It is no secret that the 2015-16 Carolina Hurricanes lacked scoring punch at the top of their depth chart. The Canes rank 25th in the league in goals scored per game. It is not that the top half of the roster has not contributed to the team’s success relative to the previous season. Jordan Staal has been a 2-way force and has a strong case for team MVP. Jeff Skinner has improved dramatically on the defensive side of the puck and contributed some of his usual bursts of offense on the way to a solid if not spectacular season. And Victor Rask has built upon his strong rookie campaign in 2014-15.
But those top 3 scorers on the Canes amount to only 140 scoring points – Jeff Skinner = 49; Victor Rask = 46 and Jordan Staal = 45. That total ranks above the top 3 scorers for only the Toronto Maple Leafs. The only other team in the 140s with a chance to make the playoffs is Detroit. The other inhabitants of the 140-150-point tier are draft lotter entries Buffalo, Columbus and Arizona.
By comparison, the offensive juggernauts in the Western Conference like Chicago, Dallas and San Jose are in the 200-220-point range for their top 3 players. Even the more modest middling teams that are headed to the playoffs tend to fall in a 160-180-point range. That is a huge deficit to make up scoring-wise from the middle to bottom of a roster that should be counted on for less scoring.
My optimistic hope is that a 2-pronged approach improves this situation for next season:
1) Ron Francis’ work: I am on record as saying that this is a summer when Ron Francis needs to go for it a bit in terms of building out a deeper and better set of forwards. It is good to leave a spot or 2 that could (does not have to but COULD) be won by rookies, but I also think Francis needs to add top 9-capable scorers that at least have the potential to leapfrog 1-2 of the players in the top 3 right now.
2) The blue line creates a higher tide for all: Especially in March, we have seen the young blue line to start to not just play defense but generate more offense with the puck on their sticks. I think the perfect storm occurs as the blue line starts to mature and lifts the offense across the board such that 45 points becomes 53, 25 becomes 30+, etc. This will modestly improve the top totals but also provide more depth help underneath it.
Having scoring depth is important in today’s NHL, but there still is no substitute for having a couple players who can lead the way on a nightly basis. As he puts it all together, does Jeff Skinner have a higher gear that puts him back in the 60-70-point range? Can GM Ron Francis deploy some of the money that comes off contract this summer to add a 60-point player or even better yet 2? Of the emerging young players, is it possible that someone like Lindholm, Rask or Di Giuseppe is ready to burst out to a much higher level?