Some Vegas oddsmakers have made the Carolina Hurricanes the betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season.
To which Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour says, “It’s a great talking point but we all know it means nothing.”
When Brind’Amour became head coach in 2018, the Canes ranked 23rd in the league in the betting odds for the Cup. That they’re now favored to win it says …
“We’ve done something right,” Brind’Amour said. “People think we’re in the mix. That part of it is good. Being relevant is good.”
The Canes are coming off a season that had a lot of good mixed with some bad. They won the Metropolitan Division again. They won 52 games and had 113 points. They beat the New York Islanders and the resurgent New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But Max Pacioretty and later Andrei Svechnikov were lost to injuries during the season. The Canes lost, swept in four straight games, to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference final.
Some new faces have joined the mix: Dmitry Orlov, Michael Bunting. A familiar face is back: Tony DeAngelo.
How good can this Hurricanes team be?
“I think the sky’s the limit,” defenseman Brett Pesce said. “I think anything other than playing for the Stanley Cup is a loss in our book.”
That’s something to ponder as the Canes open training camp this week for the 2023-24 season. The first on-ice session is Thursday and the first preseason game Tuesday, Sept. 26, at home against Tampa Bay.
Here are five pressing questions as training camp begins:
How is Svech’s knee?
Svechnikov said last week that his rehab from knee surgery has gone as planned and that he’s feeling good. At the same time, the power forward has been wearing a yellow, no-contact jersey during the informal skates at the Canes’ practice facility.
When the yellow comes off, he’ll get the green light. But as he put it last week, he’s not going to rush it.
“When my leg is good I will start the season. So we’ll see,” he said.
Who are the top three D pairs?
The Canes have a surplus of D-men and Brind’Amour and his staff — and maybe management — have some decisions to make.
Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns figure to remain the top D pairing. Brind’Amour could stick with Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce, and pair Orlov with Jalen Chatfield. DeAngelo could be the seventh D-man or push into the top six.
The Canes are paying Orlov $7.75 million, highest among the defensemen, and he could be bumped up in the pairings. But where? For who?
“I love being solid at that position,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t know how many we’re going to have, but that’s something we’ll figure out as we go.”
Who are the top six forwards?
This is where Bunting factors in. In Toronto, he was used last season on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, finishing with 23 goals and 49 points while scoring seven power-play goals.
It’s easy seeing him slipping on to Sebastian Aho’s line opposite right wing Seth Jarvis, giving that line some size and snarl. Then roll out Svechnikov and Martin Necas on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s line, combining Svechnikov’s power with Necas’ jets and speed.
The X factor is Teuvo Teravainen, who plays so well with Aho, and in every situation. He’s coming off a down year marred by injuries, but he’s in the last year of his contract. The incentive is there.
“We need him,” Brind’Amour said. “All your top guys need to play to their ability. We need him to get there and he needs to get there. And he knows that. We need all those guys firing.”
Fourth line center?
Vasily Ponomarev said last week that he feels his game is ready for the NHL and added, “I think I can help this team to raise the Cup.”
Ponomarev, 21, believes he made a lot of progress as a player last season with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL, protecting the puck better and moving it better. The Russian had a solid season, with a team-leading 24 goals in 64 games with the Wolves.
“I don’t think he’s far away,” Brind’Amour said. “He hasn’t really played at this level but he’s definitely improving. We’ll see.”
Both Ponomarev and former first-round pick Ryan Suzuki played well in the Rookie Showcase in Estero, Florida, as the Canes finished 3-0-0.. Suzuki could be in the mix at center. Jack Drury has had a look at center with the Canes and should get another in camp.
Why all the PTOs?
There have been seasons when the Canes might have one player, maybe two, in camp on professional tryout agreements. Last year, it was Stepan and defenseman Calvin de Haan coming in on PTOs.
This year: a bunch.
Forward Zach Aston-Reese was the latest to be signed to a PTO. He joined forwards Cory Conacher, Nick Shore, Brendan Perlini, Kieffer Bellows and Jayden Halbgewachs; and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu.
Aston-Reese, 29, has played in more than 300 NHL games, including 77 last season for the Maple Leafs. He also was in the lineup for six playoff games.
The Canes should assess and sort through the PTOs fairly quickly and especially after Sept. 29, when Carolina has preseason games with Tampa Bay and Florida and will need extra bodies.