Days after the end of the season, Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said his top focus in the off-season was going to be to improve the forwards within the top 6 of the roster. He has stepped up to the plate and delivered thus far by first acquiring Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin and the 8th overall pick in this years draft. Yesterday, he added even more top-6 talent to the team as the Canes signed winger Alexander Semin to a 1-year, $7 million deal. This makes Semin the second-highest paid Hurricane on the roster behind only Eric Staal. There have been some questions about Semin’s character and willingness to be in each game and play to his full potential. Personally, I think Kirk Muller, the coaching staff and the leadership on this team won’t let him slip into some of the characteristics that he has had while playing for the Capitals.
On paper, the Hurricanes’ top six looks the best it has in … well, quite some time. With the Staals, Skinner, Ruutu, Jokinen and now Semin, you could argue that the Canes have one of the best top two lines within the eastern conference. Last season, Carolina ranked 16th in the league with 2.58 goals/game and ranked 12th in the league with 30.6 shots per game. While these numbers will likely improve, the real stat that will get a huge boost will likely be the power play. Ranking 20th in the NHL at 16.7% wasn’t where Carolina expected to be towards the end of the season, but adding forwards Jordan Staal and Alex Semin will hopefully bump that number up to well over 20%. Jim Rutherford apparently also told Semin that he will get some penalty kill time, which Semin hasn’t done in Washington for the last couple of seasons. With a penalty kill of just barely over 80% last season, any enhancements in that department could mean the difference between a win and a loss.
No matter how you slice it, the Alex Semin signing adds top six forward depth that, if Semin does play to his potential, will help the Hurricanes score many more goals and, hopefully, win more games. Luckily for head coach Kirk Muller, the line combinations for the top six are fairly flexible and interchangeable. While some assume that he’ll be on the top line with the Staals (Jordan at center and Eric at wing) and bring back Caniacs’ favorite “Skins and Finns” line, he could also join Eric Staal on the top line with Jussi Jokinen or Tuomo Ruutu and have Jordan Staal center the second line with Jeff Skinner and Ruutu/Jokinen. It will be up to Kirk Muller and the coaching staff to decide which lines will bring the best results to the team. Hopefully, the NHL and NHLPA can get a deal together before September, so the Hurricanes can have a full training camp and pre-season making sure all of the players are on the same page and within the same system.