RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Carolina Hurricanes look much like they did 15 months ago when they won their first Stanley Cup.
Centre Matt Cullen is back in the fold after a season away, and several key members of that championship team re-signed before reaching some form of free agency. Now with training camp starting later this week, the Hurricanes hope they'll play like they did during the spring of 2006.
"We got better. We didn't lose anyone," captain Rod Brind'Amour said Tuesday during the team's media day. "You look at all the other teams, they kind of seemed to disperse a little bit. That right away makes us better."
They'll have to be better to erase what Brind'Amour called "a colossal failure" last season, when the Hurricanes became just the third team to miss the playoffs a year after winning the Cup.
First, Carolina re-signed forward and team MVP Ray Whitney, defenceman Glen Wesley and Conn Smythe Trophy winning goalie Cam Ward.
Then, they worked out a deal with the New York Rangers for Cullen, the instrumental third-line centre on the Cup championship team whom the Hurricanes spent an entire season trying to replace.
"He fit in real well with us two years ago, and I'm sure he'll get right back with the swing of things," centre Eric Staal said.
Indeed, Cullen's most important quality might not be his scoring touch - he was the Rangers' fifth-leading scorer last season with 41 points - but his familiarity with the Hurricanes, with whom he had career highs of 25 goals and 49 points in 2005-06.
"There's no transition period" for Cullen, Brind'Amour said. "There's no 'What does he have to do?' We know him, and I think that'll be smooth. And the fact that we didn't do well last year has got a little fire under us."
Those rowdy Caniacs couldn't wait for last season to begin because they hoped the momentum of the Cup run would spill over. But the players say they're more eager to get back on the ice this season, mainly because they've had five long months to rest, heal and stew over their shortcomings.
From the season-opening shootout loss to Buffalo to the too-little-too-late overtime win over Florida that ended the year - and the 80 other games in between - Carolina was only briefly fully healthy and as a result never seemed able to rediscover the magic of the previous season.
Now they've had plenty of time to heal their lingering injuries and are hoping for a fast start.
"Obviously, it's different, but it's a good different because it's all business now," Brind'Amour said. "We don't have to deal with talking about the past - 'What did you do with your day (with the Cup)?' (or) 'You've got to do this event,' which takes away from what you're trying to do, which is this season.
"We don't have any of that, and because we didn't have any success last year, it might have been a blessing because it was a huge wake-up (call) for all of us. Let's buckle down and right from the start, not wait five, 10, 20 games to get going."