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The Carolina Hurricanes are an interesting team. For a couple of years now, they’ve boasted strong possession numbers, but nothing has come of it. Last year, though, the Canes went on a little bit of a run, working their way into the playoff picture despite being written off before the season even started. The team boasts a ridiculously good young blueline and some interesting talent up front. Poor goaltending and an inability to score has held this team in the basement, but with so much young talent, it seems the Hurricanes are poised to not only end their eight-year playoff drought, but become contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Did you miss Sebastian Aho’s hat trick the other night?
— FOX Sports Carolinas (@CanesOnFSCR) February 4, 2017
Jeff Skinner led the way offensively for the Canes, setting a new career-high with 37 goals. Sebastien Aho also enjoyed a surprisingly good breakout season, finishing second on the team in goals with 25 and points with 49. After that, though, there wasn’t much going on in terms of offence.
Jordan Staal has continued to be a rock for the team in the middle of the ice. Staal is one of the league’s elite defensive forwards, and he proved that yet again this season with a 56.1 Corsi For percentage driven largely by elite shot suppression.
Good underlying numbers was kind of the theme with the Canes last season, which is a positive sign. Even though they didn’t score as much as you’d probably like, Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm had a 54.9 and 52.2 Corsi For percentage respectively, and appear to be good two-way forwards at a young age. Both players shot below 10 per cent, and you expect that to average out.
The Canes got a solid contribution from Derek Ryan, a 30-year-old rookie, and journeyman Lee Stempniak, but badly needs more strong, skilled shooters in its top-nine to finish alongside its playmakers.
Before we get to the team’s calling card, we’ll talk about the disaster they featured in net. The Canes had a team save percentage of just .902 in all situations last season as neither Cam Ward or Eddie Lack was able to get the job done. That’s really bad, of course, because the team’s defence actually made life pretty easy on the goalies, allowing just 28.5 shots against per game at even strength.
The blueline really is the team’s strength, though. Justin Faulk is the veteran of the group at just 24 years of age. He’s evolved into of the league’s better offensive, play driving defencemen, putting up 37 points this season on top of elite individual and on-ice shot generation numbers.
Behind Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce enjoyed breakout seasons. Pesce and Slavin finished at the top of the team in possession metrics which is especially impressive considering they took on the brunt of the team’s defensive minutes. Neither produce a significant amount of offence, but they’re both good skaters who move the puck well, so that could be a result of role rather than skill.
After Ron Hainsey was dealt to Pittsburgh, Noah Hanifin, the fifth overall pick from the 2015 draft, slid up alongside Faulk on the team’s top pair and faired very well. Such as you’d expect from a young defenceman, Hanifin has continued to improve with experience and will take on a bigger role next season.
All together, that’s a ridiculously good, young homegrown D-core. I can’t think of another team in the league with four defencemen under the age of 25 as good as the one Carolina features.
With so much young talent, the Canes are inexpensive and have a lot of flexibility moving forward. Their only long-term investments right now are Jordan Staal, Victor Rask, Justin Faulk, and the freshly signed Scott Darling. That said, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, all key players moving forward, are up for new contracts at the end of 2017-18, and figure to be locked up to long-term deals.
Carolina will head into the summer with a full blueline locked up, about half of a forward core, and a strange situation in net and only $45 million committed to all of it. One of Cam Ward or Eddie Lack will have to go as Darling will take over the starting duties, but otherwise, there’s a lot of room to work with this summer.
Offseason Game Plan
They’ve already made one big move this summer, taking advantage of Chicago’s cap crunch for the second year in a row. Carolina traded a draft pick to the Hawks for Scott Darling’s UFA rights and promptly signed him to a four-year deal worth $4.15 million annually. Darling got stuck behind Corey Crawford in Chicago, but has been very good, posting a .923 career save percentage in 75 games. It’s a risk, sure, but one worth taking.
The Canes don’t have much to worry about when it comes to the expansion draft. A good chunk of their best players are expansion exempt, giving them more than enough room to protect everybody they badly want to keep around. I mean, they could end up losing somebody like Brock McGinn, or maybe Vegas will do them a favour and grab the last year of Ward or Lack’s contract. Regardless, this isn’t something Carolina needs to fret over.
As I said earlier, the Canes have a lot of cap room to work with this summer. Unfortunately, the free agent market isn’t all that good. They badly need forwards who can score to play alongside the team’s playmakers up front, but the free agent market doesn’t really feature a big name worth a major investment. If the Canes are going to improve up front, it’s likely going to take a trade.
They’re oozing with talent on the blueline, as Slavin and Pesce have evolved into a damn good shutdown pair while Hanifin and Faulk seem to be taking over the offensive minutes. Beyond those four, Carolina also has top picks from 2014 and 2016, Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean, coming up through the system.
Colorado seems to be the obvious trade candidate, as they have attractive talent up front and a putrid D-core. But can you trade a young, already-good defenceman for what might only be two years of Matt Duchene, who’s already 26 years old? Arizona is another trade partner that makes some sense, as they’re essentially the polar opposite to Carolina. They’ve been bad for a while and have stockpiled an endless amount of forward talent, but have nothing on the blueline. Maybe Dylan Strome or Max Domi would be a more attractive option for Carolina.
Regardless, there’s a lot of young talent on this roster and a tremendous amount of financial flexibility moving forward. The Hurricanes should be an interesting team to follow.