Hurricanes eager to recapture offseason buzz

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

It's easy to forget the Carolina Hurricanes made two high-profile acquisitions over the summer.

Now that the lockout is over, the Hurricanes want to show that new faces Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin can make them winners again.

General manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday that "we have some work to do" to solidify the fan base and compares that task to what the Hurricanes faced when they relocated from Hartford in 1997.

"When we first moved here, we had to build our fans, one by one, seat by seat," Rutherford said, "and if that's what we have to again, then that's what we'll do."

Any offseason momentum the Hurricanes may have generated when they traded for Staal and signed Semin seemed to have been robbed by the nearly four-month lockout that Rutherford said "has not been good for the National Hockey League."

As it dragged on, other sports in this college-centric region — including the resurgent North Carolina State men's basketball team with whom the Hurricanes share PNC Arena — dominated the landscape.

Now that the NHL is coming back, the Hurricanes are eager to pick up where they left off. Players are expected to vote on the labor deal Friday and Saturday, and if it is ratified, training camps can open Sunday with a 48-game season likely to begin Jan. 19.

"We had great momentum last year to finish the season, and we feel if we can get that momentum going again, we're a better team on paper right now than when we finished the season," coach Kirk Muller said. "We've got a great group, and we're anxious to go, for sure."

The additions of Staal — the younger brother of captain Eric Staal — and Semin certainly have the Hurricanes in much better position to contend for just their second playoff berth since they won the 2006 Stanley Cup.

Carolina acquired Staal in a draft-night trade with Pittsburgh and locked him up with a 10-year, $60 million contract extension that goes into effect next season, then agreed to a one-year, $7 million free agent deal with Semin.

Staal had career highs with 25 assists and 50 points last season with Pittsburgh, but wanted to take on a more prominent offensive role than the one he figured to face on a Penguins team led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Semin's career totals of 27 goals and 45 points against Carolina are his most against any team.

"Adding Jordan Staal gives us a different dimension than we had in the past," Muller said. "We can throw two strong lines at hockey clubs with the ability to play against their top players.

"We've got different guys in different positions that can push from the bottom up," he added. "That pushes our top players, and if that's where our hockey club is, we're a stronger team, we're more competitive team internally and it makes our whole team stronger."