Hurricanes off-season review and outlook

Before the lockout put everything on hold for the last 113 days, the Carolina Hurricanes made a few very interesting moves this off-season and were expected to be one of the more improved teams in the league. It has been quite a long time since all of this went down, so let's take the next few minutes or so to review everything the Hurricanes did and what their roster looks like heading into training camp.

Everything started back in June at the NHL Draft when GM Jim Rutherford made the huge trade to acquire center Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the 8th overall pick, Brandon Sutter and Brian Dumoulin. Sutter and his defensive prowess will be missed but no one can deny that J. Staal is a major upgrade over him and gives the Hurricanes' top-six a boost from what it was last season. I'm still not sure how the coaching staff will use Staal and how much he will fit in here but I'm pretty excited to see how he does. It's easy to forget that he is only 24 and is beginning to enter the prime years of his career. That should get a lot of people amped up about what he could potentially do. Staal is going to be with the Hurricanes throughout the good and the bad, as Rutherford also signed him to a 10-year contract extension worth $6 mil. per year. A deal like that would not be allowed under the new CBA, so this was a timely signing for the Hurricanes.

The other big move made by Rutherford this summer was his signing of high-scoring winger Alexander Semin to a one-year deal worth $7 mil. The price is a bit high but it's a reasonable low-risk move considering that it is only for one season and Semin can bring a lot ot the table, especially for a team like Carolina who needed a goal-scorer. I think his days of scoring 40+ goals are over, but he can still produce quite a bit of offense and should be able to thrive on a line with one of the Staal brothers. This is one acquisition that I was a big fan of because Semin fills an immediate, short-term need and has the potential to be a great addition to the Hurricanes. There were a few teams who were interested in Semin but backed away because of his "attitude problems," which I feel are way too overstated. If he can get it done on the ice, something that he has been able to do for most of his career, then the Canes shouldn't have many issues with him. 

Rutherford also decided to extend Jeff Skinner for six years at $5.75 mil. per season. Rutherford getting this out of the way before Skinner's contract year was a very wise move on his part, but I thought he would be able to get Skinner to sign at a lower price. Skinner will probably be worth this much in another year or two so it's hard to say that this was a bad signing but it is a missed opportunity to get Skinner locked up for a few years at a lower cost. The contract ends when he turns 26, so the Hurricanes at least have him under team control for most of his prime years.

Most of the other signings Rutherford made this off-season were relatively minor. He signed Joe Corvo to a one-year contract worth $2 mil. which is fine if Corvo stays on the third pairing but problems could arise if he is relied on to do more. This will be Corvo's third go-around with the Canes and I'm not sure if he will be able to handle top-four minutes, tough assignments and PK duty like he did in his last stint. With so many younger players on the Hurricanes defense, adding a veteran to the mix was a good call but Corvo wasn't exactly many fan's ideal candidate. Although, the emergence of Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison could mean that Corvo won't be relied on to play as many minutes as he did in the past.

Also new to the Hurricanes is Tim Wallace, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Dan Ellis, who all signed one-year, two-way contracts in the off-season. Wallace doesn't have much NHL experience but he's an experienced AHL veteran and is having a good year with the Checkers. Gragnani, on the other hand, spent all of last year in the NHL and needs to be exposed to waivers before being sent back down. He has been with the Checkers during the lockout and is currently injured so I'm not sure what they will do with him once he is healthy. Ellis was signed to a tryout contract by the Checkers and will probably compete for the back-up goaltender spot with Brian Boucher and Justin Peters.

The Hurricanes also received some bad news regarding Tuomo Ruutu a few days ago, as it was announced that the rugged winger will be out until at least May due to hip surgery. This opens up another forward spot and place in the top-six and I would expect the battles in training camp for it to be pretty intense, as there are a few guys who could be potential candidates to replace him. With Boychuk and Dalpe having great seasons in Charlotte and Jiri Tlusty lighting up the Czech League, the Canes aren't short of potential candidates.

Just like in the summer, there are still a few things with the Canes that are up in the air and we will go over them the next few days as training camp draws near. The lockout has probably ruined a lot people's enthusiasm but it's hard not to be excited right now if you are a Hurricanes fan.

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