Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the Carolina Hurricanes.
Oh the expectations, they were high. After a 91-point season, a Calder win for Jeff Skinner and the addition of Tomas Kaberle, the Carolina Hurricanes appeared poised to contend in the Southeast.
Oh the reality, it was lowly. After a 4-10-1 November swoon, Coach Paul Maurice was turfed in favor of former Habs assistant Kirk Muller. Eric Staal managed just five goals and 12 points in the first two months of the season; he finished at a minus-20. Skinner was limited to 64 games and saw his production drop. Kaberle was traded to Montreal after 29 games and a minus-12.
The Hurricanes failed to make the cut for the third straight year, so GM Jim Rutherford got aggressive (and found some good fortune) in the offseason.
Is it enough to get Carolina back into the Eastern Conference Playoffs?
"We Have Jussi Semin. Jealous?"
The Hurricanes had the benefit of (a) having Jordan Staal decide that his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins was at an end and (b) having his brother as their captain. Hence, he was traded to Carolina for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and Carolina's 1st round choice (Derrick Pouliot) in 2012 Entry Draft.
Carolina later made another huge splash for their top six: Signing Alex Semin to a 1-year, $7 million deal, adding the explosive (though inconsistent) Washington Capitals forward to their lineup.
The defense added Marc-Andre Gragnani, formerly of the Sabres and Canucks, as well as old friend Joe Corvo, who was traded to the Boston Bruins last summer.
Along with Sutter, the biggest loss for the Hurricanes was free-agent defenseman Bryan Allen, a solid stay-at-home type who left for Anaheim. Otherwise, Jim Rutherford's Pimp Hand did its usual magic in keeping the team together.
At forward … is this the best top six in the Southeast Division?
Eric Staal rallied from his terrible start to 24 goals and 46 assists. Jordan Staal arrives with a 10-year contract and the chance to blossom into the superstar two-way forward he's projected to become outside of Sid and Geno's shadow. They could play on the same line.
Skinner saw his numbers dip in his sophomore season, but it was a season interrupted by a concussion in December. He signed a new 6-year deal in August, and will look to bounce back.
Semin can be a maddening player: 40 goal ability, underrated two-way play but he disappears for stretches and underwhelmed in his last two seasons in DC.
Tuomo Ruutu was expected to be a hot commodity on the open market, but Rutherford got him to sign a 4-year, $19-million extension. His production dropped to 34 points after a 57-point season, but he's dangerous. Jussi Jokinen was second on the team with 46 points last season, including 18 on the power play. He's also pretty dandy in the shootout.
Chad LaRose (32 points) brings veteran savvy and Jiri Tlusty (36 points) brings some offense. Zac Dalpe will look to make a great impact, while Tim Brent and Patrick Dwyer bring some truculent minutes down the lineup. Andreas Nodl and Anthony Stewart are also in the mix, as is Zach Boychuk.
On defense … Justin Faulk was a revelation as a rookie, earning huge ice time and posting impressive offensive stats (22 points). But his defensive game at even strength (minus-16) needs work. He was paired with Jay Harrison for most of last season.
Joni Pitkanen was limited to 30 games last season thanks to injury, posting a dreadful minus-15 in that time. The Canes need him healthy and more effective; His partner, Jamie McBain, had an average year in which the holes in his game were on display.
Tim Gleason remains one of the conference's top stay at home defensemen, and a physical presence against its offensive dynamos. Another player who signed before going UFA, the Canes could use the Gleason of two seasons ago rather than the middling one they saw last year.
Corvo returns to bring offense to the blue line, and one assumes he'll be a primary part of their power plays.
In goal … depending on who you ask, Cam Ward is either criminally underrated or overrated. We'll go with the former: When he's on, Ward can carry a team, but the team in front of him last season let him down frequently. That 37-win season two years ago wasn't an aberration; with a stronger group in front of him, look for Ward to rebound.
Justin Peters was re-signed as his backup.
Not many NHL teams can claim they have an emo rock anthem dedicated to them. Thanks to Airiel Down, the Hurricanes, however, can.
Kirk Muller gets a full offseason after going 25-20-12 with the Hurricanes in his first NHL head-coaching gig. He's known as a players coach with great special teams credentials. Now he's got a few more weapons in the arsenal.
Rutherford has the support of his owner and continues to retain talent every summer. The Kaberle thing was a misstep; the Jordan Staal deal could be a game-changer for the franchise. Speaking of which …
That would be Jordan Staal, who gets a chance to play with his brother and, more importantly, become a top-line player without the logjam in Pittsburgh holding him back. His 0.81 points per game was a career best last season. He's only 24; we could be seeing Jonathan Toews, Eastern Conference Edition with his combination of offense and defense.
At 6-3 and 210, Jeremy Welsh impressed the Canes during a late-season audition and might be called upon to replace Sutter as the team's third-line center. But keep in mind the Hurricanes have more than a few options at the pivot.
Alex Semin, by default. No one knows what Semin will be like in his first NHL season away from Washington, and on a 1-year contract with a rather hefty base salary. He's a player that's going to win games on his own, but on other nights you need a star map to find him on the ice. Could be a game-breaker for Muller and Co., or could be the same type of conundrum that made him a divisive player in D.C.
[Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" plays]
"Carolina. Famous for its tobacco, college hoops, occasional hockey brilliance, auto racing and, of course, finger-licking BBQ.
"This is Stormy. He's been held against his will in Raleigh for years, counting down the days until he has a rod rammed through him, an apple stuffed in his mouth and a vinegary sauce slathered on his sizzling flesh.
"The Carolina Hurricanes: They're going to cook and eat their mascot one day. Paid for by Friends of Swine Plushies."
This is a playoff team. Potentially dynamic top six, solid goaltending, veteran defense and a coach ready to come into his own. Not sure how the dominoes will fall in the Southeast, but this is an Eastern Conference No. 8 finisher.