RALEIGH — The NHL gets back to its usual 82-game schedule this season, but the team returning to the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes will look unfamiliar from the one that was eliminated in five games by the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning in early June.
The goaltending depth chart has been completely turned over, the defense has been overhauled, and GM Don Waddell and the front office cut ties with a handful of longtime forwards and added both experience and potential in their place.
That leaves a lot of questions as training camp opens this week. Let’s try and answer some of them.
Who’s that behind me?
In the spirit of Halloween, the Hurricanes will have three unknown masked men looming behind them on the ice. Gone are Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer, and in their place comes Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta and Alex Lyon.
Much of what happens in 2021-22 will hinge on whether or not Carolina made the right move in walking away from Mrazek and Reimer while trading a Calder Trophy finalist in Nedeljkovic.
The good news is Andersen has the best track record of the lot. Andersen, who will be 33 when the season opens at PNC Arena against the Islanders on Oct. 14, is one of two goalies in NHL history with more than 200 wins and 100 or fewer losses. His 226-100-48 record is behind only Ken Dryden’s 258-57-74 mark with the Canadiens dynasty of the 1970s, and the 6-foot-4 Dane has been a winner at every stop.
Raanta, meanwhile, has had moments of brilliance in a career that has often been derailed by injuries. When he’s on, he’s among the best, and when he’s hurt — well, the Hurricanes have a career-long No. 3 in Alex Lyon waiting to help out.
From Dougie to DeAngelo
Dougie Hamilton — along with the 42 goals and 121 points he had in three seasons for Carolina — is gone to New Jersey on a deal that will pay him $63 million over seven seasons. Can Tony DeAngelo — cast aside by the Rangers and perhaps on his last chance in the NHL — fill some of that void?
Talent-wise, the right-handed defender could. The 25-year-old had 53 points in just 68 games 2019-20, a season total even Hamilton hasn’t reached in his career. And where does he fit? Is it next to Jaccob Slavin on the top pairing, or will he be in a more sheltered even-strength role?
Carolina has options on the right side thanks to the addition of Ethan Bear, acquired from Edmonton for Warren Foegele in the offseason.
The Hurricanes added more veteran guile and grit on the left side by signing Ian Cole and Brendan Smith. Jake Gardiner, who in two seasons has been unable to be a complementary offensive defenseman due to various ailments, is on long-term injured reserve with hip and back problems.
One sheet to the wind
Speaking of LTIR, the cap space created by Gardiner’s absence opened the door for Carolina to successfully land 2018 third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi from Montreal via a hostile offer sheet.
The one-year, $6.1 million deal will be difficult for the 21-year-old Finn to live up to, but the Hurricanes don’t see the acquisition in terms of dollars and cents. Kotkaniemi will likely start on the wing as coach Rod Brind’Amour tries to build back his confidence and tap into the potential he has exhibited during three seasons with the Canadiens.
All eyes on $vechnikov
And while we’re talking a lot of money, Andrei Svechnikov has exactly that. Picked right before Kotkaniemi in the draft three years ago, the Russian winger has a new eight-year contract extension that will pay him an average of $7.75 million annually.
For his career, Svechnikov has scored at about a 24-goal pace for an 82-game season, and the expectation will be for the young Russian to grow into a 30-goal scorer as soon as this year.
Return to the Metro
After winning the Central Division last season, Carolina is back in the Metropolitan — and a look around the division shows the Hurricanes could again find themselves on top after the regular season.
Washington and Pittsburgh both continue to age, and the Blue Jackets are in full rebuild mode. The Rangers, Devils and Flyers could compete for a playoff spot, but none have the look of a division winner. Carolina’s main competition will likely be the Islanders, who added veterans Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise to an already veteran-laden lineup.
Glimpse at the future
While Carolina’s roster seems close to set heading into camp, that doesn’t mean there won’t be intriguing young players to watch in the preseason. The team’s most recent first-round picks, Seth Jarvis and Ryan Suzuki, will both try to beat the odds and make the team, and forwards Jack Drury, David Cotton and Jamieson Rees along with defenseman Joey Keane and Jesper Sellgren are all worth keeping an eye on.