No doubt the Carolina Hurricanes have reached the point where success for a season will be defined by what happens in the post-season, but that is not to say that the regular season should not be appreciated.
At the team level
What the team accomplished in an odd season is rivaled only by the 2005-06 season in the 24 years since the team has been in North Carolina.
The projected point total of 117 is five points better than the 112 points earned during the 2005-06 season.
The division title is the first since the 2005-06 and only the fourth in 24 years since moving to North Carolina. Of the three previous division-winning seasons, two resulted in trips to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The team was incredibly consistent. The 5-0 loss to end the season was really the only lopsided loss of the entire season. The team lost consecutive games in regulation only twice. After losing three straight to Tampa Bay, the Canes rebounded with nine straight wins. The follow up from losing the last two regular season games to Nashville will be written when the playoffs start.
Had you told any Caniac before the season started that the team would have finished up the regular season with a division title and very close to the Presidents’ Trophy, any reasonable fan would have been thrilled.
At a player level
As one would expect with the team reaching great heights, a number of players had tremendous regular seasons.
After a lackluster 2019-20 campaign, Nino Niederreiter wins my vote for most improved. He has been a consistent and productive scoring threat moving throughout the lineup. His 20 goals in 56 games represent a 29-goal pace for a full 82-game season.
Jordan Staal had his best season in a Hurricanes uniform. After a 2019-20 season that maybe hinted he was beginning to decline, he refound a higher gear in 2020-21. He was the team’s best offensive player for an extended stretch when the team was establishing itself as a division leader and his prorated 59-point pace was nearly double his 32-point pace from 2019-20.
Like Staal, Martin Necas also had a stretch when he had a legitimate claim to being the team’s best offensive player. Equally significant was his commitment to using his speed to backcheck and hound the puck in the neutral zone. I recognize that there are issues with plus/minus ratings but within the context of comparing players on the same team, Necas’ team-leading plus 25 was a testament to his commitment to using his speed to defend in transition as a backchecker who regularly skated his way up into plays defensively.
Since he only played two short, disjointed shifts with the team after being acquired last March, I did not consider Vincent Trocheck for the most improved that I awarded to Nino Niederreiter. But he too took a big step up and was the team’s best offensive player through the front part of the season.
Finally, as Tripp Tracy has pointed out on the television broadcast, Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic combined would be a Vezina Trophy candidate. Petr Mrazek managed to start hot twice with long layoffs before each, and Nedeljkovic has been nothing short of spectacular as a rookie.
The detailed list above totals six players taking significant steps up from the 2019-20 season. Add to that proven stars like Sebastian Aho, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Dougie Hamilton who also did as expected, and it is easy to see why the team did so well.
Also significant is the fact that the team is still young with room to improve from within as young players like Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Alex Nedeljkovic and others continue to improve with age.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Recognizing that the most important stuff still lies ahead, how would you rate the Carolina Hurricanes 2020-21 regular season?
2) Which couple players stood out most to you in terms of driving the team’s rise to the top of the standings?
3) Who would you name the regular season most valuable player?