On the brink

On the brink

For many local sports fans, ACC tournament week is the official transition out of Carolina Hurricanes hockey season. The local media all disappears for the weekend and when the Hurricanes are out of the playoff hunt, they never really return. And for fans, a couple weeks of peak basketball excitement is enough to gradually leave Hurricanes hockey. And from that point forward, the small number of die hards ride out the remainder of the season looking for cause for optimism for next year. But as I watch the NCAA tournament brackets being announced on March 17, the Hurricanes season is anything but over. Simple math puts the Hurricanes in the first of two wild card slots in the Eastern Conference. When one adjusts for games in hand, the picture looks even brighter. With 11 games remaining, the Hurricanes control their own destiny in terms of returning to the playoffs. But the team also has a couple treacherous stretches of schedule and a tiny margin for error such that even a short burst of losing could doom playoff hopes. The key for the team right now is simply to keep pushing. After losses on Friday night on consecutive weeks, the team rebounded twice on Saturday. In doing so, the team just reached a full two months without losing consecutive games. The Hurricanes do not need to win out or do anything else spectacular. The Hurricanes simply need to keep winning at a reasonable pace. With the Canadiens faltering a bit late, something like 6-5 could be enough to win the last playoff spot especially if that 6-5 includes a win...
Breaking down the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes scoring gains

Breaking down the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes scoring gains

After being near the bottom of the league in goal scoring early in the season and middle of the pack for goals allowed, the Hurricanes have not surprisingly risen up the rankings during the team’s 2019 winning run. The Canes are now averaging an even 3.00 goals scored per game which is good for a respectable 13th in the NHL and are averaging 2.74 goals against which is good for 6th in the NHL. Both are up significantly from the first half of the year and also from the 2017-18 season. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at the goal scoring side to determine what is driving the improvement.   Top 6 forwards Who exactly is in the top 6 can vary a bit over the course of the season, but for this analysis I used Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams and Jordan Staal for both years. Then for 2017-18 I added in Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner, and for 2018-19 I added in Micheal Ferland and Nino Niederreiter. To adjust for games played and injuries, I will use goals per game as a metric. In 2017-18, the top 6 forwards averaged 21.5 goals per player per 82 games. In 2018-19, that total is 25.7 goals per player per 82 games. In total, the difference if all top 6 forwards played 82 games in each year would be a significant +25 goals.   Bottom 6 forwards Math for the bottom 6 forwards simply includes all other forward scoring. Again, this is imperfect but still a reasonable approximation of scoring for the rest of the roster. In 2017-18, the...
Key points on the path to here for the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes

Key points on the path to here for the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes

Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at key points on the path to where the Hurricanes are right now which is in playoff position with only 13 games remaining.   The management/leadership shake up The start of building the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes actually started at almost exactly this time last year. With the local media mostly away for the ACC basketball tourney. the Hurricanes announced that Ron Francis had been relieved of his role as general manager of the team. The team eventually transitioned to Don Waddell and/or GM by committee. That decision played a huge role in shaping the current roster. Then shortly after the end of the 2017-18 season, the team played a game of chicken with Head Coach Bill Peters who ultimately left on his own. Shortly thereafter, Rod Brind’Amour was named the head coach. No doubt, Brind’Amour’s leadership has played a huge role in changing the attitude of the team. Finally and to no one’s surprise, the team named Justin Williams as the new captain. As a first lieutenant to Brind’Amour, Justin Williams has similarly played a key role in changing the culture and attitude of the team. The end result was that the vast majority of the group managing the team at all levels changed over.   The summer work building the roster Before the off-season was underway, the Hurricanes won the second pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and the right to select Andrei Svechnikov. Svechnikov gave the team another top 9 forward with scoring potential without giving anything up in trade. After hoping for but not yet realizing the emergence of a...
Carolina Hurricanes players playing for contracts

Carolina Hurricanes players playing for contracts

As the fortunes of the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes rise, so to do the fortunes of a number of players who will be up for new contracts next summer. The organization moved early to sign Teuvo Teravainen to a five-year contract at $5.4 million per year and Jordan Martinook to a two-year contract at $2 million per year. But that still leaves nine players on the current roster who will need to be re-signed or set free this summer. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes an early look at the group.   Sebastian Aho He will obviously be re-signed but increasingly the question is at what cost. Last summer, I suggested that the would (and should) act early to make a long-term commitment to Sebastian Aho. My best guess is that a fair contract would have been something in the $7-8 million range. Fast forward to today and Aho’s 90-point pace, and that number has most certainly risen. At this point I think a team-friendly deal would be $8-8.5 million per year. I think fair market value could now be $10 million. My wild guess is that Aho’s RFA status tamps down price a little, but that Aho’s next contract clocks in at $9-9.5 million.   Micheal Ferland The team seemed close to trading Ferland at one point, but then the term self-rental popped up referring to Ferland suggesting that he would stay. I am on record as not liking a long-term deal for Ferland because the shortness of his track record and to some degree his injury risk. Since being bumped off of Aho’s line, Ferland’s production as slowed...
Putting math to the Carolina Hurricanes turnaround

Putting math to the Carolina Hurricanes turnaround

When 2018 ended, the Carolina Hurricanes were 16-17-5. The team had just wrapped up an abysmal 4-8-1 December and seemed to be racing rapidly for another early playoff contention exit. Then, starting with a win over the Flyers on New Year’s Eve, the Hurricanes seemed to suddenly do a 180. After first, the wins seemed like a bit of a hot streak, but now 10 weeks later it increasingly looks more simply like the Hurricanes are just a good hockey team. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a quick tour of some numbers since the rebound started. Road 180 Arguably the single greatest contributor to the turnaround is the team’s ability to turn things around on the road. Heading into January, the Hurricanes struggled to a 6-10-1 road record. Since the start of the new year, the Hurricanes are an astounding 14-3-2 on the road which is even better than the team’s 8-4-0 home record.   El Nino Since the addition of Nino Niederreiter in mid-January just before the streak started, the Hurricanes are 15-5-2 (119-point pace). Niederreiter has 11 goals and 21 points playing on a top line with Sebastian Aho.   “League average goaltending” …and then some Petr Mrazek keeps trending up. His record was a solid 4-2-1 in January, and his play was generally good. But his save percentage in January was .880. That increased to .932 in February and sits at .943 through three starts in March. Not to be outdone, Curtis McElhinney posted only a .879 save percentage in January but followed it up with a scintillating .950 in February. His March numbers are...
Canes quick hitters

Canes quick hitters

The Daily Cup of Joe features a series of quick hitters.   Dodging a bullet Ideally, the way a playoff chase works is that you just win consistently for a couple months, ride up the standings and decrease the amount of stretch day by day. The normal reality is significantly different. There are inevitably ups and downs even for the teams that eventually land on the good side of the cut line. Last week scheduled out to be a tough one for the Canes with three match ups against teams in the upper echelon of the NHL, and the on-ice version lived up to those expectations. The Hurricanes 1-1-1 mark was more treading water than climbing, but I think that is more positive than negative given the competition and the hiccup on Friday.   Wishing ill upon the enemy When I most recently handicapped the competition in the playoff chase, I hoped that the Blue Jackets would hit a rough patch and implode. Somewhat like the Canes, the Blue Jackets hung in by winning the second of two games against the Penguins to get a treading water-ish split. The schedule this week for the Blue Jackets offers another opportunity to fall down. Columbus has a back-to-back against the Islanders and Bruins starting Monday. Then they have a back-to-back against the Hurricanes and Bruins again starting on Friday. If the Hurricanes can do their part in a big four-point game on Friday, could the tough rest of the week sink the Blue Jackets? One can hope.   Watching for walls Suddenly 68 games into the 2018-19 season and with the...