It is often said that success in professional sports including the NHL must be earned. No doubt, there is an element of truth to that. But hockey can also be a game where a lucky bounce or two completely swings a game. That can be said for off the ice moves too.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers some lucky bounces that have played a significant part of the Hurricanes in-process rebound that started with the 2018-19 playoff berth and run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The general manager transition
The Hurricanes went through a series of three inflection points with regard to the general manager position. First, Tom Dundon and Ron Francis failed to connect seemingly from the very beginning which ultimately led to Francis’ ouster. Francis deserves credit for laying part of the foundation for success from his work building a deeper prospect pool. But in his time as general manager, he seemed limited to building for the future. With the Hurricanes needing to at some point flip to playing for now, I think there is a case to be made that had Dundon and Francis meshed better the team might not be where it is today.
The second transition occurred when the team searched for a new general manager. What seemed to be a fairly extensive search yielded nothing. Interestingly, Paul Fenton who pretty much sank the Wild could have been a top candidate as could a few others, but instead the team emerged with a general manager by committee approach initially.
Then finally, Don Waddell seemed to rise up from the committee to play a significant role in the team’s success in 2018-19. Had Francis and Dundon meshed, would the team have made enough changes to improve and reach the playoffs? Had the team hired from outside, might it have fell into a disaster like Fenton?
The goalie situation
The Hurricanes entered the 2018-19 season hoping for a rebound from one or both of Scott Darling or Petr Mrazek. Darling was injured at the end of preseason and missed the start of the season, and Mrazek started slowly. But Darling’s injury paved the way for the team to add Curtis McElhinney from the waiver wire. Those with good memories will remember that it was McElhinney not Mrazek who provided some stability in October and November when the team was sputtering and needed to gain its footing. Had Darling been healthy to start the season, the team might have ridden the initial duo to its playoff death before Mrazek found a rhythm at about the midway point of the season.
Alexander Ovechkin’s knockout of Andrei Svechnikov in the playoffs
At the point when Alexander Ovechkin landed a hard punch and knocked Andrei Svechnikov out of the first round playoff series, the Capitals had the series completely in hand. The Hurricanes turnaround and ultimate series win featured numerous components, but I think the fight played a role in the turnaround. Despite winning the fight, I think the drama of it took a toll on Ovechkin. He seemed out of sorts multiple times on the way to a series loss after that fight. And down in the series, I think the Svechnikov injury helped galavanize the group, spike adrenaline and help the team play with angry determination rather than meek self-doubt after falling behind to start the series. Had the Ovechkin/Svechnikov fight not happened, would the Hurricanes still have rebounded to win the series? Maybe, but I lean toward thinking that the Hurricanes needed every bit of determination it could muster to come back and that the fight was part of the needed comeback fuel.
The Sebastian Aho contract
The front-loaded terms of Sebastian Aho’s contract and the huge bonus due for the 2020-21 season even if there is a lockout are not ideal. An eight-year term would have been preferred. And the $8.5 million salary might be a tad high given the five-year term. But because of the offer sheet, Sebastian Aho will be in training camp on day one, will have normal preparation for the start of the season and will be a going concern starting on opening night. Meanwhile, a number of high-end stars who also entered the summer as restricted free agents are still unsigned. It seems increasingly likely that at least a few of these players will have their 2019-20 seasons impacted by contract situations. William Nylander’s struggles after a long contract standoff in 2018-19 demonstrate the potential peril with trying to parachute into the middle of an NHL season without normal preparation. If not for the Canadiens offer sheet, could Aho be one of the hold outs when the puck drops for the 2019-20 regular season? For a team light on pure playmaking ability, could the absence of Aho be enough to submarine the team and the 2019-20 season? Thanks to help from the Canadiens, Canes fans will never know?
What say you Canes fans?
1) To what degree do you see the unplanned events above as being fortuitous bounces in the Hurricanes in-process rebound?
2) What other unplanned, random events do you see as playing a role in the Hurricanes in-process rebound?