With two days before the Carolina Hurricanes open their season, it’s a good time to take a look at what is most likely the final form of the team’s roster. Baring any sort of unforeseen calamity, what we see on head coach Kirk Muller‘s clipboard is what we’ll see Friday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
To be perfectly honest, there’s not a whole heck of a lot of difference from what we saw at the end of last year. New additions Nathan Gerbe at forward and backup goaltender Anton Khudobin are the changes that will grab your eye first.
Khudobin will be a handy addition to back up franchise goalie, Cam Ward, who spent the better portion of last season injured. While Ward has been solid as stone for the majority of his career, he has begun to show chinks in his armor. The Hurricanes had banked on Ward being up and at ’em night in and night out and were caught with their breezers down last season having to fill that hole. While Justin Peters proved himself a very capable young netminder, adding the capable Khudobin gives the team a more dependable insurance policy. Ward is human after all, and finally has a worthy backup, allowing him to take more nights off and stay healthier.
The offense for the Hurricanes is what could easily be described as the “Excuse Killer.” With the lineup of forwards Muller has at his disposal, there is no reason whatsoever the team should not be piling goals up early and often. There is no combination of linemates that won’t work for the team. While putting Eric and Jordan Staal on a line together might make for a good photo op, it’s not good hockey. Reports from the Raleigh News & Observer out of this morning’s practice show that Muller is playing with some special teams lines, pairing up Jeff Skinner with J. Staal. This sounds exciting as a possible power play option. In addition, the same reports say Muller has been using Gerbe on a pairing with defenseman Justin Faulk, which hints of a strong, fast penalty kill unit.
It’s tempting to throw together poster units like a Staal (either one)-Alex Semin-Skinner line. More beneficial to the team would be to spread these catalysts across the lineup more evenly. Semin would do well to anchor a line to the wing of an unpolished gem like Riley Nash or Kevin Westgarth. Spreading talent around for the first month or so will allow lower performing players to step up more, making for stronger, more reliable lines down the stretch.
Defense will be the big question mark this season. Tim Gleason has not performed at the level he is capable of for some time now. Having suffered a concussion in the preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens, he won’t be available immediately. Upon his return, Muller would do well to pair him with someone like Brett Bellemore, rather than the obvious choice, Faulk. Letting Gleason play a mentoring role will push him to perform better, spend more time at the point, and less time in the penalty box. The Hurricanes have a cornucopia of young defensemen who need to take some Vitamin Step It Up and keep Ward from having to be a cyborg all the time. If we can see what Gleason, Faulk, and Jay Harrison are really made of, Ward’s goals against average will be cut in half.
When we take a step back and look at this roster, there is nothing holding the Hurricanes back from winning the division. This lineup is the thing upsets are made of, and the rest of the division would be wise to take them seriously. That being said, it’s up to the team and coaching staff to know this, play like this, and play like it consistently. There’s no time to let things even out and regroup down the stretch. The key is to come out of the gate playing hard, strong and fast. Physicality is nice, but with the offensive power they have, there’s no reason to not be putting up highlight reel goals on a nightly basis.
The Hurricanes are going to be counted out based on track record. They have the roster to make that a mistake.