With two consecutive busy summers in the rear-view mirror and a highly anticipated move to the new Metropolitan Division awaiting this autumn, the NHL's spotlight will fall on the Carolina Hurricanes more in 2013-14 than ever before.
They must be poised to deliver under the pressure.
Will the 'Canes offense be able to keep up its explosive ways against tougher competition? Will a competitive training camp work wonders on the underperforming third and fourth lines? Will a summer of improvement make a difference on an uncertain defensive unit? Will newcomers like Ron Hainsey, Elias Lindholm and Anton Khudobin lead the 'Canes forward under their leadership?
The next six months will provide answers to all those questions, with more than a few surprises inevitably mixed in, as well.
Our boldest predictions for the Hurricanes campaign that lies ahead fall on the coming slides.
Note: This slideshow is a sequel to our breakdown of five burning questions for the 'Canes, published earlier this week.
The fifth overall pick from last June's draft has struggled to physically compete in North America, missing most of July's development camp with a shoulder injury and then all but one of the Hurricanes' preseason games, as well.
Lindholm's once-assured roster spot has fallen into jeopardy as the final roster cuts loom just around the corner. One way or another, though, it seems likely that the Swedish 18-year-old, sadly, will play far less than a full NHL season in 2013-14.
If Kirk Muller and Co. do risk Lindholm's future health by inserting him into the lineup this fall, the 'Canes will walk the tightrope with the very significant risk that No. 16 will spend a large part of the year on the injured reserved list. If Lindholm returns to Sweden for 2013-14, though, the 'Canes will be permanently without his skills for the entire NHL season.
Lindholm's dilemma offers very few safe solutions at this point.
Alexander Semin managed to place third on the ‘Canes in goals and second in points in 2013-14, despite recording a shooting percentage (8.7 percent) almost five percentage points below his career average (13.5 percent).
If Semin had indeed scored on 13.5 percent on his shots, he would’ve averaged 0.46 goals per game—or, in prorated terms, 38 tallies over a full 82-game season.
A regression to the mean seems likely in 2013-14, especially as Semin returns with another year of experience alongside dynamic linemates Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty. No. 28 could easily challenge for the team lead in all scoring categories with another impressive campaign this winter.
At long last, the Hurricanes have a backup goaltender capable of producing victories on a consistent basis.
Twenty-seven-year-old Anton Khudobin enters Raleigh with a career save percentage of .933 through 19 career starts (of which he has won 14). Not one active NHL netminder with double-digit appearances has a higher average entering opening night.
Khudobin is not only capable of filling the legitimate No. 2 goalie slot that Justin Peters never could, he’s good enough to challenge Cam Ward for game-to-game starts. We anticipate that he could easily push 25 to 30 appearances and 15 to 20 wins with the ‘Canes in 2013-14.
For more on Khudobin’s impact, read our in-depth column from earlier in the offseason.
For those outside of Raleigh, the star power in Justin Faulk’s game is often hard to effectively convey.
The 21-year-old’s stats look good on paper: 24 minutes of ice time per game, 37 points in 104 career appearances, a plus-one rating despite facing the hardest average quality of competition. However, his innate poise, leadership and reliability has yet to be seen by most of the hockey universe.
Thanks to Joni Pitkanen’s absence, Faulk will have to carry the defense entirely on his shoulders in 2013-14. It’s far from a “coming of age” moment for No. 27 —he’s long since passed that test with flying colors —but rather a chance to truly emerge into Norris Trophy contention as one of the league’s most talented blueliners.
For Faulk, a tremendous campaign awaits just around the corner.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ move to the Metropolitan Division unveils an entirely uncharted and uncertain new canvas on which the NHL’s 2013-14 hierarchy will emerge.
The ‘Canes could finish first. The ‘Canes could finish last. Presumptuous preseason predictions forgotten, the Metropolitan is wide open for any team to catapult into the elite tier of hockey.
That’s not to say it won’t be challenging to do so; the ‘Canes have never played storied dynasties like the Penguins, Rangers and Capitals with much confidence, as their 22-39-12 record against future Metropolitan opponents over the last three years proves.
A successful 2013-14 campaign will only be possible if Carolina puts previous tendencies aside and strives to match its talent level with an equally sizeable quantity of wins.
For now, the ‘Canes are merely a postseason bubble team. Whether they accept that indecisive fate or seek to challenge for legitimate supremacy is yet to be seen.