While the revamped Carolina Hurricanes' offense grabs headlines and anticipation for the hopefully-upcoming 2012-2013 season grows throughout Raleigh, the 'Canes defense sputters along weakly in the shadows.
Forgotten in the commotion of the Hurricanes' noteworthy offseason is the back end, which received little attention and will enter the fall as one of the league's most imbalanced units.
The name recognition of ice-time consumer Joni Pitkanen and young stars Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain covers up many of its shortfalls, but make no mistake—the easily-penetrable defensive cast the 'Canes currently sport will equate to a major issue once the season gets underway.
During their past three campaigns, Carolina has ranked 26th, 21st and 25th, respectively, in average goals-against, leaving unheralded goaltender Cam Ward out to dry on many, many a night.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The 'Canes allowed 32.4 average shots-against in 2011-12 and 33.2 in 2010-11, falling last in the NHL for two consecutive seasons. Don't get the disillusioned notion that Cam Ward's record-breaking 2,375-save season the year before last was actually celebrated around the Hurricanes' camp.
Moreover, the 'D' allowed a stunning 90 third period goals in '11-12, fourth-most on the continent. Compared to the prior two seasons, however—the Hurricanes' 87 in '10-'11 ranked seventh and 96 in '09-10 was third-most—that number is nothing unusual.
Add into all that atrocity a penalty kill that hasn't cracked the NHL's top half since 2007, and the data paints a fairly conclusive—and painful—mural of the 'Canes dastardly defensive woes.
How would you grade the Hurricanes' current defensive corps?
Will offseason additions Joe Corvo and Marc-Andre Gragnani and rising prospects Ryan Murphy and Bobby Sanguinetti fix the dilemma?
Since '07, Corvo has posted a minus-21 combined plus/minus rating for the 'Canes and a minus-15 overall rating.
Marc-Andre Gragnani, after a promising start last autumn, went minus-four in 14 appearances following a February trade to Vancouver.
And neither of the two up-and-comers have played their NHL rookie seasons yet, but Sanguinetti's minus-29 rating in four AHL campaigns and Murphy's ridiculously aggressive OHL resume tell the story to come.
These are four talented, potent defensemen, joining a Carolina blueline corps that may be the most adept puck-moving, point-producing group anywhere. When healthy, Pitkanen's assist numbers are always near the NHL's best, and Faulk, McBain and Jay Harrison aren't too lacking in that regard, either.
But they're utterly terrible at defense.
As a result, the Hurricanes' 2012-2013 back-end responsibilities will fall solely on Tim Gleason once again, and there's only so much one man can do.
Failing to further fortify the defense could well cost the 'Canes a playoff berth come April.
Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009. He has written more than 415 articles and received more than 700,000 reads.