The 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes took the hard road to the playoffs mounting their usual first half deficit and then requiring a run of three months straight of close to flawless hockey with no room for even a single extended lull. One would hope that the 2018-19 success would be a stepping stone to another level for the Hurricanes such that each successive year becomes easier at least in terms of climbing into the playoffs. But inevitably the long 82-game season has a way of making a playoff berth a struggle at times for all but a few teams.
With the aim of charting a course to return to the playoffs in 2020 without the need for massive second half heroics and a nail-biter into the last week of the season, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a few situations that have the potential to tilt the dial significantly toward easier or harder.
If Petr Mrazek can pick up where he left off down the stretch in the regular season of the 2018-19 season, the Hurricanes will have a bona fide #1 goalie which make it much easier to win or at least steal points on lesser nights. That was a key component of the second half surge and would definitely help chart an easier course. If instead, Mrazek starts a bit slow like he did in 2018-19 or exhibits some of the inconsistency that plagued him in the past few seasons prior to joining the Hurricanes, the path becomes much harder and uncertain. Can James Reimer rebound and boost the team? Is Alex Nedeljkovic ready for the NHL? The answers to the these questions have the potential to have the Canes fishing for goaltending which makes for a much harder path to the playoffs.
The emergence of a third line that can score
Though not able to add a high-end playmaker to drive a second scoring line on par with Aho’s line, the Hurricanes did become deeper at forward with the addition of Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel to go with the potential that Martin Necas is ready to contribute at the NHL level. If some combination of the newcomers, maybe Martin Necas and a couple younger players with upside can find chemistry and become a second scoring line behind Aho’s, the offense would be more balanced and capable of scoring more. Climbing a few notches on offense would certainly appear in the win column and chart a faster path to the NHL. If instead nothing really clicks with building another scoring line, the team will again be heavy on depth scoring light on the top-end scoring that drives offenses. Trying to get by with enough depth could come up short and makes an injury to Aho difficult to overcome.
In the same vein of trying to find more goal scoring, Andrei Svechnikov has the potential for significant upside from the 20 goals that he scoring in 2018-19. If he makes step-wise progress from his 20 goals and 37 points in 2018-19, that would be a positive, but the real upside is if can use his rookie season as springboard to become the elite goal scorer that he was projected to be before he was drafted. Add a 35ish goal scorer to the Hurricanes depth, and the team becomes one with enough fire power to sometimes outrun their mistakes. If instead Svechnikov puts up similar totals to 2018-19 in developing gradually, the team will need to look elsewhere to boost scoring.
The top four on the blue line
Calvin de Haan’s role in stabilizing the team’s blue line early in the season is underrated by many. He meshed instantly with Justin Faulk and helped that pairing be a competent top 4 pairing when the team desperately needed that stability. Justin Faulk deserves credit for boosting his level of play, but I also think that de Haan deserves credit for being the steady and sound across from Faulk that helped boost Faulk’s game. De Haan is gone now, so the team really only has four top four defenseman. That is enough obviously, but only if all four are healthy and playing well. If Faulk regresses, the team is short. If Hamilton starts slow again, the team is short. If anyone gets injured, the team is short. If the top four on the blue line can play well out of the gate, stay healthy and be strength, the team has a foundation that gives the goalie a chance and also makes it possible to grind out points in low-scoring games. If instead, the blue line takes a step back either because of de Haan’s departure or injuries, the Hurricanes could suddenly be a team without a true strength which is a precarious position from which to push for the playoffs.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of the either/or’s that I detailed above do you think will be most critical to charting a slightly easier path to the playoffs?
2) Which one is most likely to turn out favorable? Which one represents the greatest risk to downside in 2019-20?
3) Who has additional either/or scenarios that could decide whether the path to the playoffs is easy or hard?