After years of falling short of the playoffs, expectations for the Carolina Hurricanes' 2014-15 season have now dropped so low that falling short may no longer be possible.
Last season's 12th-place finish in the 16-team Eastern Conference, coupled with a lethargic and unproductive free-agency period, has dropped the 'Canes to second to last in the East in current betting odds, per Vegas Insider.
Outside of depth additions Tim Gleason, Jay McClement and Brad Malone, little has been done to improve a 2013-14 roster that, despite substantial on-paper talent, crumbled in the spring en route to the team's fifth consecutive postseason non-appearance.
Except for Bill Peters.
The Hurricanes' new head coach comes to Raleigh direct from the Detroit Red Wings—a franchise that boasts 23 straight (and counting) playoff berths—and sports a legacy of success almost everywhere he's been.
It may seem unlikely that a new coach alone can drastically transform the exact same team on the ice, but one must only look back to last season, when Patrick Roy took the Colorado Avalanche from 15th to second in the West in one season, to find a perfect example.
Outside of Roy, the Avs' only significant additions of the 2013 offseason were first-round selection Nathan MacKinnon and free-agent bargain Andre Benoit. Yet the three were evidently enough to improve Colorado in 2013-14 by 45 points (prorated) and 13 spots in the standings. The Avalanche ended a three-year playoff drought, and Roy won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year for his efforts.
Is it likely that Peters will prove to be the second coming of the beloved Avs bench boss?
But it is possible.
The goals Peters has set for his new squad are indeed ambitious.
In his address to fans at the Summerfest event in July, the 48-year-old coach stressed the importance of improving the power play, suggesting that Alexander Semin may move back to the point and calling out Eric Staal's lack of man-advantage productivity in 2013-14.
He also noted an extremely ambitious desire to get Jeff Skinner to 40 goals with a positive plus/minus rating.
The Hurricanes offense ranked a lowly 22nd in the league under Kirk Muller last season but enters 2014-15 with the fourth-highest average salary per forward, according to CapGeek.com. The responsibility to get the unit performing equivalent to its cost falls largely on Peters.
Potentially helping the cause may be the inevitable regression of Semin's and Jordan Staal's shooting percentages, which have plummeted to 9.7 and 9.0 percent, respectively, over the last two seasons after standing at 14.1 and 13.1 percent in their respective careers through 2012.
Better luck from those two—along with an all-around comeback campaign from Eric Staal, sustained scoring from Skinner and a more effective season from young Elias Lindholm—could make the Hurricanes' offensive attack a formidable force.
It's up to Peters, however, to oversee such a much-needed turnaround and keep it sustainable until spring 2015.
The Hurricanes won't have the slimmest of postseason chances without it.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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