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Canes Back To Flying Under The Radar

The expectations are low. Just look around the Web at the major sports sites or read the top publications and you'll get an idea of how the Hurricanes are perceived heading into the season:

• The Hockey News: 8th in the East
• Preseason Power Ranking — 21st in the NHL
• 3rd in the Southeast
• Sports Illustrated: 2nd in Southeast, "likely to become the first Cup champ to miss the playoffs in the next three years."
• ESPN: 2nd in Southeast, "B" grade (7th best grade in the East)
• 2nd in Southeast, 8th in East
• CBS Sportsline: Power Rankings — 21st in the NHL

I could go on, but one thing is clear — most pundits see the Hurricanes as a fringe playoff team at best. This is a return to the team's status from before the lockout, when Carolina was usually a good, but not great, team that battled for the finals spots in the playoffs each season. They were exactly what the hockey media thought they were. The post-lockout prognostications have been different and varied. Coming out of the lockout, little was expected of the Canes. As we all know, they accomplished the impossible and won the Stanley Cup. That of course heightened expectations, and most of the sites and publications that once had Carolina in the middle of the pack expected them to win the Southeast the past two seasons. They didn't.

The one-time buzz surrounding Carolina has simmered to a low boil. The Capitals are now the darlings of the division, while Tampa Bay's forward-heavy roster reshuffling and Florida, with the steady Tomas Vokoun and a rebuilt defense, are the teams getting mentioned as dark horse playoff contenders. While the Hurricanes aren't considered among the also-rans of the league, they have become somewhat of an afterthought.

Couple all that with the fact that injuries and some early season controversy — Matt Murley's defection for Russia, GM Jim Rutherford questioning the training methods of Pete Friesen, to name a few — and all has not been well in Raleigh this preseason.

Luckily for everyone — players, coaches, front office types and fans — all of the predictions, distractions and expectations end tomorrow. When the puck tumbles from the official's hand and hits the newly painted flag logo at center ice of the RBC Center tomorrow night, all of the hype and opinions are washed away and the games have to be played. Is this the team that faltered the past two seasons and fell short of the postseason? Or are these Hurricanes more like the ones from the fall of 2005 that combined skill, grit and desire to overcome the odds and emerge as the league's best? There's only one way to find out ...

Drop the puck ... the season is here.

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