The Carolina Hurricanes knew they had to make a few significant roster changes following last season to compete in a Southeast Division that was going to get stronger in the summer, but even after acquiring Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal, general manager Jim Rutherford still has some work to do.
Carolina is still not a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but it definitely has enough talent to win the division or earn one of the last few Eastern Conference playoff spots during the 2012-13 season.
From an offensive standpoint, the Hurricanes will be much improved when the lockout ends and the team is able to start practicing in a formal setting.
Will Carolina win the Southeast Division in 2012-13?
It may take some time for Semin to adjust to the team's style of play, but Staal will probably have an easier time getting used to the Hurricanes because his brother Eric is the team captain. I'm willing to bet that both of the Staals have been talking throughout the offseason and lockout about the team's players and offensive/defensive systems.
Carolina finished 16th in goals per game last season, and after adding players like Semin and Staal, who can both score 30 goals in a full season, the Hurricanes could easily finish in the top 10 in goal scoring this year.
Even with an improved offense, the Hurricanes aren't going to score enough goals to make up for their defensive weaknesses.
The team finished 26th in GAA last year, and even though it has an All-Star-caliber goaltender in Cam Ward, the talent and depth on the blue line isn't too impressive.
The loss of veteran defenseman Bryan Allen could have a major impact on the Hurricanes' blue line because now the team lacks the size, toughness and penalty-killing ability that contending teams' blue lines have.
The Hurricanes will be forced to rely on young blueliners such as Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy to provide depth to a blue line that has plenty of offensive talent, but not much defensive skill.
Tim Gleason, Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen will provide Carolina with consistent scoring, but none of them will be the shutdown defenseman that head coach Kirk Muller needs right now.
Carolina also allowed the most shots per game last year and needs to make some defensive upgrades before next season starts to ensure that Ward doesn't have to work so hard each night.
When the Hurricanes make some defensive improvements, they will be a very tough team to beat because very few coaches have the number of quality forwards that Muller has at his disposal.
Without any major injuries, Carolina should return to the playoffs, but it would be foolish to think it has a real chance to compete for a championship with its current roster.
Rutherford made several good roster moves in the summer and has given Hurricanes fans plenty of reasons to be excited for the new season, but they won't challenge contenders like the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers in the East until he bolsters the team's defensive depth.
Expect the Hurricanes to be active at the trade deadline if Rutherford identifies a player or two who can make his team stronger in the playoffs.