Optimism in Carolina with Staal, Semin in fold

Friday, 01.18.2013 / 3:00 AM

When Kirk Muller was hired as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes in November 2011, 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.
At the 2012 NHL Draft, Rutherford traded 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 Rutherford signed a player to in his 14 seasons as GM in Raleigh.

One month after acquiring Staal, Rutherford signed Semin to a one-year deal worth $7 million. Semin, who was second on Rutherford's free-agent wish list behind Zach Parise, 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 Chad LaRose, Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen. Jiri Tlusty could play a vital offensive role with Tuomo Ruutu sidelined after hip surgery.

"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 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.

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, has spent nine seasons in the NHL, logging 75 games in 2011-12 with the Boston Bruins. The move makes up for the loss of defenseman Bryan Allen, who signed on with the Anaheim Ducks.

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

Brian Boucher was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers following the work stoppage, leaving Dan Ellis, signed out of the American Hockey League this week, and Justin Peters, who signed a two-year contract extension in July, to back up goalie Cam Ward.

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. It 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.