the signing of a big contract. He spent part of last year in the minors and has two years remaining on the deal, so the Hurricanes have to hope he can return to the form that convinced the Leafs to give him big money in the first place. Big (6-4, 220) Jay Harrison will also factor into the defensive picture when the Hurricanes need a physical presence, and Brett Bellemore brings some more pop into the defensive group, although don’t expect a lot of scoring from him. Goaltending Even though Cam Ward was given a fat contract a few seasons ago and is owed $6.3 million this season, Carolina is going to give Anton Khudobin every chance to win the starting job. Ward has played a total of 44 games in the past two seasons, due to injury and had a decidedly uninspiring 3.06 GAA last year, with a poor .898 save percentage. Ward was 10-12-6 last year, and that isn’t going to get anybody into the postseason, so it’s up to Khudobin to make a case as the main man in net. Khudobin played in a career-high 36 games last year, starting 34. His 19-14-1 record wasn’t overwhelming, but he has a solid 2.30 GAA and a good, .926 save percentage. The 28-year old hadn’t played more than 14 games before in a season, so counting on him to be the main man is risky, but if Ward can’t stay healthy and return to his previous form, the Hurricanes will have no other option. Power Play This was a disaster last year. Carolina’s 14.59 percent success rate was third worst in the league, which leads one to wonder how much trouble the other two teams had. Peters made it a priority to improve the power play from the moment he arrived in Carolina. The leader of the power play brigade for the Hurricanes is Skinner, who scored 11 times last year. He’ll be expected to produce at least as many goals—and probably more, since the ‘Canes lacked pop behind him and Semin, who had six. If he is healthy this year, he will play more games and likely will be more productive. Andrej Sekera, Justin Faulk Francois Lacasse/NHL/Getty Images Carolina can expect Sekera to provide a big shot from the point, and Faulk was productive on the unit, too. But after that, there isn’t a lot. Lindholm may turn 20 this December, but he had four goals on the advantage last year and has the potential to be a bigger producer this season. Penalty Kill Even though Peters has never been a head coach, he did have a lot of responsibility in Detroit and spent a lot of time on the penalty kill. The Wings were better than the league average last year. Carolina, however, was not. And losing Jordan Staal for several months isn’t going to help things. Carolina had 11 shorthanded goals last year, which wasn’t bad, but the team still must improve its kill numbers. One of the problems is that the lack of depth defensively doesn’t allow for many breaks for Faulk and Sekera. And since the goaltending wasn’t locked down, there was a concern there. Although Nathan Gerbe is only 5-5, he is a dynamo on the penalty kill, something that helps, but there isn’t enough with him. Peters will have plenty of work to do. Three Questions 1.Who is going to play goalie? The Hurricanes have to hope Ward is healthy and able to return to his previous form, because while Khudobin was solid during his time in net last year, giving him the job full time is a risk, thanks to his lack of game experience. 2. Can the power play improve? The easy answer is that it can’t get much worse. Peters has work to do, and even though he has a reputation for coaching defense and the penalty kill, one would expect Carolina to get better, if only because he has made the special teams a priority and has challenged veterans to produce more. 3. Is the defense good enough? No, it isn’t. Although Faulk and Sekera are a strong pairing at number one, there isn’t enough behind them to provide a consistent wall against enemy attackers. The only offseason move, signing Tim Gleason, isn’t enough to fix the problem. Prediction The Hurricanes made good moves importing Peters and new GM Ron Francis, but that’s just a start. Carolina has to figure out its goaltending situation and upgrade its defense, if it wants to contend. Even then, there probably isn’t enough offense to allow a playoff run. Looks like it’s going to be eight of nine years without a postseason berth.
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