Based on nearly a decade of lack of success in converting a non-playoff season into a playoff season, the process probably seems incredibly hard to many Hurricanes fans right now. But in fact, with the parity in today’s NHL and the randomness with injuries, hot goalies and other things, the odds of converting a playoff miss to a playoff make are not actually that daunting. Right now, 8 of the 14 teams that missed the playoffs for the 2016-17 season are currently slotted to join the playoff fray in April. Similarly, 7 of 14 teams that missed the 2016 playoffs, made them in 2017. The small sample size and non-qualified math says that more than half of the teams that missed the past two playoffs rebounded to make them the following year.
Based on the fact that these rebounds seem so common but also so far out of reach for the Hurricanes, today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a quick comparison to a few of the teams that are rebounding in 2017-18.
To find a team on the rebound, one needs to look no further than Sunday’s opponent. After being in the lottery drawing last summer, the Winnipeg Jets are one of the best rebound stories in the league. In watching the Jets on Sunday, a couple things jump out as key to their success. First and foremost is that a team that has been maligned in net to nearly the same degree as the Hurricanes has suddenly found a solution. Connor Hellebuyck is having a solid 2017-18 season, and it is making all the difference in the world. The other thing that jumps out about the Jets is scoring depth. Winning Patrik Laine who is the closest thing to Alexander Ovechkin since Ovechkin himself in terms of raw goal scoring surely helps, but the Jets boast four players with 20 goals and four more with 10 goals. The team is suddenly deep and talented offensively.
The Hurricanes have improved in terms of forward depth, but watching the Jets make it clear just how much less raw scoring the Hurricanes have in their group. In addition, a goaltending break through like Hellebuyck’s is yet to be realized.
New Jersey Devils
The Hurricanes won on their third try against the New Jersey Devils. Whereas some teams including the Hurricanes were trendy picks to rise up in 2017-18, almost no one expected anything from the Devils. Yet, coming down the final stretch, the Devils are still in a playoff spot. The formula for success always includes multiple ingredients, but two jump out to me when considering the Devils. First is leadership from the very top of the roster. Taylor Hall is having a season that will garner some consideration for the Hart Trophy, and goalie Cory Schneider provides a steady presence and stability behind a young team. Second is a very clear identity. Through about 10 minutes of watching the Devils play, what their game looks like is crystal clear. The Devils play in straight lines that advances the puck forward up the ice even if it means pitching it to the end wall. From there, they forecheck as aggressively as any team in the league quite often getting all three forwards below the face-off circles when trying to take back the puck. There is some risk to this aggressive style, but the Devils seem to recover quickly when the opponent does advance the puck and when they do not, the Devils are in position to quickly convert forecheck turnovers into scoring chances.
By my estimation, the Hurricanes have yet to really develop a consistent identity of what good Canes hockey looks like as the Devils have. They have stretches where they win with scoring outbursts, stretches where they grind out defensive wins and fits and starts defensively, but nothing I would really characterize as an identity. In addition, Cory Schneider fits under the ‘There’s that goaltending thing again’ category.
Two things jump out when I consider the Flyers and their rise from playoff miss to near certain playoff make in 2018. First is the leadership of a high-powered line that seems to put the team on its back. The top players in Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek lead the way. That trio is averaging 70 points each. The second thing that jumps out about the Flyers is their ability to find grooves and win in bunches. The Flyers have two winning streaks of six games and three more winning streaks of four games.
Seemingly unable to take too much of a good thing or maybe too prone to exhale and let up, the Hurricanes have only a single winning streak of four games and another of three games. Other than those two short bursts, the Hurricanes have not won more than two straight through the rest of 67 games of one step forward and then one step back.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree with my key components of success for the three rebound teams highlighted above?
2) When the Hurricanes do rebound and make the playoffs, what do you think will be the top one or two key drivers?
3) Who wants to take a try at one or two of the other eight teams currently slotted to from playoff miss to playoff make this year? (List is Dallas Stars, Las Vegas Knights, Los Angeles Kings, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers)