For a few years, Canes fans have talked about how the team was young and still building. That assessment is accurate, and it is fair to say that will continue. But at the same time, I think people underestimate the Hurricanes ability to win the Stanley Cup as soon as 2021-22. I say this not because the Hurricanes are a favorite or necessarily among the handful of best teams in the NHL. I say this because I think the team has reached the stage where it is good enough to have a chance, and once that level is reached anything is possible.
I wrote about this in a bit more detail earlier this week when I said:
I think some people underestimate how close the Hurricanes are to being in Stanley Cup contention and at the same time overestimate how much closer the team can get by improving and making upgrades. While there are certainly teams that have a significantly higher chance of hoisting the Cup than others, much of winning it is just catching lightning in a bottle, finding and riding a hot goalie at the right time of year or just even playing good not great hockey and catching some well-timed breaks.
2019 Stanley Cup winner St. Louis came from as far back as the Hurricanes just to improbably make the playoffs in 2019 and then rode goalie Jordan Binnington who was not anywhere near the top of the depth chart when the season started to a Cup victory.
The Dallas Stars who are the current favorite to emerge in 2020 have ridden a sudden and mostly inexplainable surge in scoring and a backup goalie to within three wins of shiny silver goodness.
And these past couple years are not anomalies.
I think the most common recipe for winning the Stanley Cup is three basic ingredients.
(1) Be good enough to make the playoffs even if the regular season does not go perfectly.
(2) Have enough high-end talent and balance to be able to compete with good teams for most of a seven-game series without needing minor miracles to win individual games.
(3) Get hot.
Noticeably missing from my list is a requirement to be an elite team, a top 4 team or anything roughly in that category.
In that sense, I think the Hurricanes are in range of being able to win a Stanley Cup right now.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe builds on this positive team and offer ten positives for the Hurricanes over the long haul.
1) The age of the core
If I had to identify a core of the roster, it would be Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce on the blue line (with Dougie Hamilton as an addition if re-signed) and Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov at forward. Those five players make up the top 25 percent of the roster that most determines success or failure for a team. That group of five players averages exactly 24 years old. If the group can continue to make even gradual improvement and stay healthy, the run of time with these players in or near their prime is significant.
2) Favorable contracts
Over the past couple years, the Hurricanes have for the first time in team history joined the ranks of the teams that need to worry about salary cap. When that happens, the challenge becomes making improvements with no budget to do so and also the need to sometimes let good players go to make the math work. The Blackhawks are probably the best example of a great team that was pulled down by the challenges of a salary cap world. The Hurricanes do have a couple net negative contracts near-term if players like Nino Niederreiter and Jake Gardiner cannot play their way back up the depth chart, but longer-term the Hurricanes have some favorable deals on core players. The combination of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Teuvo Teravainen make a total of $14.8 million with Slavin signed for five years and Pesce and Teravainen each for four years. With Aho committed for four years and Svechnikov only a restricted free agent next summer, the team has at least four years with this core and mostly favorable contracts.
3) Knowing what it takes
Many good teams take multiple tries to learn what it takes in the playoffs. The Penguins took a few tries before breaking through and winning a Stanley Cup. The Capitals took most of a decade. And most recently the Lightning have overcome a major bump in the road being swept in the first round of the 2019 playoffs before pushing into the finals this season. Despite only two playoff appearances for this group, it has obtained significant experience with three series wins (counting 2020 qualification round) and five series and 23 games total. Only the future knows for sure, but I feel like this team will not fall short in the playoffs because of inexperience or being in over their heads.
4) Rod Brind’Amour
When Brind’Amour was named the head coach, I immediately penned an article entitled, “In Rod we trust.” The theme was not so much a bet that he was a sure thing as an inexperienced coach but rather that he was one of us to the core and worth giving a chance and supporting wholeheartedly. Two years later the decision to put Brind’Amour that role which was far, far from a no-brainer at the time now looks to make perfect sense. Brind’Amour’s leadership and the example he sets are at core of the team and how it plays, and I think his experience as a player will continue to be valuable helping young players develop and making the ‘work’ environment one that requires all in commitment but not in a way that makes it miserable. I also think his greatest contribution could be yet to come helping the team and leadership navigate the ups and downs of the last couple rounds of the playoffs on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.
Despite having graduated a good number of young players to the NHL, the Hurricanes are still ranked favorably by experts in terms of its prospect pool. I actually think there is a bit of a gap right now with most of the NHL-ready (or at least deserving a chance) players already at the NHL and the next wave mostly two to four years out. My hope ist timing is right to have a couple more players ready to step into the lineup right when the salary cap pressures necessitate finding depth and improvement from within in the form of rising young players on entry-level contracts.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you buy my assertion that the Hurricanes Stanley Cup window is officially open even if they are maybe not (yet) one of top couple teams who would be considered a favorite?
2) Which of the five positives for the long haul is most significant for chasing the Stanley Cup?
3) What other positives would you add for the long haul?