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2013-14 Season Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

The latest in our ongoing series previewing the Pittsburgh Penguins division rivals brings us to Carolina. The land of Staals, Cam Ward, Alex Semin and why Cory from Canes Country sees his team as being right in the playoff chase.

Justin K. Aller

Welcome to part three of our ongoing series of previewing the new 'Metropolitan' Division by interviewing SBN writers and asking some general questions to get caught up on what our divisional foes did this summer, and how their fans are feeling about their chances in 2013-14.

In case you missed the earlier pieces and want to keep up:

Next up, the Carolina Hurricanes. There's a big Penguins/Carolina connection, with a large Pittsburgh contingent in the Raleigh area, and with connections between the teams on marquee players like Ron Francis, Mark Recchi and Jordan Staal. Now, for the first time, we'll be division rivals with the team from Carolina. We were lucky enough to be joined by Cory from the SBN blog Canes Country to talk about the future of the Canes.

#1 - Give a 4-sentence preview of your 2013-14 team.

It's a big year for the Hurricanes. The team’s flagship players (Eric Staal and Cam Ward) are firmly in their prime, and the team has invested a lot of money in other complementary pieces (Alexander Semin, Jordan Staal). It's also a no-excuses year for coach Kirk Muller. The last two seasons many have leaned on the fact that Muller has never had a full training camp to implement his system. With a revamped defense and plenty of firepower up front, it's essential that the team return to the playoffs after a four-year absence.

#2 - What is your team's biggest addition and why?

There are plenty of candidates, but I think the glue that might hold this team together is fifth overall pick Elias Lindholm. It's not that Lindholm will be expected to carry the load for Carolina, but if he can win the No. 3 center job it should free up the Canes to have a more balanced three-line attack. Lindholm also provides more much-needed two-way play, which will ease the burden on Jordan Staal.

#3 - What is your team's biggest loss from last season?

While he's still on the payroll, Joni Pitkanen never fully recovered from the heel fracture he suffered on an icing play last season and is out for the season. Regardless of how good one thinks Pitkanen is, that's a blow to an already maligned defense. The team added free agent Ron Hainsey to fill the void and is hoping he and other changes on the blue line — watch for rookie Ryan Murphy, an undersized but dynamic defenseman — will give Ward more support and lead to better results. But losing a minute-eater like Pitkanen will hurt.

#4 - Which player on your team do you see being a pleasant surprise?

Jeremy Welsh is entering his second full professional season and is on a one-way deal, giving him the inside track for the fourth-line center job over Riley Nash and Brett Sutter. Welsh was decent last season, registering 26 points (14 goals, 12 assists) in 69 games with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers and an assist in five games with the Hurricanes, but needs to step up his game in order to earn the guaranteed $1 million salary he will bring home in 2013-14. He started off on the right foot Wednesday, scoring a goal in Carolina’s first preseason game. Also, don't rule out a bounce-back year from Mike Komisarek.

#5 - What's your biggest worry regarding your team as this season begins?

Every team worries about injuries, but Carolina has some big questions in that area. Eric Staal and Ward are both coming off knee injuries, and Skinner battled concussions the past two seasons. With Pitkanen already gone for the year, any injury to a major player on the back end — especially projected No. 1 Justin Faulk — would be a huge blow. The team has bottom-of-the-lineup depth in the minors, but lacks the ability to replace a big-name player if one goes down.

#6 - If you had to predict a finishing position (1st through 8th) in the division for your team today for 2013-14, which place would it be?

I think Pittsburgh is the clear front runner in the new Metropolitan Division, but I don't see any reason for Carolina not to compete with the Rangers, Capitals and Flyers for a spot in the top half of the division. I'll say they beat one of those team out, hold off Columbus, Philadelphia and the Islanders, and take fourth.

#7 - Which player will you revere less after the season is over - Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?

Honestly, I don't think my thoughts on them will change much. But with Ovechkin set to lead Team Russia into Sochi, I'm guessing he'll seem a little oversaturated in my eyes.

#8 - Give me one player in the division (who's not on your team) that you think is poised for a big-time year.

The Devils may wind up last in the Metro, but I think we'll see Travis Zajac return to form and become a legitimate No. 1 center in 2013-14. If fully healthy, Columbus defenseman Ryan Murray could have a shot at the Calder Trophy.

#9 - As a division rival there's naturally a lot of tension and animosity when the competitive portion of the season begins... So before that, I challenge you to pay a compliment to the Penguins, Sidney Crosby, city of Pittsburgh, its residents, anything you'd like.

The Penguins have arguably the best two forwards in the NHL and they're very well-coached. There are certainly question marks — mostly in net — but I think they are the team to beat in the Metro and perhaps the Eastern Conference.

#10 - If you had to guess, what is a potential division name that was left on the drawing board before the geniuses in the NHL picked 'Metropolitan' as the best idea?

Well, since we're in ACC country down here in Raleigh, they could have always gone with Atlantic for the other Eastern Conference division and then Coastal for this one. Beyond that, who knows what they were thinking.

Thanks to Cory for answering our questions and be sure again to checkout Canes Conutry!