Apr 1, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal (11) skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Carolina won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 NHL season preview: Carolina Hurricanes

This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Carolina Hurricanes.

What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?

If puck possession equals wins, it’s a wonder that Carolina didn’t put up more of them. They started with the puck more often than all but 3 teams in the NHL, winning an impressive 52.6% of their faceoffs.

Playing in the most games since his rookie season did wonders for Jeff Skinner last season, as he led the team with 33 goals and 274 shots, both career highs. But the best news were definitely his 71 games played.

After being a steady, if unspectacular defenseman in Buffalo the previous 7 seasons, Andrej Sekera had a fantastic first season in Carolina, leading all their defense in goals (11), assists (33), powerplay points (28) and ice time (23:41 per game), while finishing second in shots (142) and +/- (+4).

Speaking of great first seasons in Carolina, goaltender Anton Khudobin provided excellent play in net after coming over from the Boston Bruins last summer. He was the only goalie with a winning record on the team, and led the Hurricanes on every category. He may have even done enough to supplant former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward as the number one.

What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?

Despite being in the top third of the league in shots per game (31.2), the Hurricanes finished 22nd in the NHL in overall scoring, averaging just 2.5 goals per game.

As you may have guessed from those numbers, their powerplay was equally inept, clicking at 14.6%, “good” for 28th in the league.

The struggles on offense have to fall on the one who is counted on most by the Hurricanes to provide it, captain Eric Staal. The usually very consistent 29 year-old posted the worst goal, shot and point per game totals since his rookie season in 2003-2004.

As previously mentioned, Cam Ward’s days as a starting goaltender, let alone a playoff MVP, seem to be over thanks to a combination of injuries and inconsistent play. He was the third best goaltender on the team by virtually every metric last season behind Khudobin and even Justin Peters.

After trading for and signing him to a very lucrative contract two years ago, Jordan Staal has failed to live up to expectations. He has just 25 goals in 130 games with the Hurricanes, but what’s more troubling is that his shooting percentage is over 4% lower than it was with Pittsburgh. The younger Staal needs to provide more offense to take some pressure off his older brother.

So what did they do to get better?

It was all about addition by subtraction for the Hurricanes, or so they hope.

The list of players gone as unrestricted free agents includes Mike Komisarek, Manny Malhotra, Matthew Corrente, Radek Dvorak, Joni Pitkanen and Justin Peters.

After Jim Rutherford stepped down as General Manager and was succeeded by franchise great Ron Francis, they replaced head coach Kirk Muller after two rather underwhelming seasons with Bill Peters, a former Detroit Red Wings assistant coach who specializes in defense and killing penalties.

Perhaps that’s a good reason why the only notable acquisition made by the ‘Canes was penalty killing specialist Jay McClement, who should be able to help improve Carolina’s 17th ranked unit.

Player to watch

After signing a one year, 2.95 million dollar deal this summer, it’s time we (and the Hurricanes) found out who the real Jiri Tlusty is. Is it the one who finished 2012-13 tied for 5th in the NHL in goals (with 10-million dollar men Jonathan Toews & Patrick Kane, no less), or is it the one who saw his ice-time reduced game after game last season, on his way to a disappointing 16 goals in 68 games?

Although this is a veteran lineup, you could almost call what the Hurricanes are doing a rebuild.

They will make the playoffs if…

Nearly everyone on the team has a bounce-back season. It starts with Eric Staal, but his brother Jordan, Tlusty, Alexander Semin, John-Michael Liles, Ward…there were lots of players who played below expectations last year. They can’t all be that bad again this year, can they?

They will miss the playoffs if…

They fail to adequately replace a healthy Pitkanen. The Hurricanes were such a different team when he was in the lineup. It’s likely that no single player supplies the two-way play he did, but between youngsters Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy, and veterans Sekera and Liles, the defense needs to find some consistency and stability at both ends.

What should we expect this season?

Although this is a veteran lineup, you could almost call what the Hurricanes are doing a rebuild. They let go quite a few veterans and hope that between all the young players coming up, some will step up and fill the voids.

They’re lucky in the sense that their core players are still young enough for such a strategy to work, but it won’t be this season.

Players like Murphy, Elias Lindholm, the newly drafted Haydn Fleury and others offer Carolina lots of potential, they just need time to grow into the impact players many think they will become.

Prediction

33-36-13 79 points, 7th in the Metropolitan Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference

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Tags: 2014-15 NHL Season Previews Andrej Sekera Anton Khudobin Cam Ward Carolina Hurricanes Eric Staal Jay McClement Jeff Skinner Jiri Tlusty John-Michael Liles Joni Pitkanen Jordan Staal NHL Ryan Murphy

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