The Lockout Hurts, Part III: Carolina Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes had arguably the best offseason of any NHL club. They upgraded at center considerably with the acquisition of Jordan Staal from Pittsburgh. They signed a top line winger in Alexander Semin. Their young defense should be one of the best in the NHL in a few years. In particular, rookie Justin Faulk had a stellar 2011-12 campaign. However, the Hurricanes won’t be blowing through any NHL cities for the forseeable future thanks to the lockout.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world for Carolina if the work stoppage lasted only a month or two, but any longer would dampen what looked to be a promising season for the two-time Stanley Cup finalists. Let’s dive a little deeper and find out why.

Over the past month or so, I have profiled five teams who have something to gain from a potential work stoppage:

And I will be profiling five teams that stand to lose out, as well:

The Hurricanes looked poised to contend for the Southeast Division crown. They are backstopped by a very good goaltender in Cam Ward. Their defense features a great mix of experience (Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen) and youth (Jamie McBain, Jay Harrison, and the aforementioned Faulk). The real prize on defense may be prospect Ryan Murphy, who is the best skating defenseman since Scott Niedermayer hung up the blades a few seasons ago.

Up front, their forward core is equally balanced. They have a lot of skill with the Staal brothers, Jeff Skinner, Semin, and Jussi Jokinen, some toughness and grit with the likes of Tuomo Ruutu, Chad LaRose, and a few intriguing young players in Jeremy Welsh, Drayson Bowman, and Zac Dalpe. While Carolina has a young team and won’t be seeing their window to win close any time soon, they don’t want to miss any hockey. Why?

Seizing the Opportunity

The Hurricanes will be a good team for a while. Jim Rutherford knows how to construct a roster, and the 2012-13 Hurricanes are talented and deep at all positions. However, this season is a great opportunity for them to emerge as the team to beat in the Southeast Division. Washington brought in a new coach, and lost one of their best players (Semin). Winnipeg improved with the signing of Olli Jokinen, but they are still relying on an inexperienced group to lead them. Tampa Bay invested a lot in the untested Anders Lindback. Florida will be in tough to repeat their performance from last season, unless they end up acquiring Roberto Luongo.

As things stand right now, Carolina has the best team in the division. Ward is the best goaltender, and their defense and forward groups rival any of their division rivals.

Off the ice, the Hurricanes want to build on what was a fantastic offseason. Semin is one of the best offensive players in the league (and he isn’t shabby defensively, either). Staal and Staal is a fantastic marketing opportunity, especially if they end up suiting up on the same line. Carolina wants to keep the momentum rolling from a great summer, but the lockout puts a wrench in those plans.

Ignoring the 10 Percent

Speaking of Semin – has their been a more maligned player in the hockey media in recent years? He was profiled this summer by yours truly in this piece.

Some of the stories are true. Semin takes bad penalties. He isn’t the best teammate. However, calling him one-dimensional is simply wrong. Saying he doesn’t care? He would have been back in Russia long ago if that were true.

Instead of trying to figure out what makes him tick, why he doesn’t speak English more often, why he isn’t revered by his teammates, NHL GMs should be figuring out why they are busy overpaying for average talent while one of the best possession players in the entire league continues to toil away on the open market.

Back to the Simmons column on Westbrook. He compared Westbrook’s “compete level” to that of Michael Jordan. Semin will never be lauded for his “compete level,” which makes up a part of his 10 percent. However, teams need to stop overlooking the other 90. If it was all about the money, Semin would be starring in Russia alongside Alex Radulov right now.

The purpose of my profile wasn’t meant to exonerate Semin or to show how everyone is completely wrong on him. He does have his warts, as most players do. However, Carolina made a very smart move when they signed him to a one-year, $7 million deal. Semin makes his teammates better both offensively and defensively. He is one of a handful of NHLers to have a wrist shot that can beat goalies clean on a routine basis. He may have gone a bit off the tracks in Washington with a lack of structure and accountability under Bruce Boudreau, and he didn’t really get a chance under Dale Hunter at all.

Carolina has a strong leadership group in place, and their coach Kirk Muller knows a thing or two about motivating others. He comes into a situation with not a lot of pressure (he is insulated quite nicely in the lineup by other skilled forwards like Skinner, Ruutu, Jiri Tlusty, and Jokinen), and the Carolina market isn’t as hockey mad as Washington’s (for the time being).

He only signed a one-year deal. If the season does get started in November or December, and Semin performs as expected, I could see him sticking around long term in Carolina. If the season is completely whiped out, what happens next season? Does he return to Russia? It is pretty rare that a team is able to acquire a 40-goal scorer for no assets (cap space is the only thing given up), but that is exactly what Carolina did this summer. They are now just hoping to get some return on that investment at some point in 2012-13.

Ready to Take the Next Step

Top prospect Ryan Murphy is being returned to Kitchener of the OHL. He isn’t old enough to suit up for the AHL, so the Hurricanes didn’t have any other options. He has proven all he needs to at the OHL level over the past three seasons. Had the season started on time, he would have challenged for a roster spot in Carolina. The Staal trade helped his chances too, as Carolina moved out another top prospect defenseman in the process (Boston College’s Brian Dumoulin).

Murphy’s career won’t be affected negatively by spending an extra year in the OHL. In fact, many prospects benefited from an extra year of junior hockey during the last lockout. However, as mentioned, he is ready for NHL action, and he could have had the same impact as Faulk did last season, albeit in a different way (Murphy is more of a pure offensive defenseman).

Watch him fly:

For now, Carolina fans can sit back and enjoy watching a loaded roster play for their AHL affiliate in Charlotte. Among those skating for the Checkers – Skinner, Faulk, Dalpe, Bowman, and Jeremy Welsh.

In addition to many members of last season’s Checkers team, today’s assignments include forward Jeff Skinner, a 2011 NHL All-Star who won the league’s rookie of the year award that same season by scoring 31 goals, and defenseman Justin Faulk, who made the All-Rookie team last season after spending time in Charlotte in the fall. Center Jeremy Welsh, who joined the organization as a college free agent in the spring, rounds out the trio of young players who were otherwise on track to start the season in the NHL.The Hurricanes also don’t have any core players with expiring contracts asides from Semin. Joe Corvo signed a one-year deal this past summer, but he is a stop gap until Murphy makes the team. All of the core pieces are locked up for a while.

Get ready for this, AHL goaltenders:

The lockout is disappointing for all 30 clubs, but some more than others. Carolina needs to weather the storm and come back ready to stake their claim as the best team in the surprisingly-strong Southeast Division.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: The Lockout Hurts, Part IV: San Jose Sharks | Overtime

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