Revamped Top-Six Key to Carolina Hurricanes Success
Carolina has missed the playoffs in each of the past two years. To remedy that, the Hurricanes went out this offseason and acquired to highly-skilled playoff veterans to fill out the the top-six of their forward lineup- Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin
Carolina acquired Jordan Staal, younger brother of team captain Eric Staal, in a draft-day trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, in exchange for third-line center Brandon Sutter and the 8th overall choice in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Staal is an elite two-way presence, and gives the Hurricanes their best center tandem since Rod Brind’Amour and Eric Staal brought them the Cup back in 2006.
They also signed free agent winger Alex Semin to a one-year deal. Semin is a former 40-goal scorer who fell out of favor in Washington, and who wasn’t re-signed following his worst statistical season ever last year with the Capitals. He saw his playing time and numbers decrease this past year with Washington, but he’ll get a chance to skate on Carolina’s top line, a chance that could lead to him regaining his old, dangerous goal-scoring form.
So, what do these two signings mean for the Hurricanes? Well, they’re two huge upgrades for the top two lines, both of which struggled to produce points last year. “Struggled” may actually be putting it lightly; Carolina didn’t have a single player score more than 24 goals last year (Eric Staal), and after Staal’s 70 points, the scoring totals dropped off considerably, with Jussi Jokinen’s 46 points coming in as second best on the team.
The addition of Semin means that neither Jussi Jokinen nor Jiri Tlusty (36 points in 79 games last year) will be forced to play on Carolina’s top line, a role neither is quite talented enough to fulfill. Instead, Carolina will get to play Semin with Eric Staal and former 30-goal scorer and Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner, who missed 18 games last season with injuries, on their top line.
Carolina’s second line will now feature Jordan Staal as the centerman, with Tlusty and Jokinen as his wingers. Staal is someone who consistently put up 20-goal seasons despite being stuck behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the center rotation while having to play almost exclusively on Pittsburgh’s third line the past six seasons. With increased playing time and the freedom that comes with being a top-six forward, Staal’s production should only increase.
Tlusty and Jokinen’s offensive struggles last year could be attributed to two things: the lack of a capable center (Tuomo Ruutu and Brandon Sutter don’t exactly tear up the score sheet), and struggling to keep up with the top-line talent they faced when pressed into duty as part of the Hurricane’s top line. Both of those potential problems have been rectified; Tlusty and Jokinen (who is one season removed from a 30-goal, 65-point campaign) will now man the second line, and will have Jordan Staal setting them up.
The Southeast Division is getting more and more competitive. A division that was long dominated by the Washington Capitals saw the Florida Panthers take the division crown last year. Carolina, at least for their part, is not slacking in their attempts to get better and keep pace in the division. If the two big moves they made this offseason pay off, they could find themselves back in the postseason this year.