NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.
In some ways, this offseason has been an overhaul for the Carolina Hurricanes organization; in others, it has been a doubling down on the status quo.
On April 28, Jim Rutherford stepped down from the general manager post he had held since 1994, when the organization was still known as the Hartford Whalers. Taking his place is Ron Francis, who has held multiple positions with the Hurricanes, including vice president of hockey operations for the past three seasons, since retiring as a player in 2004.
Nine days later, Francis fired coach Kirk Muller and his staff after a second consecutive 13th-place finish in the Eastern Conference and an 80-80-27 overall record. The Hurricanes were unable to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs during Muller's three seasons at the helm, and their current five-season playoff drought is the longest in the conference.
Replacing Muller behind the bench is former Detroit Red Wings assistant Bill Peters. Francis told NHL.com that Peters, a defense and penalty-kill specialist with Detroit, brought an effort-based mentality the Hurricanes needed.
"Part of what we were looking for in a new coach is somebody who could come in and change the culture a bit -- hold guys accountable, demand our guys are playing hard every night, playing a 200-foot game," Francis said. "[Bill has] worked in some very successful organizations and for some very successful people, and at the end of the day we felt he was the right fit for what we're trying to do here in Carolina."
After hiring Peters in mid-June, however, Francis has remained quiet through free agency. That means despite Carolina's shake-ups behind the bench and in the front office, the team that takes the ice Oct. 10 against the New York Islanders will be largely identical to the one which finished last season 10 points out of a postseason spot.
During free agency, the Hurricanes acted only to re-sign Jiri Tlusty, Nathan Gerbe, Ron Hainsey and Brett Bellemore and sign two depth forwards in Colorado Avalanche bruiser Brad Malone and Toronto Maple Leafs veteran Jay McClement. Carolina also re-acquired defenseman Tim Gleason, who had been traded at midseason to the Maple Leafs.
Asked about the lack of summer splashes, Francis noted the Hurricanes had "good pieces in place" and pointed to recent roster additions as a sign they are not content with another early summer.
"It wasn't that we were opposed to making a deal, we just needed a deal that would make us better," Francis said. "You look at what we've done … last year, we brought in a lot of new faces at the beginning of the season, and a lot of those guys had pretty good years. [Anton] Khudobin, [Andrej] Sekera, Gerbe, Hainsey played well for us.
"It's not like we've been standing pat with the same lineup the past five or six years."
While he refused to make excuses for the team's often-stagnant performances in 2013-14, Francis could not avoid the injuries that lay like a dark cloud over PNC Arena from training camp on through the regular season.
The Hurricanes finished tied for eighth in the NHL in man-games lost. None of the top line that was so lethal during the 2012-2013 season -- Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin -- started 2013-14 at 100 percent. Possibly most devastating, though, were injuries to the goaltending tandem of Khudobin and Cam Ward that caused them to miss a combined 55 games.
"I've been in this game a long time and I've rarely seen a team that loses its No. 1 and No. 2 goaltender for extended periods in the same season, let alone consecutive years," Francis said.
Despite the rash of injuries, the Hurricanes were still responsible for some major lapses in concentration. Carolina finished 28th on the power play (14.6 percent) and was 22nd in scoring (2.50 goals per game). The Hurricanes struggled to score early (27th in first-period goals) and trailed after the first period in 29 games, including 12 at home. At his introductory press conference, Peters told reporters competing from puck drop and improving the home record were major priorities.
"When you look at all sports now, the team that gets off to a good start is the team that wins the game," Peters told NHL.com. "The best way to get off to a good start is to get your best players engaged in the game early and let them go from there."
Still, there are plenty of reasons to be positive heading into training camp.
The Hurricanes didn't add many new pieces, but they also held on to nearly all of their old ones, with only veteran forward Manny Malhotra and third-string goaltender Justin Peters departing. Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Elias Lindholm, three players all 22 or younger who are quickly becoming the new core of this team, will be another year older and wiser. Khudobin and Ward are back to full health and could provide an imposing one-two punch in the crease, and the top line of Tlusty, Staal and Semin can still be one of the NHL's most dangerous when healthy and motivated.
All of which leaves first-time GM Francis hoping his first-time NHL coach, Peters, can guide a familiar Hurricanes roster back to the playoffs in 2014-15.
"We're hoping that with a healthy lineup and the changes we made from players to coaches to management, we're going to field the team we want on a night-in, night-out basis to give us the opportunity to be successful," he said.
2013-14 record: 36-35-11; 7th in Metropolitan Division, 13th in Eastern Conference
2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify
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