01/11/13 — Stevens: Lockout over, Hurricanes will get chance to check out investment

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Stevens: Lockout over, Hurricanes will get chance to check out investment

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 11, 2013 1:47 PM

The waiting is over and it's time to go to work -- especially for the Carolina Hurricanes, who need to make good on an investment.

Carolina deviated from its conservative tendencies and spent more than $70 million in free agent signings and contract extensions during the off-season. With the NHL lockout over and a shortened season set to begin in fewer than two weeks, time is of the essence for the Canes.

Carolina has not been to the postseason since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2008-09. The team has not made back-to-back playoff appearances since the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons.

In June, Carolina traded for Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal and signed the younger brother of Canes' center Eric Staal to a 10-year, $60 million contract extension. He posted career highs in assists (25) and points (50) last season with Pittsburgh, and was on the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship team in 2009.

The Hurricanes also upgraded their offense by inking former Washington forward Alexander Semin to a one-year $7 million contract. Semin has averaged more than 30 goals during the past six seasons. Carolina also signed 20-year-old forward Jeff Skinner to a six-year contract extension. Skinner was the NHL's rookie of the year in 2010-11 and has scored 51 goals with 56 assists in two seasons.

The Canes spent all that money in hopes of bolstering an offense that ranked 16th out of 30 teams in goals per game a year ago. Carolina was outscored by its opponents 237-212 and finished 12th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Canes have desperately lacked premier talent to play alongside Eric Staal and Skinner. Jordan Staal and Semin provide Carolina with the offensive punch needed to compete with the league's elite teams. The Canes hope the added depth helps account for the absence of forward Tuomo Ruutu, who recently underwent hip surgery and is expected to be out until at least April.

With a shortened 48-game season tentatively scheduled to start Jan. 19, Carolina won't have the luxury of a normal training camp or the first several weeks of an 82-game season to develop chemistry. The Canes can't afford to disappoint their loyal fan base once again and a slow start could leave the team scrambling to get back into contention.

One of the repercussions of the lockout is the likelihood of each team playing three to four games a week. Carolina's ability to persevere through the grind of a demanding schedule and the unforeseeable adversities that accompany each season will be a true measuring stick of the Hurricanes' chemistry.

Outside of the 2005-06 season in which Carolina won the Stanley Cup, a lack of talent has kept the Hurricanes from being an elite franchise. From a front office committed to winning, a loyal fan base, quality facilities and yes, finally a talent laden roster, the Hurricanes finally have everything needed to succeed.

The excuses are gone. It is time to produce.