Sizing up Blue Jackets’ Metro opponents: Carolina Hurricanes

Eric Staal is one of the key components to the success of the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Columbus Blue Jackets made the trade for Scott Hartnell just a few days prior to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, adding character and skill to their lineup. With no big free agent moves, the 2014-15 roster looks a lot like last year’s roster. This is not a bad thing for the young team.

Columbus ended last year with one of the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. Although they came close, they failed to clinch one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division. They ended the season with 93 points. With another year of experience under their belts, do they stand a better chance of being a top-three team in the division this year?

To better understand where they might finish, we’ll take a look at how their divisional opponents finished last year and any offseason moves they might have made to bolster their own rosters.

Today: The Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina finished the 2013-14 season in seventh place in the division with 83 points. This marked the fifth straight year that they did not qualify for post-season play. The changes started on May 5, when the Hurricanes announced the firing of head coach Kirk Muller, as well as assistant coaches John MacLean and Dave Lewis.

Nine days before the draft, they announced that Bill Peters would be the new head coach. Peters, a first-time head coach and former assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings, hopes to revitalize the club as they enter their 36th year (including their time as the Hartford Whalers) in the NHL.

He has a reputation for being extremely detailed and expects his players to practice hard. He ran the Hurricanes development camp the way he’ll run the practices for the club when training camp opens in September. He told Chip Alexander (The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC), "That’s the way we do it. We’re going to practice quick and we’re going to practice hard. It’s going to be efficient."

HEATING UP THE ICE

Carolina had injury issues and a not-so-good power play last year. Owner Peter Karmanos Jr. and general manager Ron Francis believe they have a team that can make the playoffs, thus sticking to their guns with the group they have.

They re-signed forward Jiri Tlusty (16-14-30 in 68 games) on July 1. They added former Colorado Avalanche forward Brad Malone (3-2-5 in 32 games) and former Toronto Maple Leaf center Jay McClement (4-6-10 in 81 games) in the first few days of free agency. Other than that, they stood pat on shaking up their roster.

While the team is not imposing on a physical level, they do have four potential 30-goal scorers suiting up for them (Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty). The question is, can they remain healthy?

On the defensive side, they have some experience and guys that can move the puck. What they lack is a quarterback for their power play. Former Columbus Blue Jacket Ron Hainsey re-signed with Carolina for a three-year deal. The Hurricanes first round pick in this year’s draft, Haydn Fleury, hopes to make the roster out of training camp but might need another year of junior hockey.

In goal, Carolina has $8.7 million wrapped up in Cam Ward ($6.7M) and Anton Khudobin ($2M). The competition for the number one spot will be intense between these two. The Hurricanes need them both to stay healthy to give them a shot at ending their playoff drought.

With $5.9M of cap space, as of Monday, they have the room to add to their roster if the need arises. Their playoff hopes hinge on a lot of things going right. They need their players to stay healthy and get a strong season from Eric Staal, Andrej Sekera, etc. They need Cam Ward to be the Cam Ward of old.

But at the end of the day, it all falls on new head coach Bill Peters. Can he put the right players in the right positions, while instituting the "right" system to return the Hurricanes to the playoffs? It’s a long and daunting list. Their owner (Karmanos) believes they have a very good hockey team. If they correct the above-mentioned issues, they have the ability to contend for one of the three top spots in the division.