What a summer this is shaping up to be in Carolina. It was widely speculated that Jim Rutherford was after Rick Nash despite Carolina not being on Nash’s list of preferred destinations, but at least we knew the Hurricanes were looking to improve. When Jordan Staal turned down an extension from the Penguins, a much better solution presented itself and Rutherford played his ace in the hole (Eric Staal) and got himself another bona fide centre at a fair price.
One of the biggest faults of the past Hurricanes teams that there hasn’t been enough scoring behind Eric Staal. Jeff Skinner’s surprising production helped stem some of that. Adding Jordan Staal makes them competitive. And now with Alex Semin agreeing to one-year, $7 million deal, the Hurricanes may now boast the best top-six offense in the Southeast Division.
This isn’t a reach. The Lightning and Capitals offense, with apologies to the Panthers and Jets, are the closest rivals to Carolina, and each of the three teams boast superstar dynamic duos. Eric and Jordan Staal will be facing off against duos of Steven Stamkos/Martin St. Louis and Nicklas Backstrom/Alex Ovechkin six times each throughout the course of the season. I cannot wait to see the Carolina-Washington games. A potential Semin vs. Ovechkin one-on-one duel could be absolute fireworks, Jordan Staal’s existing rivalry with the Caps during his days with the Penguins may bleed into the Carolina dressing room and Mike Ribeiro’s a lock for the diving sideshow antics. With such firepower and a good chance that either Michal Neuvirth/Braden Holtby or Cam Ward will implode for an all-out goalfest, what’s not to like?
Funny enough, it’s former Capital Alex Semin who now tips the scales in Carolina’s favour. In Washington, the coveted spot with Backstrom and Ovechkin (should Adam Oates play them together) will be filled by an inconsistent and wildly talented youngster like Marcus Johansson, a toolbox player like Brooks Laich or Jason Chimera, or a complete wild card like Wojtek Wolski. In Tampa Bay, Teddy Purcell is coming off his first 20+ goal season, Ryan Malone has missed 42 games in the past two seasons and vaunted young goalscorer Brett Connolly has struggled to adapt to the NHL.
None of those players have nearly the same amount of skill and game-breaking ability as Semin. If the Canes second line of Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen (surprisingly effective, 55.1 FO%) stays intact, Semin will be reaping all the benefits from the room the Staal brothers can create for him.
Semin is a $7 million talent – it’s just that sometimes he might not even give seven cents’ worth of care in the world, so the one-year term is perfect. Even with Semin the Canes have over $12 million in cap space, so giving him a slight raise from the $6.7 million he earned last year despite the declining production was affordable and probably necessary in order to outbid the other teams.
True, the defensive deficiencies in Semin’s game remain, but Jordan Staal is one of the league’s best two-way centres and Eric Staal hasn’t dipped below 70 points since his rookie season and played all 82 games last year, a shining model of consistency. The idea is that the Staals’ defensive abilities would be enough to cover Semin’s errors, or better yet, the work ethic will rub off and motivate Semin to play a little defense.
Farfetched? Not as much as everyone else seems to think so. Semin stayed in the NHL on a one-year contract even though I’m sure he had much more lucrative and longer deals offered by KHL teams. Though I don’t think he’s the world’s greatest teammate, I also don’t quite believe he’s a “coach killer.” Remember that Kirk Muller is behind the Carolina bench for his first full season and he’s had a reputation for having a good rapport with his players, so his relationship with Semin is something to keep an eye on as well.
The Canes could boast as many as four 30-goal scorers – the two Staals, Skinner and Semin. The last time Carolina had a foursome like that? The 2006 Cup-winning Hurricanes, who had Staal (45), Justin Williams (31), Rod Brind’Amour (31) and Erik Cole (30 in 60 games) break the 30-goal plateau.
The Southeast Division is pretty wide open. The Capitals still have questions in net and defensive depth is a concern and the Lightning are still largely unproven and have added several new pieces which will take some time getting used to. If all goes well for Carolina – their young defencemen contribute and the bottom-six depth is improved internally with Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk’s taking steps forward – they have a shot at the division title. That’s a helluva improvement for a team that hasn’t made the postseason in three straight years.