When I think of the Hurricanes last year I think of one thing. After winning eight of 10 games they controlled their playoff fate heading into the last game of the season — one win and they were in the playoffs. They were at home, and all they had to do was beat Tampa Bay — a team that had nothing to play for and was only interested in being fresh and ready for the playoffs.
Carolina looked absolutely terrible. They fell into a 3-0 hole in the first period and lost, 6-2. It was a shocking lack of heart and determination for a team that had everything so readily in their grasp.
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There are several things to like about this team, but until they get their attitude on track and play with more heart they aren’t going to accomplish anything meaningful. At the risk of oversimplifying things, good teams do not lay an egg in games like that.
Carolina Hurricanes Offseason Moves
The Hurricanes added a few players this summer, with the two most significant being Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Both guys have issues with effort and consistency and wouldn’t necessarily be viewed as big gains on a lot of teams. The market for Kaberle in particular took a while to develop.
What stands out here, though, is that both players played for the Leafs under current Carolina Coach Paul Maurice. If he knows the players well and wanted to work with both again then that has to be seen as a good sign.
The biggest loss — the only significant loss for the team — was Erik Cole’s departure to Montreal. He’s a long-term Hurricane who had 26 goals last year.
2011-12 Carolina Hurricanes NHL Outlook
It will be very interesting to watch Jeff Skinner this year. He was not only the winner of the Calder Trophy for top rookie in the league last year, but he was a very legitimate all-star selection as well. He was very good.
He and Eric Staal could form a very strong foundation for this team to build on. Before we start planning the victory parade, though, we need to see whether Skinner can take another big step forward this year and develop into an elite player, or whether he’ll just stay about where he’s at. He would be far from the first top-level rookie who doesn’t maintain his torrid early pace. He was the youngest player in the league last year, and will again be among the youngest this year.
Brandon Sutter, the son of Flames Coach Brent, is another interesting player to watch. Two years ago he was very solid. They made him an assistant captain last year, and his production tailed off. They signed him to a surprisingly fat three-year contract this offseason, though, so they obviously have some faith in him. If he can find his earlier form then he can be a very valuable mid-level player. If he doesn’t start strong, though, then there are more reasons to be concerned about the team this year.
Cam Ward has long been looked at as a guy who is capable of winning when he needs to — he has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy after all — but he isn’t viewed as a truly elite player. He had his best career save percentage and second best win total last year, though, so he obviously is feeling pretty good these days. It seems like he has been around forever, but he’s only 27. Combined with Staal, and potentially Skinner, Sutter and others, the team has a solid, young core of players. They would probably still need another elite talent to really be a factor, but a lot of teams would trade where they are for where the Hurricanes are.
A young player to watch — one who could definitely be a part of that young core — is defenseman Ryan Murphy. He seemed like a steal of a deal when he dropped to the Hurricanes with the 12th pick in this year’s draft. He was Jeff Skinner’s junior teammate in Kitchener, and is a very exciting two-way defenseman. He has been very solid in camp, and has made a good argument to stick with the big team.
2011-12 Carolina Hurricanes Schedule
Carolina opens the season the same way they ended last year — hosting the Lightning at home. While the stakes are much lower this year it will be interesting to see if the team can play with more life and intensity.
Carolina Hurricanes NHL Futures Odds (from Bodog)
Oddsmakers definitely see this squad in the bottom third of the league — they are 45/1 for odds to win the Stanley Cup. At 22/1 to win the Eastern Conference they are 10th out of 15 teams.
2011-12 Carolina Hurricanes Predictions
The Hurricanes should be at least as good as they were last year. The problem they have, though, is that they play in a very tough conference. All eight playoff teams last year will be good enough to contend for the playoffs again, and New Jersey will be much, much better than they were.
That means that there are at least 10 solid playoff-caliber teams and only eight spots. Of those 10 teams I would have to put the Hurricanes 10th. It’s therefore hard to get too excited about this squad.
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