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Optimism abounds in Carolina after offseason moves

by Mike G. Morreale
When Kirk Muller was hired as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes last November, he acquired a team spiraling out of control and in need of direction.

The Hurricanes were not only next to last in the Eastern Conference, but stars Eric Staal and Cam Ward were in the midst of seasons to forget. It would take three months before Muller would ultimately right the ship -- the Hurricanes rebounded from a 14-23-7 mark at the All-Star break to finish the season 33-33-16.

After failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, general manager Jim Rutherford knew something had to be done in an attempt to instill some sense of pride and optimism for fans and players.

The acquisitions of center Jordan Staal and left wing Alexander Semin did just that.

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On June 22, Rutherford dealt respected center Brandon Sutter, defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin and a first-round draft pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Staal. The veteran GM put the exclamation point on the deal when he signed Staal to a 10-year contract worth $60 million on July 1 that extends through the 2022-23 campaign.

It marked the longest term agreement that Rutherford signed a player to in his 14 seasons as GM in Raleigh.

On July 26, Rutherford inked Semin to a one-year deal worth $7 million. Semin, who was second on Rutherford's free-agent wish list behind Zach Parise, has scored at least 25 goals in six of the past seven seasons for the Washington Capitals.

"I will say we're a much stronger team going into the season than we have been in a long time," Rutherford said. "The thing we have a chance of doing that has been a struggle for us in the past is scoring more goals. If you play as many tight games as the Hurricanes have in the past and lose as many shootouts, we have a better chance of winning those games than we have in the past."

The addition of Staal and Semin gives the Hurricanes a very formidable top six that includes Jordan's brother, Eric Staal, along with Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen. Not to be forgotten are right wing Chad Larose and center Jiri Tlusty, who will also play vital offensive roles.

"When you look at the dynamics of our hockey club now, it's great that we've added Jordan and great we've added a special player like Semin," Muller told the Raleigh News & Observer. "There will be a lot of trial and experimentation that will happen. The fun part for us will be seeing our makeup with our chemistry."

Muller has already said he might put the Staal brothers on the same line. Surely, the duo will play a significant role on specialty teams -- they each struck for three goals with their team a man short last season.


Additions: C Jordan Staal, RW Alexander Semin, D Joe Corvo, D Marc-Andre Gragnani

Subtractions: C Brandon Sutter, D Bryan Allen, D Derek Joslin, D Brian Dumoulin

UFAs: D Jaroslav Spacek

Promotion candidates: C Zach Boychuk, C Zac Dalpe, D Bobby Sanguinetti, D Ryan Murphy

Forgotten in all the hype surrounding Staal and Semin is the fact Rutherford also signed defenseman Joe Corvo to a one-year contract. Corvo, 35, just completed his ninth NHL season, logging 75 games with the Boston Bruins. The move makes up for the loss of defenseman Bryan Allen, who signed on with the Anaheim Ducks.

Rutherford also inked defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who spent 58 games playing for both Buffalo and Vancouver last season. He'll likely atone for the departure of Derek Joslin (Vancouver) via free agency.

Expect goalie Justin Peters, who signed a two-year extension last month, to serve as the primary backup to Cam Ward to open the season. Brian Boucher, who is entering the second season of a two-year deal, has a shoulder injury and is expected to be sidelined until December.

The Hurricanes selected five forwards, two defensemen and two goalies at the 2012 Draft. The club dealt its first-round pick (No. 8) to Pittsburgh in the deal that brought Jordan Staal to the team. Carolina used its first of two second-round picks (No. 38) to select left wing Phil Di Giuseppe of the University of Michigan. They then used the 47th pick on left wing Brock McGinn from the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm.

One of the more interesting selections by the Hurricanes was their sixth-round pick, goalie Collin Olson of the Under-18 National Team Development Program. He was named the tournament's best goalie for gold medal-winning Team USA at the IIHF 2012 Under-18 World Championship in April, going 5-0 with a 0.80 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage in five games.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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