Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe kicked off what will be a meandering series entitled, “Building the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes.” That first article considered the 2018-19 season as a starting point.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe continues on a similar path and considers the risks for downside that could see the team go from playoff darling to back on the outside looking in.
The Hurricanes entered the 2018-19 season with two sizable question marks in goal. The starting tandem included reclamation project Scott Darling and other goalie looking for a rebound in Petr Mrazek. In a bizarre twist of fate, the Hurricanes caught arguably their biggest break of the season when Scott Darling was injured late in training camp, and the team was forced to reach to the waiver wire for veteran Curtis McElhinney. At the time, Mrazek was off to a slow start. McElhinney stepped in and provided a calming and stabilizing presence when the team was teetering on the brink of early playoff elimination. That foundation charted a course upward that saw the Hurricanes receive above average goaltending for the first time in years. When a team is successful, there are always multiple contributing factors, but I think that strong goaltending was near the top of the list for the 2018-19 season. With Darling likely set to be bought out, and Mrazek and McElhinney scheduled to become free agents, the Hurricanes do not actually have a goalie under contract right now. Alex Nedeljkovic who is a restricted free agent will certainly be in the picture, but the team has decisions to make past that. If goaltending were to swing from being a positive to being a negative, that could result in a significant swing in terms of points in the standings.
Off-season watch: Just like last summer, the Hurricanes will need to decide on two goalies. The situation is somewhat similar to last summer, and the stakes are just as high.
Health, especially with scorers
As noted in yesterday’s article, the Hurricanes were on the right side of the injury line for the 2018-19 season. The team did have to overcome Jordan Staal’s injury in the middle of the season, and Micheal Ferland was held back by a recurring injury in the second half of the season, but in total the Hurricanes were a healthy group with nine players playing all 82 games and another player logging 81 games. If the team does not add scoring help, I think it could be especially vulnerable to losing one of the few offensive catalysts like Sebastian Aho or Teuvo Teravainen.
Off-season watch: Adding a player or two would offer more depth if the team encounters more injuries.
The offense in total
One huge positive from the 2018-19 season and also the playoffs was the team’s ability to generate offense from its forecheck. That success of Brind’Amour’s system gave the team the ability to generate offense 18 players deep that was not dependent on raw playmaking. The result when working was balanced scoring that reached across the lineup. That system-driven offense is a huge positive but it is not a 100 percent substitute for sheer playmaking and finishing ability. The Hurricanes surged late in the season to finish a respectable 16th in goal scoring, but the team did face intermittent scoring issues especially early in the season. The system-generated offense is a double-edged sword. No doubt the effect on depth scoring can be positive, but being light on pure playmakers and finishers makes it harder sometimes to get the couple big plays needed to swing a game. Also with only one true scoring line, an injury to Sebastian Aho could be catastrophic offensively. The team does have two potentially positive wild cards in this regard. First, there is significant room for improvement for the power play which would provide another source of scoring. In addition, the Hurricanes have players at the AHL level who could boost scoring if able to win an NHL spot and settle in.
Off-season watch: In an ideal world, I think the Hurricanes could use one more player capable of being a catalyst not just a complement on a first or second scoring line. Past Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin who will cost a king’s ransom in free agency. In terms of next level options, there really are not a ton of options via free agency, so if this is an off-season priority, a trade might be required.
Expecting rather than earning success
At the very center of the Hurricanes 2018-19 season was a team that to a man worked incredibly hard. That every player, every game, every shift work ethic is critical. If the Hurricanes get cocky based on 2018-19 and just expect to make the playoffs, the team will almost certainly find itself on the wrong side of the ledger in too many games. The experience of Rod Brind’Amour and hopefully a returning Justin Williams will need to provide leadership in this regard.
Off-season watch: Training camp should offer an early view into whether the Hurricanes are able to quickly re-find the top gear that propelled them to success in the second half of the 2018-19 season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these risks for the 2019-20 season concern you most?
2) What, if anything, would you do to address any of these risks during the off-season?
3) Do you see any other risks that could be pitfalls in 2019-20?