Several new faces as Hurricanes return to Raleigh

Carolina’s bolstered lineup brings playoff aspirations on the eve of training camp

Justin Williams speaks in an interview during the Carolina Hurricanes Media Day at PNC Arena ion Sept. 5. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — There’s a buzz surrounding the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes after the team spent the offseason addressing several roster issues and making improvements to a team that has missed the postseason eight consecutive seasons, the longest active drought in the NHL.

The addition of Justin Williams — a three-time Cup winner who won his first title in Carolina and is returning to Raleigh having earned the moniker “Mr. Game 7” — and goaltender Scott Darling were GM Ron Francis’ two biggest offseason moves, and with training camp officially kicking off Tuesday with Media Day, here’s a recap of the Hurricanes’ incoming and outgoing players and how they could help the team improve under fourth-year coach Bill Peters.

In: Darling
Out: Eddie Lack

Cam Ward remains as part of Carolina’s goalie tandem, but the addition of Darling should mean  Ward, the longtime starter, will be relegated to backup duty for the first time since his rookie campaign. Goaltending has been one of the Hurricanes’ weaknesses in recent seasons, and the addition of Darling — a backup with the Blackhawks who has put up starter-like numbers in  80 career NHL games — should be an improvement over Lack.

That said, Lack joined Carolina under similar circumstances, having helped Vancouver in much the same way Darling aided Chicago as a backup. Lack came to Carolina with 76 NHL starts and the expectations to unseat Ward, but left this offseason as the latest goalie to struggle with the Hurricanes.

Scott Darling speaks in an interview during the Carolina Hurricanes Media Day at PNC Arena on Sept. 5. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

In: Williams
Out: Bryan Bickell

Bickell was brought to Raleigh from Chicago as the cap anchor that landed the Hurricanes Teuvo Teravainen. Bickell scored just one goal for Carolina before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, playing in a total of just 11 games. While his final outing was memorable — he scored in the shootout in Philadelphia, ringing the puck off the post and in as his final NHL moment — he didn’t contribute much to the team winning in 2016-17.

Williams, on the other hand, has done nothing but win since leaving Carolina in 2009. He earned his second and third Stanley Cups with the Kings, then went to Washington where the Capitals won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies. But Williams — like countless others before him — couldn’t bring playoff success to D.C. He will have just turned 36 when Carolina kicks off its season at home on Oct. 7, and Francis & Co. are hopeful his winning ways translate in Raleigh.

In: Marcus Kruger
Out: Jay McClement

There’s a theme here: Francis has pilfered the Blackhawks roster for several players, the most recent being Kruger. The 27-year-old center hasn’t scored much in his career (33 goals, 105 points in 398 regular season games), but he’s a defensive whiz who should ease pressure on Jordan Staal and stabilize Carolina’s bottom six forwards.

While Kruger won’t score much, it should still be more than McClement managed in three seasons in Raleigh. Furthermore, McClement’s underlying numbers were not good, whereas Kruger can be a dominant defensive pivot.

In: Trevor van Riemsdyk
Out: Ryan Murphy, Matt Tennyson

In van Riemsdyk, Carolina adds another young defenseman with upside. At worst he will be an improvement over Murphy or Tennyson on the third pairing this season, and if he improves he could help convince Francis to deal one of his young blueliners for the one glaring hole on the roster, a top-line center.

Murphy never materialized into the player expected of a first-round draft pick — the blame for that is up for debate, with both the team rushing him early on and the player seemingly never grasping the NHL game. Tennyson was as advertised, but it better suited as a depth AHLer than an everyday guy on the third pair.

In: Josh Jooris
Out: Viktor Stalberg

Speed kills, and both of these players have it in spades. Stalberg has long been unappreciated in the NHL — he’s a reliable penalty killer and fourth-liner who can score a handful of goals despite his mediocre hands. Jooris is more than four years younger but has about a third the experience of Stalberg along with just 20 career NHL goals.

The positive news is while Stalberg was a nightly fixture in Carolina’s lineup last year, Jooris will be battling several players just to get on the ice — an illustration of the improved depth on the NHL roster and in the system.

In: Mike Bales
Out: David Marcoux, Pete Friesen

Bales, who was Pittsburgh’s goaltending coach the last two seasons when they won the Stanley Cup, replaces Marcoux in the same role in Carolina. Marcoux once coached a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Miikka Kiprusoff, but none of that magic rubbed off on the Hurricanes’ goalies under his watch. The Penguins did let Bales go, but he is credited with Marc-Andre Fleury’s rebirth and Carolina is hoping he can do the same for Ward and guide Darling.

As for Friesen, he had been with the franchise for 21 years before the team decided not to renew his contract. Friesen’s two titles were split among his assistants: Doug Bennett, with the team since 2010, was promoted to head athletic trainer; and Bill Burniston becomes head strength and conditioning coach.