As October creeps closer, another NHL season creeps with it.
In the 11th of a series of team-by-team summer reviews and season previews, here's a glimpse at the ...
The Hurricanes entered 2016-17 having finished no better than sixth place in their division for four straight seasons. Jeff Skinner went off for a career-high 37 goals, the team went 23-12-6 at home and, as has often been the case in recent seasons, the Canes came on strong in a late push to thwart other playoff hopefuls. But a middle-of-the-road defense and bottom-10 offense left Carolina exactly where the stats said they should be: amid a bunch of borderline wild-card candidates, left to sit the postseason out thanks to a 36-31-5 mark in the stacked Metropolitan Division.
The biggest news to come out of Carolina's offseason, the eighth straight following a non-playoff campaign, didn't pertain much to the roster the Canes hope will rebound in 2017-18, however. It centered on team owner Peter Karmanos Blackhawks .... Even still, the club boasts a more well-rounded contender after quietly hauling in a slew of ex-Chicago
Key additions: G Scott Darling (trade with Blackhawks), F Justin Williams (Washington Capitals), D Trevor van Riemsdyk (trade with Golden Knights), D Marcus Kruger (trade with Golden Knights), F Josh Jooris (Coyotes)
What started with a trade-and-sign move for Darling, who would've been a casualty of Chicago's offseason anyway, ended with the Hurricanes welcoming quite the crew of playoff-experienced vets. Not a single one of them is elite material on his own, but together, they combine for a hefty dose of proven depth. Williams is the most profound of the additions considering he was once a 30-goal scorer in Carolina and departed the Capitals this summer at age 35, but the flurry of defensive arrivals figures to give the Hurricanes blue line an immediate boost as well.
Bickell's loss hits the locker room, but Williams' homecoming and the potential breakout season for Darling as a No. 1 goalie -- the former Chicago backup went 18-5-5 in 2016-17 -- give the Canes added identity across the ice.
The Hurricanes weren't quiet when they threatened to storm into the wild-card race with a 10-2-5 stretch in March, and even though their offseason shuffling might have been overshadowed by talk of a potential team sale, it rings loud and clear as the likely reason Carolina will be back in the mix for a playoff spot in 2017-18.
The Canes need more than Williams to come in and liven up the offense. Perhaps first-rounder Martin Necas will contribute down the road. The depth additions of Kruger and Jooris should help. The full answer isn't entirely clear at this point, and it'll remain somewhat of a question mark if Skinner is unable to replicate his big numbers from a season ago. Darling also isn't guaranteed to become a shutdown goalie just because he has a full-time No. 1 job. But as a whole, it's hard to say Carolina isn't better -- quite a bit better -- than when it last took the ice, and even in a tough Metro Division, the Canes should be right there in the thick of the postseason race.
The real interesting thing to watch will be if the Canes actually find themselves in the playoffs, as Darling said he expects will be the case. Then, all of a sudden, Carolina wouldn't be lacking postseason experience up and down its lineup of former Capitals and Blackhawks.