Over the span of six weeks, we’ll be taking a quick look at each of the 30 NHL clubs — examining their major storylines, pivotal players and the most important questions they need to answer heading into the 2016-17 season.
By the time we’ve hit every team, it will be mid-September. And that, of course, means it will be time for training camps to open. Perfect timing, really.
Today, we begin week five with the Carolina Hurricanes…
It wasn’t that long ago that the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. Ok, maybe it’s been 11 years but, in the grand scheme of things, they’ve still won it a lot more recently than the majority of NHL clubs. Just ask fans in Toronto if they’d take a title every decade.
Since that win, however, Carolina has failed to qualify for the playoffs every season except one. That could change this year though, as the ‘Canes are right near the top of many experts’ lists of trendy picks to break into the postseason. Fans in Raleigh have legitimate reasons for optimism, starting with one of the more compelling young blue lines in hockey. But there are considerable questions that need to be answered as well.
What kind of questions? Well, for one, Carolina doesn’t have a captain anymore, now that longtime leader Eric Staal is suiting up for the Wild. And the Hurricanes posted the second-worst save percentage in the league last season — which isn’t exactly a recipe for sustained success.
Who scores the goals?
This might actually be the biggest question of all right now. With Bill Peters behind the bench, Carolina was getting a decent amount of opportunities to put the puck in the net. But the ‘Canes still finished 27th overall, with an average of just 2.39 goals per game.
Any conversation about this young group closing that 10-point gap between themselves and a playoff spot has to account for the fact that they play in the Metro. And that’s a division that not only features the defending champs, but a ton of offense as well.
Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Evgeni Malkin — just to name a few — are all elite scorers who can take over a game on any given night. You’re not finishing high in the standings here if you can’t score.
Jeff Skinner enjoyed a nice resurgence by lighting the lamp 28 times in 2016-17, and his 51 points led the entire team. That’s not a bad number, but it can’t be the high mark in the lineup unless five or six other guys are right around 50 points as well. And that wasn’t the case.
NOTABLE SUMMER ACQUISITION
Teuvo Teravainen (from CHI)
Carolina saw an opportunity with the Chicago Blackhawks once again fighting off cap issues and looking to unload Bryan Bickell’s bothersome contract. So GM Ron Francis swooped in to take on that contract, while getting Teravainen in the deal as well.
The young Finn has long been considered one of the better prospects in Chicago’s system, and he just tallied 13 goals in his first full NHL season. At 21 years of age, he should still be able to evolve his game considerably. And that could give the ‘Canes the sort of scorer they’ve been looking for.
Sebastian Aho (drafted: No. 35 overall in 2015)
There’s considerable talk that Aho will step into a top-six role as soon as this year, and it’s not hard to see why. He plays a 200-foot game and is versatile enough to line up at center or on the wing. He also played a key role on that top line alongside Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine that led Finland to gold at the 2016 World Juniors.
Again, this is a lineup that needs more production up front. And the 19-year-old Aho is clearly someone to watch as they continue to infuse more young talent into the mix.
BIGGEST CAP HIT
Jordan Staal ($6 million)
Remember when Jordan Staal wanted to leave Pittsburgh and go to Carolina so he could be reunited with his brother Eric? It wasn’t supposed to work out like this. The ‘Canes haven’t made the playoffs since, and now Eric is in Minnesota anyway.
Staal finished second on Carolina with 48 points last season, so it’s not like he’s just fading away or anything. But that’s not a point total that you necessarily want to pay out $6 million per year for either. Granted, Staal contributes in other areas as well — particularly in the faceoff circle — but the situation around him has changed to the point where they might need even a little more from him for the price.
2017 FREE AGENT TO KEEP AN EYE ON
It’s not like the Hurricanes are going to lose Teravainen next summer or anything — after all, they just brought him in and he’ll only be an RFA at that point. But they essentially get one season to fully assess where he fits in to their long term plans. The next 82 games will go a long way towards determining how much he gets paid and what they need to put around him.
When you’re looking at x-factors for a team like Carolina, you’re looking for someone who’s capable of contributing more offense than he just provided. And Lindholm fits that description pretty well. He tallied 17 goals two seasons ago, but dipped to just 11 in 2015-16.
Thing is, he’s still only 21 years old. And he was drafted to be a big piece of this teams’ future. If Lindholm can deliver on that potential now, it would go a long way towards pushing the ‘Canes up the Eastern Conference standings.