former Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Semin to a one-year contract worth a total of $7 million.
The addition of any top-six NHL forward certainly does not come cheap. In acquiring Jordan Staal, the Hurricanes were forced to surrender one of their most valuable forwards, two-way pivot Brandon Sutter. The former 11th overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft (2007) was named an assistant captain of the ‘Canes before his 23th birthday and has been a solid piece in the middle of the Carolina lineup for the past three seasons. His presence will most certainly be missed. Third pairing defenseman Bryan Allen also left the organization, signing a three-year deal with the Anaheim Ducks.
Since 2009-10 (ironically enough, the last year that the Hurricanes qualified for the postseason), Finnish forward Jussi Jokinen has seen a drop-off in offensive production with each passing year. It was the 2009-10 campaign in which Jokinen would post career highs in goals (30) and points (65). Jokinen will be relied upon to produce large amounts of offense on the Hurricanes’ second line this season, and his ability to do so may make or break Carolina’s chances at a Southeast division title.
If there was one player I’d have to peg as a candidate for a breakout 2012-13 season for the Hurricanes, it would have to be rookie defenseman Ryan Murphy. Carolina’s first round draft choice in 2011 (12th overall) has spent the past three years skating for the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. In 174 OHL games, the undersized blueliner has scored 43 goals and added 129 assists for a total of 172 points. There is no guarantee of Murphy making the NHL squad this fall, as he still holds one more season of junior hockey eligibility. However, if Murphy does skate with the ‘Canes in 2012-13, I believe that he will provide some invaluable improvement to Carolina’s transition game.
Flying completely under the radar this offseason is just how competitive the Southeast division should be next season. The Washington Capitals will remain a threat and should qualify for the postseason once again. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to get back into the playoffs after a down year last season. While many don’t believe they’ll be able to replicate it, the Florida Panthers had a breakout year in 2011-12, and are the defending division champions. In one of the league’s deepest divisions, the Hurricanes will need impressive seasons out of each of their top performers in order to compete for a playoff spot. There is no doubting the offensive talent currently assembled down in Raleigh, but questions will need to be answered early in regards to the Hurricanes’ depth on the blueline. I’d expect Carolina to qualify for the postseason in one of the East’s bottom seeds, setting up an epic first-round battle with the Penguins, New York Rangers, or Boston Bruins.
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