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Scott Cullen

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The Carolina Hurricanes have missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons, and don’t have a head coach or general manager, which certainly makes matters look unsettled as the offseason approaches.

Off-Season Game Plan takes a look at a Hurricanes team under new ownership that has potential, but who knows if they are going to make the right decisions to push them over the top?

New owner Tom Dundon has fired GM Ron Francis and allowed head coach Bill Peters to seek out greener pastures in Calgary. That’s not that unusual; new ownership often likes to have its own group running the show.

However, after a series of names were reported as possible candidates for the vacant general manager role, none actually landed the position, and club president Don Waddell hired long-time hockey exec Rick Dudley to be the Senior VP of Hockey Operations and Paul Krepelka to be the VP of Hockey Operations. As it stands now, these are the decision-makers for the organization.

They still don’t have a head coach, but that’s not necessarily a problem. AHL coach Mike Vellucci could very well move up to the big job, or there are many qualified coaches available otherwise.

It’s a little difficult to forecast a team’s plans without having a great idea about who is calling the shots, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Hurricanes were active this summer. From the sounds of it, Sebastian Aho may be the only untouchable on the roster, so that does leave open the possibility that the Hurricanes could make some big deals this summer.

Could that mean moving out players like Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk, players who have been cornerstone pieces on teams that haven’t been able to reach the playoffs? It seems possible though, at this point, almost anything seems possible.

The one note of caution I’ll throw towards the Hurricanes is that they shouldn’t overreact to a bad goaltending season in 2017-2018. By all means, address the position and make it better, but the Hurricanes had the best shot differentials in the league and backing that with merely competent goaltending would make for a competitive club.

The Hurricanes are headed in a new direction, but if that direction doesn’t include paying for a more competitive product on the ice, they will still be fighting an uphill battle.

HOCKEY OPS/COACH

Don Waddell-Rick Dudley/Vacant

HEROES

Sebastian Aho – The 20-year-old had a brilliant second season, leading the Hurricanes with 29 goals and 65 points, all while controlling better than 55% of the shot attempts during 5-on-5 play.

Teuvo Teravainen – Riding shotgun with Aho, Teravainen finished with a career-high 64 points.

Justin Williams – The 36-year-old winger continued to provide steady all-around play, finishing with 51 points and 55.6 CF%.

ZEROES

Scott Darling – The Hurricanes addressed their need for a goaltender by signing the guy who had a .923 save percentage in 75 games over three seasons as a backup in Chicago. He flopped miserably in his first season with Carolina, finishing with a .888 save percentage in a career-high 43 games.

Victor Rask – The 25-year-old centre had produced 93 points in the previous two seasons, earning a long-term contract extension, then responded with a career-low 31 points while his relative possession numbers went in the tank.

Marcus Kruger – Acquired from Vegas, the former Blackhawks checking centre (and two-time Stanley Cup champ) was never a big scorer, but he couldn’t earn the trust of the coaching staff and played a career-low 10:50 per game before ultimately getting waived.

 

 

RETURNING FORWARDS

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2018-19 CAP
Sebastian Aho 78 29 36 65 54.9 0.5 100.6 55.0 16:53 $925K
Teuvo Teravainen 82 23 41 64 56.4 2.6 100.9 59.1 16:53 $2.86M
Justin Williams 82 16 35 51 55.6 1.6 98.2 56.1 16:35 $4.5M
Jeff Skinner 82 24 25 49 55.2 1.0 95.5 64.0 16:42 $5.725M
Jordan Staal 79 19 27 46 54.2 -0.5 98.9 47.8 19:15 $6.0M
Victor Rask 71 14 17 31 51.2 -4.4 100.1 62.1 15:23 $4.0M
Brock McGinn 80 16 14 30 54.4 -0.3 96.8 57.6 14:30 $888K
Marcus Kruger 48 1 5 6 54.4 1.0 95.8 45.4 10:50 $3.083M
 

 

FREE AGENT FORWARDS

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2017-18 CAP STATUS
Elias Lindholm 81 16 28 44 56.5 1.8 98.0 60.4 17:54 $2.7M RFA
Derek Ryan 80 15 23 38 57.0 3.3 95.8 60.5 15:36 $1.425M UFA
Phil Di Giuseppe 49 5 8 13 54.8 -0.6 98.2 52.3 10:30 $725K RFA
Lee Stempniak 37 3 6 9 54.2 -1.8 95.3 58.9 12:28 $2.5M UFA
Joakim Nordstrom 75 2 5 7 51.8 -3.4 96.0 52.1 10:34 $1.275M RFA
 

While the Hurricanes could use more skilled forwards, they do have a pair of young Finns leading the attack. Sebastian Aho is a 20-year-old who didn’t score a goal in his first 15 games last season and still ended up with 29 in his sophomore campaign. He’s the foundation around which this forward group is built.

Playing with Aho, Teuvo Teravainen busted out for a career-best season. The 23-year-old is a skilled playmaker who complements Aho well and is still very modestly priced (a $2.86-million cap hit through next season).

Tried and true, 36-year-old Justin Williams finished with more than 40 points for the seventh consecutive full season. He’s still very effective along the boards and, after dealing with some big injuries early in his career, he’s proven to be extremely durable, missing a total of three games in the past seven seasons.

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Will Jeff Skinner be part of the long-term plan in Carolina?

After scoring 37 goals the year before, Jeff Skinner fell to 25 last season, but the 25-year-old is a six-time 20-goal scorer and elite shot generator, who has put up more than three shots on goal per game for seven straight seasons.

At the same time, he’s entering the final year of his current contract and that could prompt the Hurricanes to see what he might fetch on the trade market. For teams seeking an offensive upgrade, without the long-term commitment that goes with free agents, Skinner could be an attractive option.

Veteran centre Jordan Staal is one of the premier checking centres in the league, though he didn’t dominate in relative possession terms last season like he did for the previous four. Staal’s presence, and ability to handle the toughest matchups, should help free up others in the Carolina lineup for better opportunities.

Victor Rask was a on a nice upward career trajectory heading into last season, but clearly took a step back, with his offensive production and possession stats sliding, and he ended up playing a career-low 15:23 per game. Perhaps a fresh start, with a new coach, can help Rask recapture his previous form.

A hard-driving winger with a nose for the net, Brock McGinn has made steady progress since turning pro. On a team that tilts towards finesse, McGinn’s physical play is noteworthy.

After flaming out last season, it’s possible that Marcus Kruger will have the final year of his contract bought out. Of course, a new coach might also be willing to give Kruger another shot to hold down the fourth-line centre spot.

Elias Lindholm is a reliable two-way player who has some skill, but has yet to surpass the 45-point threshold. He can play centre and wing, but without an offensive explosion he may be a better fit in the middle six.

A reliable energy winger, Phil Di Giuseppe has 13 goals in 126 career games, but he bangs in the corners and has held his own in terms of shot and goal differentials.

Checking winger Joakim Nordstrom had a forgettable 2017-2018 season. Might it be forgettable enough for the Hurricanes not to bother with a qualifying offer for the pending restricted free agent?

While the Hurricanes clearly didn’t have enough skill in their forward group last season, that may be about to change. With the second pick in the draft, they should land Andrei Svechnikov, a 6-foot-2 winger who scored 40 goals in 44 regular-season games with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League.

The 12th pick in the 2017 Draft, centre Martin Necas had a tremendous season in the Czech Republic and at the World Junior Championship. He needs to get stronger, but could be an impact player when he’s ready for the NHL grind.

After tallying 33 goals in 63 AHL games, Valentin Zykov got a late-season look with the Hurricanes and he put up seven points (3 G, 4 A) in 10 games. He’s probably ready for a legitimate shot to stick in the league.

Carolina has a deep prospect pool, particularly as it pertains to forwards, so it may be time to give some of those younger players a legitimate opportunity to step up to the next level.

 

RETURNING DEFENCEMEN

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2018-19 CAP
Justin Faulk 76 8 23 31 55.4 1.3 96.8 57.8 22:16 $4.833M
Jaccob Slavin 82 8 22 30 55.1 1.0 97.0 47.5 22:35 $5.3M
Brett Pesce 65 3 16 19 54.2 0.0 97.3 49.3 20:54 $4.025M
Haydn Fleury 67 0 8 8 51.5 -4.5 99.5 61.0 16:48 $863K
 

 

FREE AGENT DEFENCEMEN

 
NAME GP G A PTS CF% RelCF% PDO OZS% ATOI 2017-18 CAP STATUS
Noah Hanifin 79 10 22 32 56.2 2.5 96.9 62.8 18:52 $925K RFA
Trevor van Riemsdyk 79 3 13 16 55.3 0.9 99.4 62.2 17:03 $825K RFA
Klas Dahlbeck 33 1 4 5 49.7 -7.3 98.4 56.9 16:22 $850K RFA
 

The Hurricanes’ co-captain, Justin Faulk is a quality puck-mover on the back end, but didn’t have a good year in 2017-2018. He played a career-low 22:16 per game and his 31 points was his lowest in a full season since his rookie year of 2011-2012.

Given team needs throughout the league, though, Faulk would surely bring real value on the trade market. If Carolina feels comfortable with someone else quarterbacking the power play, it may be worth listening to offers.

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 Jaccob Slavin is a very important part on the Hurricanes blueline.

Although he may not have been quite as good as he was the season before, Jaccob Slavin was still effective in a shutdown role. He’s not a secret any more, but Slavin gets the job done.

Slavin’s frequent partner, Brett Pesce, missed some time with an injury, but was similarly effective in terms of shot suppression. Where the tandem got burned was in save percentage, which was not uncommon on the team with the worst save percentage in the league.

The seventh pick in the 2014 Draft, Haydn Fleury got his chance to play last season and the 21-year-old struggled. He will need further development if he’s going to hold down a regular job on the Carolina blueline.

There has been steady progress in the career of 21-year-old Noah Hanifin, and he took a step forward last season, posting strong possession stats as well as a career-high 32 points. It’s time to unleash Hanifin and increase his ice time – he was still under 19 minutes per game last season.

Acquired from Chicago, via Vegas, Trevor van Riemsdyk was a fine addition to the Hurricanes blueline. He played a little less than he had in the previous two seasons with the Blackhawks, but was reasonably effective in his role.

Klas Dahlbeck has been on the fringe of Carolina’s lineup for a couple of seasons, playing a total of 76 games in the last two years. The Hurricanes get consistently worse results with Dahlbeck on the ice, which makes it hard for him to emerge as anything but a seventh or eighth defenceman.

Carolina also has another top defence prospect coming, as Jake Bean, the 13th pick in 2016, is ready to embark on his pro career. He may need some time in the American Hockey League, but it may not be too long before he’s ready to take a regular turn on the Carolina blueline.

 

 

RETURNING GOALTENDER

 
NAME GP W L T SV% EV SV% 2018-19 CAP
Scott Darling 43 13 21 7 .888 .898 $4.15M
 

 

 

FREE AGENT GOALTENDER

 
NAME GP W L T SV% EV SV% 2016-17 CAP STATUS
Cam Ward 43 23 14 4 .906 .914 $3.3M UFA
 

The Hurricanes made a big move to address their goaltending problems by signing free agent netminder Scott Darling. He had been excellent, posting a .923 save percentage in three seasons as a backup in Chicago, and it wasn’t an unreasonable move to make at the time. Unfortunately, Darling fell flat in the starter’s role and goaltending remained a major problem for Carolina.

He’s still signed for three more years, so it would seem unlikely that the Hurricanes would buy Darling out already, but they will need to seek out other viable alternatives in the event that Darling doesn’t bounce back next season.

The free agent market isn’t great. Jaroslav Halak and Jonathan Bernier are unrestricted while Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek are set to be restricted free agents, but might not receive qualifying offers, which would leave them to the open market. Some trade possibilities would include Michal Neuvirth, Garret Sparks, Philipp Grubauer and Aaron Dell. Somewhere, in that list, the Hurricanes ought to find one serviceable goalie, and hope that Darling can return to his previous form.

 

TOP PROSPECTS

 
PLAYER POS. GP G A PTS +/- TEAM (LEAGUE)
Martin Necas C 24 9 8 17 0 HC Kometa Brno (Czech)
Jake Bean D 57 12 36 48 -7 Tri-City (WHL)
Valentin Zykov RW 63 33 21 54 -13 Charlotte (AHL)
Warren Foegele LW 73 28 18 46 +22 Charlotte (AHL)
Janne Kuokkanen RW 60 11 29 40 +17 Charlotte (AHL)
Aleksi Saarela LW 69 25 18 43 +4 Charlotte (AHL)
Julien Gauthier RW 65 16 9 25 0 Charlotte (AHL)
Nicolas Roy C 70 11 27 38 +3 Charlotte (AHL)
Roland McKeown D 65 7 16 23 +34 Charlotte (AHL)
Eetu Luostarinen C 55 6 14 20 -7 KalPa (SML)
Stelio Mattheos RW 68 43 47 90 +7 Brandon (WHL)
Lucas Wallmark C 45 17 38 55 +15 Charlotte (AHL)
Morgan Geekie C 68 30 54 84 0 Tri-City (WHL)
Jeremy Helvig G 56       .916 Kingston (OHL)
Matt Filipe LW 31 5 8 13 +10 Northeastern (HE)
 

 

DRAFT

2nd – Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina

FREE AGENCY

The Hurricanes have approximately $48.6M committed to the 2018-2019 salary cap for 12 players.

NEEDS

One top line player, a third-pair defenceman, starting goaltender

WHAT I SAID THE HURRICANES NEEDED LAST YEAR

Two top-nine forwards, depth forwards, one top-four defenceman, another defenceman

THEY ADDED

Justin Williams, Josh Jooris, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Haydn Fleury

TRADE MARKET

Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, Justin Faulk, Haydn Fleury, Scott Darling

 

PROJECTED 2018-2019 HURRICANES DEPTH CHART

LEFT WING CENTRE RIGHT WING
Teuvo Teravainen Elias Lindholm Sebastian Aho
Brock McGinn Jordan Staal Justin Williams
Valentin Zykov Martin Necas Andrei Svechnikov*
Phil Di Giuseppe Victor Rask Jesse Puljujarvi*
Warren Foegele Lucas Wallmark Janne Kuokkanen
Aleksi Saarela Nicolas Roy Julien Gauthier

 

LEFT DEFENCE RIGHT DEFENCE GOALTENDER
Brett Pesce Jaccob Slavin Scott Darling
Noah Hanifin Trevor van Riemsdyk Michal Neuvirth*
Haydn Fleury Paul LaDue* Alex Nedeljkovic
Klas Dahlbeck Roland McKeown  
Jake Bean Trevor Carrick  

Many of the advanced stats used here come from Natural Stat TrickCorsicaHockey Viz, and Hockey Reference.

Scott Cullen can be reached at scott.cullen@bellmedia.ca