For the second straight year, a slow start for the Carolina Hurricanes ended playoff hopes largely before they could even begin.
However, there were many positives to come out of the 2011-12 season. Most notable on the list was the play of rookie defenseman Justin Faulk, who not only emerged as a legitimate top four NHL defenseman, but garnered at least some Calder Trophy talk despite only playing in 66 games.
After a terrible start to the season, captain Eric Staal finished strong, scoring 24 goals and totaling 70 points. Jeff Skinner shook off a concussion to finish with 20 goals in his second NHL season. Tim Gleason really blossomed as a leader on defense, and when you combine his ability with youngsters like Faulk and Jamie McBain, you really have to think the blue line is in good hands.
The early-season change from Paul Maurice to Kirk Muller seemed to work, with Muller winning more as the season went on. No, it wasn't enough to dig Carolina out of its early hole, but Muller showed ability to communicate and work with his young team, and he will get a full season to prove himself come October.
With the moves GM Jim Rutherford made during the summer, there's no reason Carolina can't climb into the top eight of the Eastern Conference. In fact, it's safe to say such a move is expected.
Offseason additions / New Faces
Without losing anyone significant off last year's roster, Rutherford bolstered two of his biggest weaknesses, center depth and scoring from the wings.
On draft night, Rutherford swung a deal for Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal, brother of Eric, and then signed him to a 10-year contract. Jordan Staal isn't even 25 yet, and he's expected to be a huge piece of the Hurricanes going forward.
The other move Rutherford made wasn't a long-term add, but instead a short-term fix where the Hurricanes hope to catch lightning in a bottle. The team signed Alexander Semin, late of the Capitals, to a one-year contract. Semin can score goals, no doubt about it. He has a 40-goal season and two other seasons of 30 or more. However, Semin only scored 21 in a walk year for Washington last year, and his effort at times was beyond questionable. In order for the Carolina experiment to work, the Hurricanes will probably have to deal with a few things happening that will test their patience. In the end, if Semin can score goals and compliment Skinner on the wing, it will be worth every penny invested.
In order for all of this to work, Carolina needs continued improvement from Jiri Tlusty, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen. The three combine for a cap figure of more than $9 million, and with the Staal brothers needing to be surrounded by players who can score goals and play responsible hockey, there is room for the three to make an impact as top-six forwards on a team expected to surge back into the playoff picture.
Without that depth stepping forward, the Staal and Semin acquisitions won't mean as much, as Washington and Florida will probably be the top teams in the Southeast again this season, while the Hurricanes fight to stay out of the cellar.
For more on the Hurricanes, check in with Canes Country.