Carolina Hurricanes season preview: Struggling team building around young defense
Plus: The past six playoff-less seasons haven’t been kind to Carolina, but a young and improved defense should eventually pay dividends for coach Bill Peters. While fifth overall draft pick Noah Hanifin will need time to get his feet wet, blue-liners Justin Faulk (49 points) and Ryan Murphy headline a promising group with big potential. Offseason acquisition James Wisniewski joins fellow veteran Ron Hainsey to provide leadership on the back end.
Minus: While the defense’s best days are likely ahead, the offense leaves a bit to be desired as the club ranked fourth-worst in the league with just 183 goals. Captain Eric Staal (54 points), who is actively seeking a contract, has seen point totals drop in each of the last three full seasons and could be shipped prior to the trade deadline if the team’s fortunes go south. Jeff Skinner notched a career-low point total for a full season in 2014-15, with the 31 he accumulated serving as less than half his total during his Calder Trophy-winning campaign in 2010-11.
X-Factor: Eddie Lack
Acquired in a trade with Vancouver at the 2015 draft, Lack signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract extension with the Hurricanes on Saturday. While the 27-year-old’s workload hasn’t been defined, Carolina certainly has high hopes for Lack as veteran goaltender Cam Ward enters the final season of his six-year, $37.8 million contract. Lack showed he’s capable of stringing together a successful run when he posted a 12-6-2 mark while filling in for an injured Ryan Miller late last season.
Prediction: Carolina will take its lumps and should find itself in the basement of the Metropolitan Division yet again. If one’s looking for positives, the tough season will lend itself to better odds in the draft lottery – with Auston Matthews expected to be the top overall pick in 2016.