They have a Conn Smythe-winning goalie, a 100-point 24-year-old, the best faceoff centre in the league, and a few players determined to prove their old teams wrong.
Yet, the team can’t seem to make it to the postseason, and will struggle again this season.
Forwards: Eric Staal, the oldest and best of the Staal brothers, has been alternating good years with bad ones. If that holds true, that means he is due for a bad year this season. But don’t believe that for a second. Staal will get 90 points, barring injury, and lead this team throughout the regular season.
He’ll be helped by a full season from Rod Brind’Amour, who missed 23 games last year due to injury. Despite being 38 years old, Brind’Amour is still in great shape, and is still a point per game player in this league, and the best faceoff man.
Sergei Samsonov was resigned after an impressive 38 games with Carolina last season. The team is hoping he can recapture the magic he had years ago, instead of the harm he did to his career before joining the team last season.
Defence: Joe Corvo is a lot happier in Carolina than he ever was in Ottawa. And with good reason. With the Hurricanes, Corvo has the chance to be the team’s best puck-moving defenceman, while he never got that opportunity with the Sens. Corvo, who is prone to the the turnovers, shined with Carolina last year, and looks to repeat that success over a full season.
Frantisek Kaberle is the other notable player on the blueline for the Canes. While he’s not expected to make that breakout pass, Kaberle will get a lot of ice time, and will see big minutes against the other team’s best lines.
Goaltending: Cam Ward is a little overrated as a number one goalie. Last season, he tied for fourth in the league with 37 wins, but only had a 2.75 GAA and a .904 save percentage. While those numbers are respectable, he needs to be better to bring this team to the playoffs. Ward’s reputation was built up thanks to leading the team to the Stanley Cup a few seasons back, but it looks like he may just have gotten hot at the right time, because he’s just been ordinary since then.
Pool picks: Probably the biggest dark horse pick for any NHL pool this season would be Sergei Samsonov. After ruining his reputation in Montreal and Chicago, Samsonov found new life in Carolina last season, scoring 32 points in 38 games. Playing a full season, he could go back to his 70-point years he had with Boston. Stay away from: Tuomo Ruutu. He had a lot of upside a few years back, but the former ninth-overall pick has had poor seasons and been injured.
Miscellaneous: Carolina is about $7.5 million under the salary cap. So if they’re fighting for first in the division or a playoff spot, and no major players heading for free agency, they could be willing to make a big deal to get a name to get them over the hump.
Expected finish: Third in the Southeast division, 11th in the Western conference.
Overall: Carolina plays in the worst division in the league, and still can’t make the playoffs. This year, more of the pieces seem to be there, but they’ll still fall short, unless Cam Ward is able to steal a bunch of games for them.