All signs are starting to point toward El Nino rearing its head this year which will cause a somewhat mild hurricane season in the Atlantic. However, as the East coast takes a collective sigh of relief, Jim Rutherford is acting as though nobody shared this news with him. He has been making waves since draft day and has not looked back since.
Rutherford got the offseason going early when he sent Brandon Sutter off to Pittsburgh in return for one of captain Eric Staal's brothers, Jordan Staal. Jordan finished the 2011-12 season with 50 points in the form of 25 goals and 25 assists. Staal made it apparent that he wanted to play in Carolina with his brother by turning down a 10-year, $60 million contract with Pittsburgh only to sign that exact contract with the Hurricanes. The move will allow him to step into his own as a player and show the league what he's really made of after having spent the first years of his career playing behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Staal has expressed that it still feels strange not being a Penguin anymore but that, at the same time, he is "ecstatic" to see what he can do in Carolina alongside Eric. On the other side, Carolina loses Brandon Sutter who was good for 32 points last season with 17 goals and 15 assists. Defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and an eighth round pick also went to Pittsburgh along with Sutter.
Rutherford would not stop after getting Jordan Staal, though. He also recently signed the controversial ex-Capital Alexander Semin. Despite having the potential to be a huge offensive threat (he has three 30-goal seasons, one of which he got to 40), he spent almost the entire month of July without a home. General managers did not doubt his skill, just his attitude and work ethic. Still having some room to play with and looking for another top-six forward, Rutherford rolled the dice and signed Semin to a one-year, $7 million deal. This deal is essentially a win-win: Semin gets a place to play and the money that he was looking for while the Hurricanes only committed for one year in case things do not work out the way they had hoped.
Looking at this coming season, the Hurricanes are poised to make a return to the post-season since having missed it the past three seasons. With players like Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen and now Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin up front, they have an offensive core to work with.
In goal, Cam Ward has been an established starter since he first took on the job in the 2006-07 season. He posted a 2.74 goals against average and a .915 save percentage in 68 games played last year and missed a fair portion due to injury. This allowed the young Justin Peters to show what he had and he gave the 'Canes confidence that he can be the No. 2 guy posting a 2.48 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in seven games played.
The only thing keeping the Hurricanes from being a category five team is their defense. Although their blue line is not terrible, it could use a big name player to bolster it which will be hard to do now that the free agency market is heavily picked through. Any star defenders would have to be acquired via trade at this point if Rutherford wants them for this season. There are names like Colaiacovo, Jurcina, and others still left but these guys are either demanding too much money or have injury issues.
There is still time to make moves before the season starts, barring a season delay or lockout, and the Hurricanes intend to do just that. Rutherford has said, "I will say we are much a stronger team going into this season than we have been in a long time." It would not be surprising at all to see this 2012-13 Hurricanes team make a claim for the Southeast crown and take a strong run into the playoffs.
My prediction is that the Hurricanes will lose in the Eastern Conference Semifinals this year. Getting all the pieces is one thing but giving them time to mesh together is another, and that does not happen over summer.
So do not be fooled by the forecasts for a mild hurricane season. It would be a good move to get that plywood and emergency generator handy because this thing is just getting started.