With only one game remaining in the 2018-19 season and the draft weekend frenzy quickly approaching, today’s Daily Cup of Joe is part 1 of how ??? for building the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes.
Part 1 considers the 2018-19 season as a starting point.
Massive gains made in transforming the culture and attitude
When Rod Brind’Amour was hired, there were questions about his lack of head coaching experience and his readiness, but arguably the greatest potential upside was the potential for him to transform a culture that had become steeped in losing. Whenever the team pushed up close to the playoffs, it seemed to trigger an immediate bounce back. And they team just seemed to always find new ways to be close but not good enough.
The single biggest gain made during the 2018-19 season was pushing over the hump and into the playoffs such that a young group could learn how it felt, what it took and what was required to achieve that. There are no guarantees going forward, but the young group now knows the commitment level and attitude that it takes to be successful in the NHL.
Driving that change was a change in leadership and personnel. The 2018-19 roster featured a huge overhaul in terms of personnel and maybe most significantly a new captain in Justin Williams. As of right now, Williams is still an unknown for next season, but his stamp has already been placed on the franchise and roster. Combined with the influx of new players, the team really did have a different vibe and attitude last season.
Though I do believe that the intangibles noted above were most significant, proving that this roster and Brind’Amour’s style could win were also significant gains. Proving that it is possible reinforces player buy in and makes it clear that the current processes and roster are capable of a playoff berth if not more.
So put more succinctly, massive ground was covered with the playoff berth and even success in the playoffs.
Realistic assessment without playoff glory recency bias
But surprise surprise, this first installment is not about heaping layer upon layer of praise upon the 2018-19 successes. Rather, the focus of this article is to offer a more balanced and realistic assessment of where this team is entering the off-season.
I think the potential is there to too much rest on the laurels of 2018-19 success.
The 2018-19 team did catch a couple favorable bounces.
Aside from missing Jordan Staal for an extended period of time, which is significant, the team was generally healthy. The team had nine players play all 82 games and another play 81 games. A couple others missed only a handful of games mostly due to being scratched.
After a dicey start and a couple weeks with three goalies on the roster, the goalie situation magically rounded into form and was a consistent strength. The improbable combination of waiver wire claim Curtis McElhinney and prove it contract goalie Petr Mrazek just kept getting better and better as the season wore on. The middle part of the season saw McElhinney provide a calming presence, and the latter part saw Mrazek play lights out down the stretch.
But even with a couple huge positives that have some element of luck involved, the regular season was a mixed bag. The team very nearly played its way out of playoff contention by the midway point before righting the ship. Special teams play was up and down all season. And the team had intermittent fits of scoring struggles.
And when the dust settled on the regular season, the positive was that the team posted a solid 99 points and did push into the playoffs. But the fact that the margin for error was tiny down the stretch and that the ultimate gap was only a handful of points should not be lost.
Netting it out
So though 2018-19 was a positive step forward, I do not see bringing back the same team as a sure thing for a return to the playoffs. I think the deep playoff run makes the gap between the Hurricanes and non-playoff teams seem much larger than the reality of the regular season.
I think this off-season needs to strike a delicate balance between maintaining the chemistry and attitude in the locker room, but at the same time trying to take another step or two to improve.
The burning question is whether it is possible to improve significantly just from young players continuing to grow and also with help from the young guns in Charlotte.
The biggest wild card will again be goaltending. Alex Nedeljkovic looks ready for an NHL audition, but there are no guarantees with a rookie goalie. Between Mrazek and McElhinney, which, if either, will return? Where do we figure the 2018-19 team would have finished with sub-par goaltending?
What say you Canes fans?
1) To what degree do you go with what won in 2018-19 versus trying to make improvements during the off-season?
2) Do you think this team gets better just from knowing what it takes and the young players being another year older?
3) In a couple sentences or short paragraph, how would you assess where this team enters the off-season?