Eyes on the Enemy: Carolina Hurricanes

"Eyes on the Enemy" will be a continuing bi-annual series on the NY Rangers Blog giving fans updates on the Rangers closest rivals. Part 4 of the offseason version of 'EotE' will focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. All contract figures listed below courtesy of capgeek.com

There was some renewed expectations surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes coming into the 2013 campaign. In a division that has been dominated by their rivals 260 miles north of Raleigh, the Hurricanes have been left to play for second place in the Southeast Division far more often than not, keeping expectations from boiling over. It's quite easy to forget that the Hurricanes won a Stanley Cup in 2005 and went to the conference finals in 2009 before being swept by the Penguins who wound up winning it all that year. Even further back, the Hurricanes lost in the Stanley Cup final to Detroit in 2002. Every year in-between Carolina has failed to make the postseason, making them appear as a "tough out" if they're able to qualify.

The 2013 season was coach Kirk Muller's first "full" season behind the bench for the Hurricanes, replacing long time coach Paul Maurice just 25 games into the 2011-12 season. They were active before the lockout took effect, signing Alex Semin away from the Capitals to a 1 year, $7 million contract before extending him in March for an additional 5 seasons at the same price tag. Of course, we can't forget the infamous trade during the 2012 NHL Draft with the Hurricanes acquiring Jordan Staal from the Penguins for the 8th overall pick, Brandon Sutter and defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin. Soon after the trade, Staal signed a 10 year, $60 million extension.

Between the talent that was already in place in Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Tuomo Ruutu, who missed a large chunk of the season after hip surgery and Jeff Skinner coupled with the offseason acquisitions, the team was expected to give the Capitals a tough time in the division. What happened was the complete opposite. Last season was a tale of two halves for the Hurricanes, jumping out to a 15-9-1 record through the first 25 games before injuries decimated a shallow blue-line and sidelined goalie Cam Ward for the remainder of the season. Carolina finished 4-16-3 over the final 23 games, 13 points behind the 8th place Islanders.

On the Farm:
With the 5th overall pick in the 2013 draft, the Carolina Hurricanes selected Elias Lindholm from Brynäs IF in the SHL. Lindholm is a very highly regarded prospect coming from Europe who could've easily gone first overall if not for the deep pool of prospects that were selected at the top of the draft this year. Good two-way player, skater, shooter and finisher; glowing reports about all
aspects of his game. Already drawing comparisons to Peter Forsberg. I never found anything that was listed as a glaring weakness. Although Lindholm has one year left on his contract in Sweden, he signed a 3 year entry level contract on July 15th and GM Jim Rutherford told reporters prior to their prospect camp he would be "shocked" if Lindholm didn't make the club out of training camp next month.

20 year old defenseman Ryan Murphy (1st-2011) looks to make the jump to the pros this year after completing his junior career with the Kitchner Rangers in the OHL. An offensive defenseman, Murphy was nearly a point per game player with 220 points in 228 games. He'll look to make the team out of training camp and will likely be the first call-up if he's sent to the AHL at the beginning of the season.

Cap Situation:
Nothing here of major concern. Capgeek only lists 11 forwards on the roster, as Tim Brent who spent the last two seasons with the Hurricanes, signed with the KHL and Chad LaRose who has not been in contact with the Hurricanes since the end of the season. Regardless, the Hurricanes have a spot or two open on their roster and $4.8 million in cap space to fill those holes.

Odds and Ends:
A new set of challenges await the Hurricanes for the 2013-14 season. Most of last season's roster returns in 2013 with only Nathan Gerbe and Mike Komisarek added in free agency and Andrej Sekera via trade from Buffalo. Between the lockout and injuries sustained throughout the roster, the organization looked at last season as the exception rather than the rule. Carolina will likely find themselves jockeying for position behind the Penguins, Rangers and Capitals and compete for one of the two new "wildcard" spots in the Eastern Conference. Despite the poor performance last season, the Hurricanes are a bonafide darkhorse in the Metropolitan Division this year and shouldn't be taken lightly.

Follow me on twitter: @NYRblogneill
Email me: c1rcaiff27@comcast.net