Carolina Hurricanes

Over the past two seasons, Ron Francis and Bill Peters have been methodically rebuilding the Carolina Hurricanes from the ground up, implementing a fast-paced puck possession system that takes advantage of the skills and smarts of one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Despite being mathematically in the playoff hunt at the 2016 trade deadline, Francis held true to his long-term vision, moved several veterans -- including captain Eric Staal -- and headed into the summer able to stockpile talent in a deep draft.

To address scoring, a team weakness, he took advantage of the cap-constrained Chicago Blackhawks and acquired Teuvo Teravainen, while adding Lee Stempniak in free agency. Finnish standout prospect Sebastian Aho is expected to crack a forward lineup led by Jeff Skinner, who experienced a resurgence last season, along with strong play down the middle from Jordan Staal and Victor Rask.

On the back end, the Canes have an embarrassment of riches in young, skilled defensemen, led by 24-year-old All-Star Justin Faulk. 21-year-olds Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, along with 19-year-old Noah Hanifin, all enter their sophomore seasons displaying the strength, skating, decision-making and poise that are ideal complements to Peters’ system. Even they will be pushed to keep their roles on the roster with up-and-comers like Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown, who tag-teamed to captain the Canes prospects to a championship win in Traverse City in September. In net, Cam Ward (re-signed to a new, team-friendly deal) and Eddie Lack return to a position where they stumbled early last season but performed admirably down the stretch.

The Canes improved by 15 points in the standings in 2015-16 and are poised to continue their upward trend in 2016-17. Are the incremental changes enough to push the Canes into the playoffs for the first time in seven years?

-- Jamie Kellner

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. Have the Canes sufficiently addressed their scoring woes?

  2. Is the goaltending really good enough to keep them competitive?

  3. Who is going to lead this team into the future?

Get the answers at Canes Country.

BEST CASE SCENARIO

by Jamie Kellner

In a word: playoffs. After seven years without an invitation, they just need to get to the dance. Fans in Raleigh desperately need to witness postseason hockey in person again. The Canes are not a team of elite talent, but their skill continues to improve and they are exciting to watch. If they can stay true to the system and play a solid team game, they are capable of taking that step to the next level. And in the process, if they could earn a Jack Adams award for Bill Peters, that would also be nice.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

by Jamie Kellner

Wait, what? The NHL still has a team in North Carolina? I thought they moved to Hartford/Las Vegas/Quebec already.

Dealing with the narratives around an under-performing team in a non-traditional market is a Sisyphean task. The Canes are blessed with an owner who has moved the team once before, though most hardcore fans believe him when he says he's not interested in moving it again. Ron Francis is an impeccable leader who instills confidence in his long-term vision, and he and Peters have the team moving in the right direction. But almost everything has to fall the right way for the Canes to contend for the playoffs in 2016-17. A flat start or major setback could derail those plans.

Fans have been asked to be patient for a long time, and if the team isn't winning or at least entertaining, they choose other ways to spend hard-earned dollars, which inevitably leads to photos of empty seats on the internet, and flight-tracking private planes between Raleigh and Quebec City, and expert opinions that hockey doesn't work in the South.