Carolina's new look special teams

WASHINGTON - APRIL 15: I wonder if this was shorthanded? (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

There are a lot of things to be excited about in Raleigh with the Hurricanes making a few significant signings and trades this off-season. They made only a few major moves but the ones they made are likely going to have a major impact on the team and change the dynamics of the forward corps. However, the areas that could see the most change for the Hurricanes this season are on special teams and when you look at the performance of the team’s powerplay and penalty kill last season, you can tell that a change was needed.

Both of Carolina’s special teams units ranked in the bottom-ten of the league last season and their penalty kill was among the worst in the NHL. The Hurricanes were always able to draw a lot of penalties but lost a good handful of games where they failed to take advantage of powerplay opportunities. On the other end, the Canes also lost plenty of games because they constantly got themselves into penalty trouble and couldn’t rebound. Jim Rutherford obviously saw these as major issues and has made the moves to help correct them.

We all know that Rutherford’s main goal this summer was to acquire more top-six talent but he also kept an eye on which players would help out on special teams because that was also a big need for the Canes. This is evident when you look at most of the players he acquired over the last few months (Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Joe Corvo, Marc-Andre Gragnani). The question is how much are these new faces going to help the Hurricanes and which special teams unit will see the most improvement?

We will explore this after the jump.

Before we talk about the new additions to the roster, let’s take a closer look at both special teams units for the Hurricanes last season. Despite the poor success rate, the Canes powerplay actually was not that terrible last season. If you look at how many shots they were producing per 60 minutes while playing 5-on-4 , they were actually the 10th best team in the NHL. They also scored about six goals per 60 minutes with the man advantage, which is about average. The reason why their success rate was so low was because the team drew a lot of penalties, so the Canes powerplay wasn’t awful last season but it definitely could have been a lot better.

The penalty kill, on the other hand, was not very good and there’s no other way to put it. They were in the bottom-half of the league in shots allowed, gave up a lot of goals and were brought down even more by a weak 4v5 save percentage. The one saving grace was that they scored 12 shorthanded goals, a number that could go up next season when you factor in the additions of Staal and Semin. That is just one of the things to be excited about when you look at the team’s new potential powerplay and penalty kill units.

On the powerplay, the only main contributor the team lost was Jaroslav Spacek, but they gained four potential powerplay producers in Staal, Semin, Gragnani and Corvo. Here’s what they bring to the table.

Forwards

Player 5v4 TOI/G PP SF/60
Jokinen 2:34 51.5
Bowman 0:53 45.6
Skinner 3:07 45.2
E. Staal 3:21 43.9
Ruutu 2:21 43.2
Semin 2:25 43
LaRose 1:53 40.7
Brent 1:31 39.5
Tlusty 0:50 39.5
J. Staal 1:58 38

So from the looks of things, the Hurricanes didn’t add anyone who could greatly increase the amount of shots they take on the powerplay next season but that isn’t too big of a deal because this wasn’t a huge area of need for the Canes. Like I mentioned earlier, Carolina was the 10th best team in the league at producing shots on goal with the man advantage last season, the problem was that they didn’t have many who could score and finish off plays. This is where the new acquisitions should help.

Adding Alexander Semin gives them another player who they can use on the wing and take advantage of the opportunities that he will get with Eric Staal. Semin had only two powerplay goals last season but it was a down year for him all around and when you look at his shooting percentage, you have to think that he will rebound. He had six PPGs the year before and eight in each of the two years before that. If the Hurricanes get anywhere from 6-10 PPGs from Semin next year then their powerplay should be a lot better.

Jordan Staal had five powerplay goals last year, but the chances of him repeating that seems unlikely at the moment. You can see that the Pens powerplay wasn’t producing a lot of shots when he was on the ice and he had a very high five-on-four shooting percentage, as well. This doesn’t bode well for him being a big producer on the Hurricanes powerplay next season but the team may not be banking on him to be one. With Semin, Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen the Canes have plenty of forwards who they can rely on to produce with the man advantage so it isn’t a big deal if Jordan Staal doesn’t put up a lot of points.

Defense

Player 5v4 TOI/G PP SF/60
Pitkanen 3:30 53.8
Harrison 1:20 51.4
Gragnani 2:18 49
McBain 2:24 47.9
Corvo 2:23 42.5
Faulk 2:34 38.4

So from the looks of things, the Hurricanes didn’t add anyone who could greatly increase the amount of shots they take on the powerplay next season but that isn’t too big of a deal because this wasn’t a huge area of need for the Canes. Like I mentioned earlier, Carolina was the 10th best team in the league at producing shots on goal with the man advantage last season, the problem was that they didn’t have many who could score and finish off plays. This is where the new acquisitions should help.

Adding Alexander Semin gives them another player who they can use on the wing and take advantage of the opportunities that he will get with Eric Staal. Semin had only two powerplay goals last season but it was a down year for him all around and when you look at his shooting percentage, you have to think that he will rebound. He had six PPGs the year before and eight in each of the two years before that. If the Hurricanes get anywhere from 6-10 PPGs from Semin next year then their powerplay should be a lot better.

Jordan Staal had five powerplay goals last year, but the chances of him repeating that seems unlikely at the moment. You can see that the Pens powerplay wasn’t producing a lot of shots when he was on the ice and he had a very high five-on-four shooting percentage, as well. This doesn’t bode well for him being a big producer on the Hurricanes powerplay next season but the team may not be banking on him to be one. With Semin, Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen the Canes have plenty of forwards who they can rely on to produce with the man advantage so it isn’t a big deal if Jordan Staal doesn’t put up a lot of points.

The Canes also have a lot of defensemen who are capable of running a powerplay, so they will have plenty of options there as well and it all starts with Joni Pitkanen. He is one of the better powerplay quarterbacks in the league when it comes to setting up plays and creating offense, so if he can stay healthy, Carolina’s powerplay should be in good hands. The addition of Corvo and Gragnani (if he makes the team) will also help the powerplay since those two have a lot of experience and moderate success there. Harrison and McBain also give the Hurricanes a lot of options for point men on the powerplay so they won’t have to resort to using Tim Brent there on a regular basis like last season.

The penalty kill will also have a different look next season since the Canes lost two key cogs there in Brandon Sutter and Bryan Allen. Losing Sutter isn’t that big of a deal because they replaced him with Jordan Staal but replacing Allen is going to be a little more difficult because they didn’t bring anyone else in. Here’s how the team’s potential PKers look for next year.

Forwards

Player

4v5 TOI/G

PK SA/60

Jokinen

1:16

34

Semin 10-11

0:59

35.3

J. Staal

2:37

35.8

Dwyer

1:59

42

Nodl

0:30

42.4

LaRose

0:42

48.5

E. Staal

1:23

50.3

Tlusty

0:59

59.9

Brent

0:32

61.9

Like on the powerplay, the Hurricanes have a few new forwards who they can use to kill penalties, Jordan Staal being the obvious one. Staal will definitely give the penalty kill a huge boost, but the most interesting option here is probably Alexander Semin. He has a reputation of being a one-dimensional but he has a history of being a successful penalty killer during his time in Washington. He wasn’t trusted with PK duties last year but you can see in the chart above that he was very good in a PK role during the 2010-11 season with the Caps.

If Semin is able to kill penalties effectively, the Hurricanes should be able to form two solid PK forward units between him, Jokinen, the Staals and Patrick Dwyer, with Jokinen and Dwyer being very successful on the PK. Andreas Nodl could also pitch in since he is a fine defensive player at even strength and didn’t do much penalty killing with the Hurricanes last season. There isn’t too much to be concerned about with the forwards, but what about the defensemen?

Defense

Player 4v5 TOI/G PK SA/60
Gleason 2:26 55.3
McBain 0:40 50.6
Pitkanen 1:36 37.4
Harrison 1:36 35.9
Corvo 0:19 32.6
Faulk 1:44 32.5

The biggest challenge for the penalty kill is finding a replacement for Bryan Allen. He played regularly on the first unit with Tim Gleason and was one of the team’s strongest players at preventing shots against. The prime candidates to step into his role appear to be Pitkanen, Faulk and Harrison. Faulk was a very underrated penalty killer last season and certainly looks good enough to play on the first unit judging from the data here. Playing top PK minutes seems like a tough task for Faulk, who will be 20 when the season starts, but his defensive game is already miles ahead of where many thought it would be, so this could be the next step for him. We will have to see how he performs when he starts playing more PK minutes, though. You can see that it had a big effect on Tim Gleason.

Pitkanen and Harrison could also play on the top PK unit given how well they played last season. Pitkanen has done it before and is used to carrying a big workload and Harrison plays a very sound defensive game that could make him a decent replacement for Allen. If not, those two would be very solid on the second unit at the very least. Joe Corvo might be another possibility since he killed penalties when he was previously with the Hurricanes but you can see here that the Bruins didn’t trust him with those minutes. The Hurricanes might feel the same way.

Carolina’s special teams are going to undergo some changes next season as Kirk Muller, Dave Lewis, John Maclean and the rest of the coaching staff have a lot of new options that they can use next season, but will they be improved? If everything goes correctly, then yes but GMs always have to plan for the worst when building a team and while the powerplay appears to be in good shape, the PK could run into some problems if an injury or two occurs.

All stats courtesy of Behind The Net

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