by Bob Wage
1. A hungry team.
The Canes have been out of the playoff mix for six years now and the players, coaches and management are all sick of it. Head coach Bill Peters, now in his second year, needs to start showing improvement, so the pressure is on him. But most importantly, not only are Eric Staal and Cam Ward in the final year of their contracts, but Eddie Lack, John-Michael Liles, Kris Versteeg, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Terry, Brad Malone and Riley Nash are all playing for contracts. If that does not motivate this group, then nothing else will.
2. Team defense.
Much has been said about the future of this team’s defense, but the future could be now. Finally, this team has first class size, mobility, skill and scoring prowess on the blueline. Last season’s defensive performance was underrated. After allowing over 30 shots per game in 2012-13, they were able to reduce that number by a full three shots per game last season. If they can continue that trend, plus continue to put up points, these guys will soon start to get some recognition around the league.
New GM Ron Francis has not yet re-invented the wheel in Carolina, but he has been patient and made some good moves so far. He has been deliberate regarding contract negotiations with Ward and Eric Staal, which looks wise. He has surrounded himself with excellent hockey minds, as well as a highly regarded hockey analyst in Eric Tulsky. He has also beefed up the scouting department, which should pay dividends in the future. We will see if his moves pay off.
by Bob Wage
The goaltending last season was a big letdown for this team, and Eddie Lack and Cam Ward have a lot to prove this coming year. Lack had a great year last season for Vancouver, but can he repeat with a new team? Ward improved upon a disastrous 2012-13 season and stayed relatively healthy, but his .911 save percentage from his last campaign is not playoff caliber and he will need to continue to improve for the Hurricanes to succeed.
The Hurricanes were one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL last year. The Staal Brothers and Jeff Skinner had below average totals last year and will each need to improve. But even if they do, will the team have enough secondary scoring? Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm and Co. seem to show that they are capable, but they are unproven at this time.
You can call it team toughness. You can call it sticking up for your teammates. You can call it a number of things, but this team seems to lack enough of it. I will call grit that intangible extra effort that winners are able to put forth when the game is on the line. The Hurricanes lack it, or at least have to prove that they have it.
by Brian LeBlanc
1. What will be the end game of the Eric Staal and Cam Ward contract negotiations?
2. Is Ryan Murphy down to his last chance in Carolina?
3. When will Peter Karmanos find a buyer?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
by Matt Krombach
Since 2008-09, the Hurricanes have been on the outside of the playoffs. Year after year everyone is hopeful that the tables turn and the team clinches a playoff berth. With contract years at hand for the two franchise players, Eric Staal and Cam Ward, there is optimism for top-level performance. It seems, as in recent seasons, that if the Hurricanes could start the season the way they finished the prior year, they would be in good standing.
It is important that the message Bill Peters implements is acknowledged and acted on from Day 1 of the season by the players. If they can get off to a solid start, this team has the ability to steamroll any opponent in its path with that adrenaline. There is much more depth to this team compared to a year ago at this time and much more competition for roster spots.
Jordan Staal and Eric Staal are both healthy going into the season and the team could really use high production from the two brothers. It would also be nice to see Victor Rask have an impressive season after an impressive showing last season. For Justin Faulk and Elias Lindholm to top the points chart this year would also be ideal. It’s time for the Hurricanes to prove they are not a cellar dweller team like many project them to be.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
by Bob Wage
There are a lot of things that could go wrong for this team. While team depth is better than recent seasons, one or two key injuries would derail any chance for success that this group has. If one of the Staals (or both) were to miss a chunk of this season due to injury, the Canes would probably find themselves with another high draft pick next summer.
Management is looking for Eddie Lack to have another season like last year and for Cam Ward to improve. If neither of them are able to put forth a save percentage better than league average, (like Ward and Khudobin last year), the Canes will be called upon to score a lot of goals in order to win. Scoring is not this group’s strong suit.
Finally, the absolute worst-case scenario would be if the Hurricanes played mediocre hockey most of the season, did not make any trade deadline deals thinking they might have a chance for the playoffs, then eventually missed the playoffs with nothing extra to show for it.