Through 32 games, the Carolina Hurricanes are one game above .500. As measured by games above .500, that puts the Hurricanes are three points out of a playoff spot right now. That is not out of the picture, but the treading water pace is not on target for a return to the playoffs. Even more significantly, teams who teeter around .500 up to this point tend to go one way or the other as the season progresses and some teams figure it out and others do not. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes have recently been in the group that did not figure it out and ultimately sunk in the middle part of the season.
So recognizing that the Hurricanes will need to find a higher gear to do more than play their way up and out of the best odds in the draft lottery, today’s Daily Cup of Joe identifies potential areas for upside.
A starting point is identifying the team’s strengths and weaknesses. In general, goaltending (of late at least) and the blue line have been strengths. When he went down with an injury, McElhinney was playing incredibly well, and since then, Mrazek has stepped in also performed well. There is upside to be had over the first third of the season simply by dropping the starts related to the last try to Darling, but in general the goaltending is doing its job and not so much an area for improvement. The same is true for the blue line at least on the defensive side. The group has not been perfect, but it has been a strength. The forward play, especially scoring, is the area with the most room for improvement.
So with that introduction, here are the most promising areas I see for upside over the remainder of the 2018-19 season…
1) Second tier scoring from the rookies — Andrei Svechnikov, Lucas Wallmark and Warren Foegele
As noted above, the biggest area for improvement is scoring. Aho’s line should continue to do its thing, but the team desperately needs a second line to step up in the scoring department. Arguably, the players with the most upside from the front part of the 2018-19 are the rookies. That is because these players are just settling into the NHL and learning and therefore have significant room to grow if they can mature quickly. Andrei Svechnikov took a significant step up over the past few games. If that trend continues, he could rise significantly from his 40ish-point pace first third of the season to much more. Warren Foegele FINALLY cracked the sore sheet again on Sunday. His ceiling offensively is not as high as Svechnikov’s, but he can certainly be better than the 25-game goal-less stretch that he just ended. Finally, there is Lucas Wallmark. Wallmark has settled in nicely at the NHL and is already a dependable center. But his 30-point pace even with power play ice time is light even for an average third-liner.
Though it might be unfair to put pressure on the rookies to do more, I actually thing they are the players with the most potential upside scoring-wise.
2) More scoring from the blue line — Dougie Hamilton and Justin Faulk
On paper, the Hurricanes entered the 2018-19 season with the potential for significant scoring from the blue line. Hamilton netted 17 goals during the 2017-18 season but is on pace for only half of that right now. Faulk had only eight goals in 2017-18 but averaged 16 goals per season in the three year prior. If this duo can play at 15-goal pace for the remainder of the season, that would be a huge boost for the offense and relieve some pressure in terms of finding more offense from the forwards.
If Faulk and Hamilton both started finding the net at the same time, it would be a sizable boost to the offense.
3) Help from management — a trade for a scoring forward
Though there is potential upside for the current team, I think the team is light offensively and could benefit from a dose of outside help. With the William Nylander saga over, the latest naming buzzing in the rumor mills is Vladimir Tarasenko. My bias is toward adding more of a playmaking center who can hopefully boost an entire line. That said, the availability of high-end scoring forwards is always minimal, so a team has to take what it can get. Tarasenko is a legitimate first line scorer. Asking price can be an unforeseen obstacle, but the Hurricanes have to at least be in the conversation. In addition, there are many other players who could bring an offensive boost.
Tarasenko depends on asking price which might be too high, but I think we are deep enough into the season to see that the Hurricanes definitely need more offense of some kind.
There are other potential areas for improvement, but I see those as the three most likely to help the Hurricanes find a higher gear and push up above .500.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What other area(s) for upside do you see for the Hurricanes over the remainder of the 2018-19 season?
2) Of my list of three areas for potential upside, which do you see as most promising?