1- No need to tell you but the bottom has really dropped out on Carolina's season, and what could have been a playoff appearance has slipped away in recent weeks. Is this a cautionary tale for how important a franchise goalie is? The 'Canes haven't seemed the same since Cam Ward got hurt, is his loss the reason the team hasn't been able to win much lately?
Hey, thanks for noticing the obvious. I think it's convenient to point to Ward's injury as the season's turning point, but honestly it's more a marker of when things started to go downhill than the absolute 100% cause of why they did. When Ward was injured, Dan Ellis was outplaying him, although Ward was starting to heat up after a sluggish start. Then, a couple games later, Ellis got hurt, and the Canes were suddenly looking at a Justin Peters/John Muse tandem. Joni Pitkanen was hurt the game before Ward went down. Then Justin Faulk got hurt. Then Pitkanen came back, and promptly destroyed his heel in an icing play last week.
I mean it just been an ongoing parade to the injured reserve list for last month-plus and hasn helped by ellis rushing back before he fully healthy obvious that is playing at nowhere near level was hurt. i would surmise less about having elite goaltender more a consistent lineup. three weeks in early- mid-march there literally different lineup every night much change breeds inconsistency destroys confidence. what you seeing now from carolina isn as team devastated one specific injury completely shell-shocked has no idea how cope with things they pop up.
2- Alex Semin always catches a lot of flak from NHL fans, deserved or not. Since he got his security with the big contract extension how has he been playing? Any worries that he might get too comfortable or has he played as well lately as when his season started?
Since Semin signed his extension on March 25, he has been performing at a point-per-game clip, although he has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury. He's been banged up almost the entire season, and it just became too much to play through, but he has absolutely been a revelation and I think it says a lot that he was willing to take a hometown discount with a team he had played all of two months with - and yes, I consider signing him at $7 million/year long term as a discount; he's easily getting $8 million (or more) on the open market. Of the Canes' 99 goals this year, 43 of them have been generated by Eric Staal, Semin and Tlusty, and they've been among the top-performing lines in the league all year. Staal hasn't had this level of comfort with a winger since the halcyon days of Cory Stillman back in the Cup year, and while I think there's a bit of a concern that Semin won't live up to the long-term contract I don't think it's any more of a concern than there would be with any other player who would sign a similar contract.
3- Looking ahead for next year, when the Pens and Hurricanes will be in the same division, what's your outlook for Carolina? Things are going to get a lot tougher adding the Atlantic division (plus a suddenly scrappy Columbus team) to the Hurricanes division when the weaker Southeast teams drop out. Do you think Carolina, in the long-term, has the talent (and budget) to try and keep up with the Washington's, Pittsburgh's, New York's and Philly's of the division to be a consistent playoff caliber team?
3 - Ya know, that's a fantastic question and one that I've found myself thinking about a good bit recently. I don't know for sure if the Canes will be willing to regularly open the wallet the way that the bigger market teams do, but it's worth pointing out that as of this minute the team has the eighth-highest cap number in the NHL for next season, higher than every team in the Canes' new division other than the Flyers. The team's proven that they will pay to retain talent, although it's rare that they will dip into free agency for anything more than role players (Semin being the exception that proves the rule).
The nucleus is there right now for the Canes to compete with anyone, barring injuries - and that's the big "if," because the one thing the Canes don't have much of is organizational depth, both as a consequence of trades like the Brandon Sutter deal and some fair but not exactly world-beating drafts over the last few years. Most of the team's high-level draft picks are either already on the team (Faulk, Jeff Skinner, Tlusty if you consider that he was the return for failed first-rounder Philippe Paradis) or are planned to be there next year (Ryan Murphy, maybe Victor Rask). If the Canes can stay relatively healthy next year, I don't know if they'll win the division but they should be able to grab one of the top three spots that are automatic playoff positions. If not, all bets are off.
It should be noted that the Canes have held their own against teams not in the Southeast Division this season, and have a very respectable 5-3-2 record against the Atlantic Division, so it's not like they have just rolled over anytime a Pennsylvania or greater New York team has been on the other bench, even with all the problems they've had. What kills them is a dreadful 4-11-0 mark against divisional opponents, the second-worst of any team in terms of points per game against the Southeast (only Buffalo is worse). I really think that the Canes, while they are unlikely to set the world on fire in the new division, will at least be able to tread water - again, assuming their collective health holds up.