First, let me be clear that I am not predicting another Stanley Cup Championship for the Carolina Hurricanes.
But second, let me also be clear that the Hurricanes playoff runs that came out of nowhere in 2002, 2006 and to some degree 2009 prove that anything really is possible.
That said, I do think there are a number of very interesting parallels between the two teams.
1) Low preseason expectations from the experts
Coming off of a lockout in 2004-05, the Hurricanes were unanimously picked to finish in the bottom five or six teams in the league and only occasionally picked to finish four or five spots higher but still out of the playoff mix. Though expectations might be a tiny bit higher for the 2018-19 team, the prognosticators nearly unanimously have the Hurricanes landing well below the playoff cut line for the 2018-19 season.
2) A team with significant personnel changeover
One of the things that made a surprise possible in 2005-06 was the fact that the roster was significantly different from the previous season and therefore difficult to project. If my math is right, the 2005-06 team had ten newcomers on the opening day roster. Trying to predict how well a team will do when half of it is new is difficult. Fast forward to the 2018-19 season and the Carolina Hurricanes have six newcomers but also four rookies who have played only a handful of NHL games and are more or less newcomers.
3) An aggressive, attacking style of play
The trademark of the 2005-06 Hurricanes team was its attacking style. Coming out of the lockout, the NHL made a concerted effort to crack down on hooking, holding and other obstruction. The result was a much more wide open game that benefited the offenses. Be it luck or planning, the Hurricanes were built perfectly for this change. They had added skilled skating forwards in Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen and Chad LaRose to go with a core roster that had some speed. The result was a Hurricanes team that was difficult to handle because of their skating. Fast forward to the 2018-19 season, and similar is true. The injection of youth into the lineup leaves the current roster light on experience but extremely heavy on young legs and speed.
4) Deemphasis on goaltending
With the 2005-06 season being Cam Ward’s rookie season, an incorrect assumption is that the Hurricanes relied on strong goaltending that season. While that might have been true of Cam Ward’s magical run in the playoffs, the exact opposite was actually true during the regular. Peter Laviolette’s style of play was an ears pinned back attacking brand of hockey. His team was more than happy to trade scoring chances and had enough offensive fire power that it could rise about whatever level of goaltending the team received on any given night. Martin Gerber who was the better of the two goalies during the regular season posted a very modest .906 Save Percentage and 2.79 Goals Against Average. Alleged rookie phenom Cam Ward landed at an .882 Save Percentage and massive 3.68 Goals Against Average. Yet, the two goalies combined for a 52-22-8 record. The reason is because goaltending was completely deemphasized. The team rarely won because it leaned heavily on the goalie. Rather, the fire wagon style of hockey yielded enough scoring on good nights, that goalie play faded into the background.
I actually think if it works, this could be Rod Brind’Amour’s single greatest fit of brilliance that might look to be common sense in retrospect. Entering the season with Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek as goalies, the position does not stack up, at least on paper, to be a strength. So why take a position of potential weakness and try to win games by leaning on it? Instead, Brind’Amour’s aggressive style that regular sees three forwards forechecking deep in the offensive zone, aims to create a frenetic and chaotic affair where four, five or six goals are possible and the margin for error for the goalie is higher.
5) Significant emphasis on attitude over system and match ups
Whenever asked about the opponent, Peter Laviolette usually bristled with answers to the effect of focusing on what was inside his locker room and what he put on the ice. That attitude of ‘we are just better than you’ was incredibly powerful. Once the team believed it could just go outplay the opponent and had a little bit of success doing so, the attitude quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fast forward to the 2018-19 season, and Rod Brind’Amour’s message in this regard could not be more Laviolette. When asked about match ups or playing against the opponent, Brind’Amour reads straight from the book of Laviolette in quickly shifting the focus internally. Nothing could be more Laviolette than Brind’Amour’s focus on what is inside his room, not what is outside of it.
6) Concerted effort to build team unity
A hallmark of Peter Laviolette’s success is his ability to bring a group close together and get everyone rowing in the same direction. Laviolette was big on preseason team building and also creating a family type atmosphere around the team. Brind’Amour is again borrowing from this page with a number of initiatives aimed at pulling the team closer together.
As noted in my disclaimer at the beginning, there are no guarantees for success based on a decent start through five games. But many of the things that transcend personnel, systems and all of the tactical stuff looks very similar to the 2005-06 season. Here is hoping that it yields the same magic come next spring and summer.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you think of this list of parallels between the 2018-19 team and the 2005-06 teams?
2) Does anyone see anything else that is common between the current season and the magical 2005-06 season?
3) What do you see as the most significant differences?