After a summer to rest and recuperate, Cory Fogg makes his triumphant return and Canes and Coffee 3027-18 season debut. It is still preseason, so go easy on him in the comments. 🙂
A few days ago, in Matt’s ‘5 Things I Really Like Right Now’ article, there was a statement on the message board that really struck home with me as an excited Hurricanes fan. Our dependable message board sage (and seemingly ridiculous early riser) ctcaniac aptly differentiated the rampant optimism about the Hurricanes, from that of years past.
“In years past, the optimism seemed to be the ‘if the stars align’ type’. Now the optimism seems justified because, if only two of five/six things go better than expected, then the year will be a success.” – ctcaniac
Ctcaniac is absolutely spot on and went on to list several of these possibilities that Hurricanes fans are banking on to bring us back to the playoffs. From the continued progression of our young guns, to the potential of significant goaltending improvement, this article will explore several of these scenarios (and others), evaluate their probability*, and discuss their importance in driving Carolina back to the happy world of sustained springtime hockey.
*Probabilities are based on writer’s gut opinions with sporadic statistical support
1. If any of Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask, or Teuvo Teravainen find a new level offensively…
As all avid Canes fans know from years past, we have two sources of consistent offense (Jeff Skinner and Sebastian Aho) and a whole bunch of intermittent ones. The signing of Justin Williams as a consistent 20 goal scorer helps, but he’s not the long-term answer. The three aforementioned forwards have all proven that they can be offensively competent to some extent, but given that we did not acquire a top-line offensive producer, a playoff run would likely require one or more of Rask (24 years old), Teravainen (23) or Lindholm (22) to take the step into the 50-point scoring range. Is it plausible for one or all to do this? Absolutely. Is it probable? The jury is out. Lindholm would seem to be the most likely candidate, especially if he plays on a line with Staal and Aho. While many question whether Rask has reached his offensive ceiling, both he and Teravainen are far ahead of their prime and it’s not unreasonable for either to find another level.
Probability: Lindholm – 50%, Teravainen – 40%, Rask, 25%
2. If Darling can replicate his numbers from last year over 55 games…
If Hurricanes fans have agreed on one unassailable truth this past season, it’s that as much as Canes Nation loves Cam Ward, our faces will have a permanent handprint if the man is forced to start more than 30 games this year. Enter Scott Darling, a 6’6” behemoth of a man, with an epic ginger beard, and less than a season’s worth of NHL game experience.
The demons that Darling has overcome to gain his opportunity in Raleigh is reason alone to root for the guy, but the fact is, if he turns into the second coming of Eddie Lack, the collective state of Canes Nation’s cardiac health will not be good. The plus is that Darling oozes goalie talent. He has had that elite talent ever since I first saw him play at the University of Maine 10 years ago, and that was during the beginning of his dark time. If Darling has truly overcome his mental demons, then every hockey-related obstacle or outside pressure, save injury, should pale in comparison. Those demons are no joke and the fact that Darling has gotten this far is nothing short of incredible. He is one of the easiest Hurricanes to root for this year, and this writer thinks that Darling will come in and play phenomenally. The guy simply deserves it.
3. If Sebastian Aho avoids the sophomore slump…
While the rest of the NHL may be slow to catch up, it did not take Canes Nation very long to put Sebastian Aho and his 48 career points up on a near-elite pedestal. I’m not blaming anyone, I have him on that pedestal too. The fact of the matter is, however, that the ‘sophomore slump’ is a cliché for a reason. When opponents have more tape on a player, and more knowledge of how they play, it’s easier to gameplan against them.
All that said, Aho’s #1 strength is his ability to think the game at such a high level. His hockey sense is off the charts and you can’t gameplan against that. If he maintains his confidence in year two, it’s not hard to see him scoring in the 60-70 point range at all. Of course, he definitely wouldn’t be the first to stagnate or even regress slightly. And then we can’t even mention the dreaded ‘I’ word. But seeing as he’s in camp bigger and stronger, and given his super hockey brain, I expect young Aho to keep trending significantly upward.
4. If Justin Williams’ addition brings calming leadership, boosts chemistry, and enhances the power play…
I don’t know why I’m even putting this on here. A week into camp and it’s already clear that J. Willie seems to be having exactly the impact we were hoping for. From immediately jumping prominently back into the local community, to both his and current linemate Teuvo Teravainen’s preseason performances. This is as close to a sure thing as the Hurricanes have this year. A fantastic signing on Ron Francis part.
Side note: Has anyone else noticed Williams and Skinner have been attached at the hip so far this preseason? Or that Skinner was front and center at the Canes ‘Readvolution’ announcement? One cannot know how things are going internally, but might these be the first signs of a Captain Skinner leading the charge this year?
5. If the Marcus Kruger addition will enable Jordan Staal to be more productive offensively…
I scoff right with the rest of you when discussing Jordan Staal’s offense. For all his elite defensive play (and it is ELITE) I’ve always considered him rather clumsy with the puck. He has never once scored 50 points in a season, and who in their right mind would think a 29-year old veteran going into his twelfth year is going to have a breakout season?
Well don’t question your sanity, because it’s very plausible. If he does end up playing on a line with Aho and Lindholm, it will represent two of the best linemates Jordan Staal has ever had. While prepping to write this, I went back to look at some of Jordan Staal’s linemates over the years. In 2013-14 he put up 40 points on the second line, with the likes of Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Dwyer as his linemates. In 2015-16 (his best offensive year with Carolina) he skated his best with Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil. Not since his Pittsburgh days has Staal had linemates this good. Will it translate to the score sheet? It could happen
6. If the Carolina Hurricanes stay healthy…
‘Hey, writer dude, I thought you weren’t going to talk about the dreaded ‘I’ word?’ Look, however we feel about our superstitions, it is highly likely that whatever is discussed here will not control how hard Zdeno Chara runs through a player who happens to be in his way. Plus this is the single, biggest ‘if’ that can make or break our season.
All of that being said, while any affliction would suck, we have a bunch of young guns waiting for their shot. Moreso than any other year, almost everyone on our roster is somewhat replaceable within the system. In fact, only two Hurricane maladies could be considered catastrophic for our playoff plans. Obviously, we should all pray for Scott Darling’s good health, as we’ve already discussed the potential ramifications of long-term exposure to Cam Ward starts. But going a Darling down pales in comparison to the damage that would occur should Jeff Skinner get knocked off the ice.
As vital as Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho, Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Elias Lindholm, etc. etc. are to our success this season, they can all be marginally replaced by prospects with similar skillsets. But the Hurricanes don’t have anyone that can score 37 goals outside of #53. Aho had a great year, and still finished with 14 fewer goals. Rask and Staal were tied for third in goals with 16.
We can make the playoffs with that kind of scoring, but The 2016-17 Carolina Hurricanes are not going to be a heavily scoring team. They just aren’t. Skinner’s role as primary scorer is absolutely vital to this team, and no addition, not via trade, nor via prospect promotion is going to replace that production. Skinner has to stay healthy for the Canes to make the playoffs. Period.
Probability: Yeah, I’m only willing to go so far in tempting the hockey superstition overlords.
Other ‘Ifs’ that could impact our chances in 2016-17
If any of the prospects live up to NHL potential sooner, rather than later…
If Haydn Fleury can have a Pesce/Slavin level rookie impact…
If Derek Ryan continues to be possessed by the ghost of Gordie Howe…
What other ‘Ifs’ will play a huge factor in the Carolina Hurricanes season?
How many of these scenarios have to come true for the Hurricanes to make the playoffs in 2016-17?
How would you describe the awesomeness that was Haydn Fleury beating the daylights out of Anthony Cirelli during Wednesday night’s game?
Thanks again to ctcaniac for this awesome article inspiration!