Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 20, the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been analytics darlings on paper the past few seasons and the trendy pick among sports bettors to make a big jump and get into the playoffs, yet the franchise has not been able to translate positive numbers into on-ice success. The Canes missed the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, the longest current drought in the NHL, despite bringing in key pieces last summer like goaltender Scott Darling, defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and experienced playoff veteran Justin Williams. Darling, especially, was supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle to finally get Carolina over the hump but had a miserable year.
Off the ice, the franchise was buried in distraction with a long-rumored sale finally announced in December with the NHL’s final approval announced in March. Longtime owner Peter Karmanos sold off a 61 percent majority stake to billionaire Tom Dundon, who will have up to three years to buy the remaining 39 percent. The Dallas-based businessman is most known for his part ownership in the popular Top Golf and is a huge sports nut. Dundon is a night-and-day contrast from Karmanos but one similarity they share is the desire to keep the team in Raleigh. As such, the sale included a standard clause which states Dundon cannot apply to relocate the franchise for the next seven years.
A fan of the team itself, Dundon was not happy with the in-arena fan experience and vowed for sweeping changes at PNC Arena. Dundon is also expected to bring looser purse strings and provide the front office with the financial resources to build a contender, something the second lowest payroll in the league has not had the luxury of in recent years.
Record: 36-35-11 (83 points), 6th in Metropolitan Division, 21st Overall
Playoffs: Missed by 14 points
On the ice, the team struggled in the same areas as previous years. Depth down the middle was a glaring weakness with steady performers but no true offensive star capable of tilting the ice. The offense fired the fifth most shots on goal in the league but were the fourth worst in overall shooting percentage, lacking the type of players who consistently drive the net and can finish.
The defense was stout allowing the lowest number of shots per game in the league at 28.9 but the goaltending was atrocious allowing 3.09 goals per game. Darling was brought in to replace veteran Cam Ward as the regular starter but struggled so much, Ward ended up still starting more games, 42 to Darling’s 40. The duo combined for a .888 save percentage and Carolina ended the season with the league’s worst team save percentage.
Head coach Bill Peters resigned after the season, finishing with a record of 137-138-53 and failing to make the playoffs in all four of his seasons. In May, former Hurricanes player Rod Brind’Amour was named as his replacement after spending the previous seven years as an assistant coach with Carolina.
On the same day, Don Waddell was named General Manager, replacing Ron Francis, the popular former Hurricanes player and Hall of Fame member who had been given a cold shove out the door two months prior. Waddell has been the team’s president of business operations for the past four seasons and will continue with that role in addition to taking over a GM role which will not be the conventional norm as with other organizations.
Dundon plans on being a hands-on owner and although he has given Brind’Amour a say in all personnel choices, all decisions made by Waddell and everyone else on the staff will need to go through Dundon before final approval. It is a unique approach which has not been seen from an owner since the 2006 Islanders and for good reason. The Canes hope their situation does not end in similar disaster.
With the new ownership and front office in place, the Canes began reshaping the roster. They got off to a great start in June’s Entry Draft as Carolina was penciled into the 11 slot but with a little luck shot all the way up to the No.2 overall pick and selected elite winger Andrei Svechnikov.
Two days later, Dundon and Waddell pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames, sending forward Elias Lindholm and defenseman Noah Hanifin to Calgary in exchange for top pair defenseman Dougie Hamilton and physical forward Micheal Ferland.
Once the July 1 free agent window opened, the Canes signed goaltender Petr Mrazek to replace veteran Cam Ward who signed a deal with Chicago after serving 13 seasons in Carolina. Mrazek’s deal is just one year and he will look to push Darling for playing time.
On July 3, one of the best defensive units in the league became even better when the underrated Calvin de Haan signed a 4-year, $18.2 million contract. He will step in and replace Hanifin on the second pair.
In the latest big move, veteran sniper Jeff Skinner was traded on Aug.2 to the Buffalo Sabres for center prospect Cliff Pu, a 2019 second-round draft pick and 2020 third-round and sixth-round picks. It is tough to see a 30-goal scorer go for such little return, but it was a move the front office felt necessary to continue with the culture change in the locker room and it showed they are serious about holding players accountable.
One of the biggest under the radar losses for Carolina this summer might be third line center Derek Ryan who signed as a free agent with Calgary. He received a substantial raise, but the Canes probably should have made a bigger effort to re-sign him.
Joakim Nordstrom, Lee Stempniak and Josh Jooris also became unrestricted free agents and will not be back. All three are easily replaceable.
Counting the rookie additions, up to ten fresh faces could be in the opening night lineup in October. It was a busy summer in Raleigh but only time will tell if it was a productive one.
Stanley Cup: +11852 (Bookmaker)
Eastern Conference: +6257 (Bookmaker)
Metropolitan Division: +3707 (Bookmaker)
Regular Season Points: 86.5 (-115) (Bovada), 86 (-115, -105) (Bookmaker), 85.5 (-115, -105) (BetOnline)
Make Playoffs: YES +225, NO -285 (BetOnline, Bovada)
Current odds as of September 20, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Individual Player Ratings represent how many points in the standings each player is directly responsible for over the course of the full season and is called Point Shares. It involves the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I further use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here. The average value for a forward is 3.5 and a defenseman is 4.4 Point Shares
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: 14
The Hurricanes depth chart is arguably the most confusing of any team right now so take what you see above with a grain of salt as it is unlikely to shape out exactly this way before opening night. With a new head coach and several rookies expected to make the roster, any number of combinations are possible and the lineups through their first two preseason games have done little to sort things out. Complicating matters more so is Victor Rask, the original projected fourth line center who sliced his hand so bad in a kitchen accident he severed tendons and is bandaged from his hand to his forearm. The only timeline for Rask as of now is “months”.
Sitting atop the depth chart will be Sebastian Aho who the Canes moved from wing to center late last season. Brind’Amour will continue that experiment to begin this year and “see how it works”, noting they can always move him back to the wing if it does not work out. Aho built off a successful 49-point rookie season with 65 points last year while also improving his shot differentials. He has become a premier first line player at just 20-years old. After moving to center on March 18, Aho continued to produce with nine points over the final 11 games, an almost identical point per game pace as the rest of his season.
After the season, Aho went on to play center for Finland at the World Championships in May where he absolutely lit up the tournament. Aho was selected the top forward for the tournament after finishing first in goals with nine and second in points with 18, in just eight games. He is a bit undersized for a true centerman but so far has shown he can handle the role.
The second line spot belongs to rookie Martin Necas who the Canes are expecting to be a major contributor in their top-six. Necas is an outstanding skater with speed and puck handling abilities. His hockey IQ and creativity are exceptional, and he is responsible defensively. He can simply do it all. Necas had an incredible year being a key player for the Czech Republic at the World Juniors where he put up 11 points in seven games and then had a solid World Championships in May with five points in seven games. He still needs to fill out his frame a bit but Necas should eventually be the Canes No.1 center which should have fans excited.
Last year’s top line center Jordan Staal is expected to drop down to the third spot and shift to more of a shutdown role which is more his calling card. One of the biggest issues for Carolina last season was not having a top center scoring threat and while Staal is an excellent two-way center, he should be better suited in this new role.
The fourth line is up in the air with the loss of Rask and Brind’Amour has a few options who could start here. Jordan Martinook has played center and is the lone veteran player who could slide over but likely starts on the wing. That leaves Lucas Wallmark with the inside edge who could finally get a regular chance to contribute. He played eight games with Carolina in 2016-17 and 11 last year but struggles with his skating at times which has held him back. Wallmark has been a strong contributor with Charlotte in the AHL though and is a great playmaker with offensive skill who put up 55 points in 45 games last year and has 101 points over 112 games the past two seasons there.
NHL RANK: 22
Teuvo Teravainen had a breakout season on the top line with Aho and is expected to start there again. Brind’Amour said the duo likely will not see much preseason action together because he is already aware of their chemistry. Teravainen has increased his goal and point totals in each of his first three full seasons, finishing with 23 and 64 last year and should continue to improve beside Aho.
That is about it when it comes to locked positions on the depth chart, with the remaining three spots on the left and all four slots on the right wing up for debate. Newly acquired Micheal Ferland should get a top-six spot and can play either side but makes the most sense right here. Brind’Amour has said he is unlikely to pair two rookies together on a line and would rather give them veteran support to help ease them into the league. That starts with providing Necas a physical winger like Ferland. Like Teravainen, Ferland has increased his goal and point totals in each of his first three full seasons, including a breakout 21 goals and 41 points last year mostly on Calgary’s top line. He struggled a bit when away from Gaudreau and Monahan so there is some question to how effective he can be but the Canes will ask him to fill a similar role here as a physical player who drives the net hard which is exactly the type of player Carolina has needed.
Brock McGinn would be the next closest player to being locked in as he is expected to line up next to Staal and form the shutdown third line. McGinn did a solid job on his own last year but when paired alongside Staal, the duo was outstanding with controlling possession at over 56% for 272 minutes together. McGinn also chipped in 16 goals and 30 points, so this line will be a dangerous two-way threat.
The fourth spot could belong to Jordan Martinook if he does not line up under center. Martinook was acquired early in the summer in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for Marcus Kruger. He should help improve a penalty killing unit which finished in the bottom third of the league.
The Canes have a couple of prospects also vying for time in 22-year old Warren Foegele and 20-year old Janne Kuokkanen. Foegele is a natural goal-scoring left wing but has struggled to make a positive impact early in training camp. A strong camp likely would have earned him a role but as of now it looks like he could be heading back to Charlotte. Kuokkanen is a natural center but Brind’Amour has been trying him on the wing in the preseason. He had a solid rookie season in the AHL and has impressed in camp thus far with his playmaking skills. Kuokkanen is sound in his defensive game and while he is still young, could steal a job. As the roster sits right now, another prospect is going to have to make the team to fill out 23 players. Foegele and Kuokkanen seem most likely to earn that final spot.
NHL RANK: 28
Power and speed, the No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov has come as advertised in the preseason, displaying the offensive skills he showed in the OHL last year and on the International stage with Russia at the World Juniors and World Championship. Svechnikov would have been an unquestioned No.1 overall pick most years if not for a generational talent like Rasmus Dahlen ahead of him. He is the top prospect in the organization and will not turn 19 until next March.
Svechnikov’s offensive game is already at an elite level and he can beat goaltenders with both a lightning quick wrist shot or a powerful one-timer. If it sounds like I am a bit enamored with him, well yeah, how can you not be? He is this year’s Brock Boeser for me except even better and might be my front-runner for rookie of the year. I actually double-checked (then triple-checked) the math on him as his projection of just 3.5 Point Shares seems well too low, but it checked out and in hindsight I can understand why. His age is the main factor playing against him at just 18 as few teenagers are going to jump right into the league and be an All-Star. The other main contributing hold back is his defense which still needs a ton of work, especially in terms of covering his man away from the puck. He is a bit of a home run hitter in that regard, always looking for the breakaway pass, and that is not going to sit well with NHL coaches. Svechnikov might be one of the most exciting players to watch on offense this year but in the Point Shares projection model, defense counts for just as much and is why he might not project as high as someone like Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson.
Svechnikov has top line talent and has a good chance of opening alongside Aho and Teravainen to begin the season. He and Necas tore up the Canes Prospects Development Camp in June on a line together. Despite showing incredible chemistry, Brind’Amour said he is leaning against playing them together, again stating how he wants to pair his rookies with veterans but at some point, these two should be part of a dynamic top line for Carolina.
Justin Williams is the other veteran who could be paired with Necas if Brind’Amour holds true to his plan, but Williams would also fit well on the third line with Staal and McGinn on the shutdown line. Williams continues to chug along offensively even at 36-years of age, registering his seventh consecutive season with at least 40 points (excluding the lockout shortened 2012-13 season where he still had a 56-point pace). He has also held up remarkably well having missed just three games over the past five years. At some point Williams has to slow down which is where a third line role might suit him better but until then, the Canes should continue to utilize his output in a top-six spot.
Another rookie looking to make his mark this season is Valentin Zykov who is a right-handed shot but has played mostly left wing in his career. He could slot in on either side and later in the season I could see him in a top-six spot on the second line with Ferland switching to the right side and Williams dropping to the third line (and it is possible that might even happen right away depending on how camp plays out). Zykov is another player the Canes are going to love for his strength and ability to crash the net. He plays like a prototypical power forward and has a strong two-way game. Zykov led the AHL with 33 goals last year and was a force on the powerplay where he had a league-leading 17 goals.
Saku Maenalanen is an interesting player who has the size to fit in on the bottom-six. He has a bit of deceptive offensive skill and should be a good fit for a fourth line guy. Maenalanen has struggled with the transition to North America, specifically the English language, but the former Nashville Predators fifth-round pick should make the roster if he can get a handle on the communication skills.
NHL RANK: 8
Jaccob Slavin is no longer a secret around the league as one of the premier shutdown defenders and while his overall numbers may not look as impressive as the previous season, his shot suppression totals were actually very similar. The downfall was with the on-ice save percentage (where all the Canes suffered) which was due to the leaky goaltending. His usual partner was Brett Pesce and together they have formed one of the best shutdown pairs in the league over the past 2+ seasons. Some might be concerned about breaking them up this year, but it was Slavin who performed better away from Pesce than vice versa. That is the complete opposite of what occurred the year before when Pesce was the better among the two when they were split, but either way you look at it, both are high-end defensemen.
The newest addition to the blueline, Calvin de Haan, comes over from the Islanders and is a big addition to an already stacked group. He was limited to just 33 games last season after a dislocated shoulder required season-ending surgery in January but is fully healed now. He has always posted respectable shot differentials on a poor Islanders team so should see a spike on this blueline.
The third spot is the only somewhat battle in camp right now as Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury should split time, with van Riemsdyk seeing the larger usage of the two. Van Riemsdyk had a fine first season in Carolina after coming over from the Chicago Blackhawks and although his offensive numbers declined (mostly due to a lesser role), his possession numbers jumped. Fleury really struggled all around last year in his rookie season but looked better after returning to Charlotte for eight games in the AHL playoffs. The 22-year old still has a ton of upside as a defensive defenseman and will continue learning under a stellar group ahead of him.
The biggest name on the blueline from the prospects group is 20-year old Jake Bean, the 13th overall pick from the 2016 draft. He will gain some experience from being part of training camp but is expected to make the jump to Charlotte for his first pro year.
NHL RANK: 7
The Canes defense becomes even scarier with the summer acquisition of Dougie Hamilton. Still just entering his prime at 24-years old, Hamilton has posted elite shot differentials in all but one of his six pro seasons while putting up over 40 points on the offensive end in four consecutive seasons. Some might be concerned his numbers were propped up by being paired with elite partner Mark Giordano and while Hamilton’s possession numbers certainly did suffer away, Giordano’s numbers also took a heavy hit away from Hamilton. Together, they were a force. Fortunately, Hamilton is coming to a team with another high-end top pair partner in Slavin, so he should be just fine.
The addition of Hamilton meant Justin Faulk, the former top pair player, became expendable and was rumored throughout the summer as being available but Waddell and Dundon seem content for now to enter the season with a stacked right side. Faulk is still their top threat on the powerplay which is something Hamilton took a backseat with in Calgary but having another weapon should help for a unit who ranked in the bottom third of the league. Faulk is expected to line up next to de Haan but could slide down to the third pair.
With the addition of Hamilton, Brett Pesce takes the biggest hit on the depth chart and slides down to potentially the third spot. Pesce had an issue during the summer with a respiratory thing, experiencing tightness in his chest which forced him to change some of his conditioning. He said it is getting better now but they are taking things slow before the season starts. He should be ready to go for the opener but if not, look for van Riemsdyk to slide over to this side with Fleury on the left.
NHL RANK: 30
(Starter – 30, Backup – T-43)
Carolina fans have suffered for years behind a declining Cam Ward so when the opportunity came up to secure a proven backup ready for a full-time role, the Canes jumped on Scott Darling last Spring and hoped he was the answer to the problems in net. Darling made a combined $1.745 million in three years with Chicago and received a fat raise to $4.15 million per year for four years.
Darling’s paycheck was not the only thing which saw an increase in girth though as the career backup must have thought he was on easy street and showed up to training camp overweight and out of shape. His numbers on the ice also ballooned and after three excellent seasons in Chicago with a .923 overall save percentage, Darling struggled to the tune of a .888 save percentage and 13-21-7 record. “Struggled” might be a kind word and does not really sell the point of how truly awful Darling’s performance really was. In terms of advanced numbers, Darling posted a GSAA* of -28.22, the worst mark out of 69 qualified goaltenders in the league last season. How terrible is that number? Only one goaltender over the past six years has posted a worse GSAA (Ben Scrivens in 2014-15 with the Edmonton Oilers posted a stunning GSAA of -38.39).
His Point Shares projection of just 7.3 breaks down to be the lowest per game rate of any starter in the league this season and is the major reason for why Carolina does not project as a playoff team. Darling’s numbers were so poor last year his Point Shares value for the season was just 3.5 overall, a major drag which factors into the majority of this year’s projection. His value over his two previous seasons in Chicago (if pro-rated to an average 60 game season for a starter) would have translated to a 10.8 value, top-15 in the league.
Entering this season, Darling put in a much better summer working with the team strength coach and reportedly lost 25 pounds and is in a better mental frame of mind. If Darling’s main issue last year was indeed the fact he was so out of shape, then a healthier and more focused version this year could mean a huge bounce back is in store. We know Darling used to be a very good goaltender and even though he may have been a product of an incredible team in Chicago, the Hurricanes arguably have as good (if not better) defense than the Hawks played in front of him. If Darling can get back to being near an 11 value, that three-and-a-half-point increase would bring Carolina up to a 95-point team and in the thick of the wild card race.
If Darling continues to struggle into this year, the Canes are banking on another declining option in Petr Mrazek who signed a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. Coming off his worst statistical season in 2016-17, Mrazek was not completely terrible with Detroit last year, posting a .910 save percentage and 8-7-3 record. However, once he was traded to Philadelphia before the trade deadline, Mrazek posted career-low numbers with a .891 save percentage over 17 games. Both goaltenders have a lot to prove entering this season and the Canes hope the competition helps fuel each other. If not, Carolina has no shot at reaching the playoffs.
*GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) – An advanced stat metric created at hockey-reference.com. Like any advanced stat, GSAA has its flaws, but does an excellent job of equalizing goaltender performance across the league and, in my opinion, aligns much better with actual on-ice performance and results than the GSAA found at Corsica.hockey. Of the past 17 Vezina winners dating back to the 2000-01 season, 12 winners have been the leader in hockey-reference GSAA at the end of the regular season and finished second in three other years.
Per the hockey-reference definition, GSAA is “the goals this goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. Min. 4 shots faced per team game needed to qualify.”
New owner Tom Dundon has come in and stripped things down and brought a new way of thinking. He knew Rod Brind’Amour was the man he wanted as his coach all along and together they are carrying out a culture change centered around accountability, perseverance and dedication.
Along with changes at the top, the Canes on the ice are also changing with key rookies like Svechnikov, Necas and Zykov ready to make an impact this season but will they be enough to end the Canes playoff drought? If anyone remembers my season preview from last year, you will recall I was not on board with Carolina being a playoff team as I felt they still lacked depth down the middle with not enough players overall who could finish around the net. That depth is beginning to look better this season with the shift of Aho to the middle and the addition of Necas, along with Staal dropping to the third line which should increase his efficiency. As for finishing around the net, Svechnikov is a pure sniper while Ferland and Zykov will drive the net with size. The Canes offense is suddenly beginning to catch up to its defense. And that defense is still without a doubt the strength of the team with five above average defenders along with a sixth in van Riemsdyk who is well above average for a third pair player.
Carolina’s season is simply going to boil down to the goaltending. They have a defense which led the league in shot suppression so if Scott Darling can bounce back to even average numbers, then the Canes will be right there on the playoff bubble and if Darling gets all the way back to his Chicago form (he is still just 29 years old) then the Canes (dare I say it…) could challenge for a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division.
In saying all that, counting on two teenagers to be major components of your offense is asking a lot and if the goaltending does not work out for whatever reason, then Carolina is going to extend that playoff drought to a tenth season. It is an exciting season for Canes fans though and it appears the franchise is finally ready to take that leap and get over the hump, if not this year then surely next.
My point projection of 91.6 points is significantly higher than the current market offshore, sitting between 85.5 and 86.5 at various sportsbooks. Everyone feels Carolina will be better than last season’s 83 points but still not good enough to be a playoff team. Personally, I think there is a better chance of the Hurricanes exceeding projections than falling short, which tells you I am a Darling bounce back believer. The over 85.5 points at BetOnline would have to be a recommendation at this current time. The “To Make Playoffs” prop offered at BetOnline and now Bovada (opened yesterday) at “YES” +225 also carries a bit of value. I do not like it as much as the Regular Season Point Total, but it seems worth a smaller wager.
Current Stanley Cup Futures list Carolina on average from 24th to 26th overall which is below my 20th place projection. Make sure you shop around when looking at big Futures like this as several sportsbooks have Carolina in the +6600 range, but you can grab +10000 at BetOnline or a tantalizing +11852 over at Bookmaker. The line at Bookmaker is worth a small play and one I would make for about a quarter of a unit.
Under the Awards category for prop bets, I still have yet to see any odds for trophies like the Calder and Norris, but I will be keenly interested in odds for the Calder for both Svechnikov and Necas who are both projected to see big minutes in the top-six. Be sure to keep an eye out for when those pop up.
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com