3 reasons why the Hurricanes will end their 8-year playoff drought
North Carolina is known as the birthplace of Pepsi. It's recognized for its amazing barbecue, and applauded for its zealous college basketball fandom.
The state is also home to a soon-to-be world-class hockey club.
After years in the wilderness, the Carolina Hurricanes have found their footing, slowly but surely developing into an NHL contender.
Despite finishing eight points shy of the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference last season, expectations are rising in Carolina after a solid offseason for general manager Ron Francis and his club.
The players Carolina has added improve the team at both ends of the ice. And factoring in the Hurricanes' existing core - which is young and talented - this team won't just be knocking, but could burst through the playoff door after eight seasons on the sidelines.
Here's three reasons why:
Williams, Kruger bring winning pedigrees
The addition of two veterans with a combined age of 62 doesn't usually get a fan base fired up, but in the case of Marcus Kruger and Justin Williams, Canes supporters probably should be.
Last season, Carolina skated one of the youngest, most inexperienced teams in the league.
The pair brings a combined total of 227 career playoff games, 110 playoff points, and five Stanley Cups to a Hurricanes side which hasn't qualified for the playoffs since the year Barack Obama was inaugurated.
Tangible benefits aside, Kruger and Williams also provide the club's young stars with veteran leadership. Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Jeff Skinner, and Victor Rask are four core players under the age of 26 who will benefit immensely from playing alongside more experienced teammates.
Van Riemsdyk compliments defensive core
Trevor van Riemsdyk's acquisition didn't exactly make front-page sports news in the Tar Heel state, but maybe it should have - especially considering the Hurricanes already have a handful of elite rearguards on their roster.
Van Riemsdyk, who has a Stanley Cup ring, joins Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, and former fifth overall pick Noah Hanifin on a blue line that's quickly becoming one of the most talented in the league.
Last season, Slavin recorded a career-high 34 points, Faulk buried the second-most goals in the league by a defenseman (17), and Hanifin chipped in 29 points while playing nearly 18 minutes per game in only his second NHL season.
The Hurricanes managed a respectable team goals-against average of 2.80 last season, and with Van Riemsdyk's acquisition and the young core of defensemen having another year together, that number stands to decrease in 2017-18.
Darling's ready for his close-up
Goaltender Cam Ward made a name for himself in 2006 by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup in his first year in the league. But the 33-year-old veteran of 12 NHL seasons is not the game-changer he once was.
Enter, Scott Darling.
The 28-year-old joins the Hurricanes after spending the last three campaigns as the backup to Chicago Blackhawks starter Corey Crawford. Over that span, Darling was one of the most consistent backups in the league.
Across 75 career regular-season games, Darling's registered respectable numbers. The former sixth-round pick owns a 39-17-9 record, with four shutouts, a 2.37 goals-against average, and a .923 save percentage, indicating he's ready to be the No. 1 guy.
Over the past few seasons, the Blackhawks have been an easier team to play behind than Carolina, but the Canes' blue-liners now arguably trump Chicago's. Whether it's Darling or Ward in the crease, more of the action should be taking place at the opposite end of the ice.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)