The 2014-15 Carolina Hurricanes will never be mistaken for the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s when it comes to offense from their forwards. This season, they’re hoping to receive big contributions from the blue line.
The Hurricanes were 27th in the league last season with 188 goals, finishing higher than only the New Jersey Devils (181), Arizona Coyotes (170) and Buffalo Sabres (161). Captain Eric Staal was the only member of the team to eclipse the 20-goal mark, netting 23 in 77 games.
Staal was the only Carolina forward to record more points (54) than defenseman Justin Faulk, who set career highs with 15 goals, 34 assists and 49 points. For his efforts, the 23-year-old earned a trip to the first of what could be many All-Star Games.
No other member of the Hurricanes managed to hit the 40-point plateau. Elias Lindholm came the closest, as the 20-year-old Swedish center recorded a career-best 39 in his second season in the NHL.
Victor Rask had a nice rookie campaign, notching 33 points in 80 games, but former Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner scored only 18 goals after netting 33 in 2013-14 and finished with the lowest point total in a full season (31) of his career. If Carolina hopes to end its six-season playoff drought and make just its second postseason appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, it’s going to have to find offense somewhere.
A repeat performance from Faulk would be a wonderful start. The native of Minnesota, who was selected in the second round of the 2010 draft, tied Staal for the team lead with seven power-play goals last season and shared the top spot in game-winners with both the captain and Lindholm.
The Hurricanes also would like to see a pair of veteran defensemen revert to their former ways and flood the scoresheets.
John-Michael Liles was a goal-scoring machine at the beginning of his career, reaching double digits in four of his first five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. The Indiana native netted 14 tallies in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, with half of those 28 goals coming on the power play.
The 34-year-old has been a shell of his former self of late, however, scoring only two goals in each of the last three seasons – the first of which he spent with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Liles has been even less effective on the power play, producing just one man-advantage goal in that span.
After failing to catch on with the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted him 13th overall in 2000, Ron Hainsey evolved into an offensive defenseman for a while. The Connecticut native eclipsed the 30-point mark for three straight seasons from 2006-09, beginning the run with the Columbus Blue Jackets and ending it with the Atlanta Thrashers.
Hainsey also was lethal on the power play during that stretch, scoring 19 of his 23 goals with the man advantage. In fact, all eight of his tallies in 2007-08 came with the Blue Jackets up a skater.
Also 34, Hainsey hasn’t scored a power-play goal since 2008-09 and has netted just 13 tallies in the last six seasons. In that span, he spent two campaigns with the Winnipeg Jets and failed to score a single goal in 103 games.
The Hurricanes have high hopes for Ryan Murphy, who was taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft. The 22-year-old has yet to play a full season with the big club but could become a mainstay soon after registering four goals – three on the power play – and 13 points in only 37 games in 2014-15.
Carolina has a few other young defensemen on the horizon, including Haydn Fleury, who was drafted seventh overall in 2014 and has a chance to stick with the club this season. This past June, the Hurricanes used the fifth overall pick to select Noah Hanifin, who was regarded as the best blue-liner in the draft.
If things break right, the Hurricanes should get sufficient production from their defensemen. But they’ll need better efforts from their forwards if they hope to make any noise in the Eastern Conference.