Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes
87 points in 2016-17 left the Carolina Hurricanes eight points out of the playoffs, and last year the team faltered, even more, accumulating 83 points finishing 14 points out of the playoffs. With a record of 36-35-11, the Hurricanes finished 10th in the East and 6th in the Metropolitan Division. Before the 2017-18 season, the Hurricanes added Scott Darling, hoping his small sample size in Chicago would carry over to the starter roll in Carolina, and that just wasn’t the case. Darling struggled with a 0.888 save percentage and 3.18 goals-against average. The Canes finished tied for seventh last in the NHL in goals against with 256 and their offence couldn’t pick up the slack scoring just 218 goals for.
Coaching and Management
Head coach Bill Peters resigned, leaving the organization to take over the coaching reigns in Calgary. Meanwhile, team legend and general manager Ron Francis was shuffled to the sidelines. Taking over in the general manager’s chair is Don Waddell. The team also hired another team legend as their new head coach. Stanley Cup winner Rod Brind’Amour gets his first opportunity behind an NHL bench.
The Hurricanes were the focus of the off-season’s two biggest trades. On June 23rd, at the draft, the Carolina Hurricanes traded Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to the Calgary Flames for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox. Hamilton is an upgrade over Hanifin, and it’s not even close, but Ferland doesn’t replace Lindholm. The hope for the Hurricanes is that Victor Rask will have a bounce-back season with the extra minutes he’ll see. He posted just 31 points last season compared to 48 and 45 the previous two seasons. Adam Fox is heading back to Harvard for his third season after scoring 28 points last year as a sophomore, and 40 points in his rookie season.
And then on August 2nd, Carolina sent former Calder winner Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres for Cliff Pu, a 2019 second round pick, a 2020 third rounder and a 2020 sixth rounder. Moving Skinner was about the cap and his contract situation, with the 26-year-old heading into the final year of his deal and up for a big pay raise. Per Last Word on Hockey’s Ben Kerr, Pu is an excellent skater but needs to develop his all-around game. Expect to see the former London Knight in the AHL next season.
Carolina hasn’t thrown in the towel on the Scott Darling experiment, instead, they added Petr Mrazek on a one-year contract ($1.5 million) in hopes that the two goalies can create a nice 1-2 tandem and carry the Hurricanes to new levels this season.
Even with a young, mobile d-core, the Hurricanes added two other blueliners in free agency. Calvin de Haan signed a four-year deal with an AAV $4.550 million a year. Daniel Renouf left the Detroit Red Wings organization in hopes that he can crack the Hurricanes, but it doesn’t seem likely that the 24-year-old will start the year in the NHL.
The first line has last season’s sophomore standout, Sebastian Aho (65 points last season) in between rookie Valentin Zykov (54 points in 63 AHL games last season, seven points in 10 NHL games) and veteran Justin Williams (51 points last season). Having a skilled rookie like Zykov will only help propel Aho’s point totals, and Williams will be a nice veteran fit on the top line.
The second line has experience, skill, and dependability. Staal and Teravainen both have Stanley Cup rings, and Ferland is known as a solid two-way player. They should add something significant in both zones this season.
The third line has some question marks. Brock McGinn had his best season to date last year, scoring 30 points. The former second-round pick could take a big jump next season playing with Rask and 2018 second overall pick Svechnikov. Rask is looking to bounce back a little this season, and Svechnikov is looking to prove he’s ready for the NHL. If he succeeds early in the season, he could quickly find himself even higher in the lineup.
The fourth line could be in flux. Necas had 17 points playing with men last season in the Czech league and is coming over hoping to avoid the AHL. He is another player who can advance up the lineup rapidly if he plays well early on. Martinook and Di Giuseppe are both depth players, and it’s really anyone’s guess if they’ll stick for all 82 games on the 4th line.
Regarded as one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL, Carolina’s top six is solid. It starts with Slavin and Faulk up top. The two defensemen combined for 61 points and a -25 rating (Faulk -26, Slavin +1). That rating isn’t a fair representation of their performance, as they never had solid goaltending behind them and played top minutes against the NHL’s best. With a fresh season ahead, and hopefully better play in the blue paint, expect Carolina’s top pair to take a big step forward this season.
Adding Calvin de Haan and Dougie Hamilton, and reworking 32% of your blueline, was a big step for Carolina. Both defensemen are solid and dependable and should help improve Carolina’s standing from a year ago.
Fleury and Pesce are likely the best third pair in the NHL. On most other teams this would be considered a second pairing. Fleury is heading into his second season, still looking for his first goal (67 games last season, 0 goals). This will be Pesce’s fourth season. The Tarrytown, New York native took a step back last season but is still a solid player.
Carolina’s 1-2 punch is a story of opposites in a way. Darling came out of nowhere to backstop Chicago when they were without Corey Crawford and then used that solid play to earn a trade and big contract with the Canes. But his first season as a starter wasn’t very good and the 29-year-old is looking to bounce back this season.
Petr Mrazek, on the other hand, was one of the most highly touted goaltenders when he was drafted, but has never lived up to the hype. After falling out of favour in Detroit, leading to a deadline trade to Philadelphia, Mrazek signed a one-year deal in Carolina to backup Darling and maybe challenge him for the starting job.
Players to Watch
Zykov is going to be one of several rookies that Carolina is going to depend on this season. Zykov scored seven points in a 10 game late-season call-up last season. The former second-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings has the immense offensive skill and a knack for putting the puck in the net.
Another rookie that the Hurricanes are going to depend on is second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov. Svechnikov scored 72 points in 44 games for the Barrie Colts last season, and although its possible he returns to Barrie next season I’d be surprised if the skilled forward didn’t find a way onto Carolina’s opening night roster.
Scott Darling/Petr Mrazek
Carolina’s season is going to live and die with the play of their goalies. Mrazek had a .902 save percentage and 3.03 goals against average last season between Philadelphia and Detroit. Darling had a .888 save percentage and a 3.18 goals-against average. Those numbers aren’t good enough, and both goalies need to make big leaps forward if Carolina is going to improve from last season.
There are five teams in the Metro division that are probably better than Carolina. Pittsburgh, Washington, Columbus, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. The Hurricanes moves this offseason, although they should help and were very bold, aren’t enough to make them better than those five teams. New owner Thomas Dundon wants the playoffs, but he shouldn’t count on it. Somewhere between 9th and 11th seems like a good prediction for the ‘Canes.
Main Photo: NEW YORK, NY – November 16: Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes (r) celebrates his goal at 19:08 of the second period against the New York Islanders and is joined by Teuvo Teravainen #86 of the Carolina Hurricanes at the Barclays Center on November 16, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)