When the Hurricanes surged in the second half of the season and pushed into the 2018-19 NHL Playoffs breaking a decade-long playoff drought, it represented a huge step forward for the team. When the went on to defeat the Washington Capitals in thrilling fashion, that was just icing on the cake. But despite making the Eastern Conference Finals, I do not think that team was more than a longshot to win the Stanley Cup.
The repeat playoff appearance in 2019-20 arguably established the Hurricanes as a team now expected to make the playoffs. Couple that with the team’s young core, and the team clearly had the potential to reach a higher level and join the short list of teams who have better than a ‘made the playoffs dice roll’ chance of hoisting the Cup. But NHL teams regularly push up into the playoffs, seem to be improving and then either plateau or fade.
What does it take for the Hurricanes to take another step up and join the elite teams in the NHL? How long might it take? is that what we are seeing right now?
Over the past couple years, a legitimate top scoring line has been established with Sebastian Aho at center. The team’s blue line has both solid top 4 defensemen and depth and contributes offensively. During the off-season I wrote about the need to have a second scoring line to balance the offense and match up a bit better against deep top-tier teams especially on the road. I also at least considered the possibility of upgrading in net while noting that it was not a necessity.
The 2020-21 season is still very young, but against an undersized sample size the Hurricanes are off to a good start in both regards. Petr Mrazek has been among the best goalies in the entire NHL in his few NHL starts, and the Canes netminding in total ranks among the NHL’s best.
And in terms of building a higher-end second scoring line progress has also been made. As I wrote yesterday, the situation is a little in that second line forwards Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas are both scoring at a high pace, but not so much as a unit yet.
But if Necas and Trocheck keep clicking and the goaltending stays at a high level, are we basically at or near peak Hurricanes already?
Again based on a small sample size, the results look promising. Even minus four regulars, the Hurricanes just completed a three-game sweep of the two teams that played in the Stanley Cup Finals. The first and third games were closely contested, but the middle game was eye-opening. The Hurrianes built an early lead and then completely shut down a good Dallas Stars team that should been pressing the score. The game was nothing close to playing decent and catching a few bounces. The Hurricanes gave up just five shots on goal in the final two periods.
A long NHL season (even if only 56 games) inevitably has peaks and valleys, so it is possible that this is just a random upswing on the longer path. But some of the results have me wondering if maybe what we are seeing right now is the Hurricanes adding a couple elements to an already good team that made consecutive playoff appearances.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Looking into your crystal ball, what do you make of the Hurricanes impressive three-game homestand with three straight wins over good teams? Is largely just the normal ups and downs of an NHL season, or do you think it is something bigger?
2) What do you see as any remaining key elements for the Hurricanes to take one more step up and join the ranks of the elite (top 4-6 teams) in the NHL? …Or are they already there?