Well, this was a whole lot of fun.
With Ottawa’s win last night, the Carolina Hurricanes have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
So, let’s talk about how we should all be upset and get down in the dumps.
Ha! Just kidding!
Over the past week, the Hurricanes saw their franchise record 13-game point streak come to an end, but it was a treat to watch.
We saw the youngest team in the NHL put on a truly magical showing and they somehow threw themselves back into legitimate playoff discussions on the backs of players that they need to be true difference makers going forward - Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, and Sebastian Aho, among many others.
At that point in the season, the playoffs were still an incredible long shot, but the fact that they played the way they did and indescribably kept themselves in it was something that should make everyone very excited and optimistic going forward.
So, as the old saying goes, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because you taught a man to fish”, or something.
Here are my weekly thoughts.
- I can’t, in good conscience, start this week's weekly thoughts on something other than the play of Jeff Skinner. He reached the 35-goal mark in Minnesota last night in a two-goal outing that featured him setting a new career-high in single-season goal scoring. He has been the difference as of late and we are seeing him turn into a truly elite hockey player. He’s producing and he’s doing it when the team needs it. He has been among Carolina’s hardest working players and he has been the biggest game changer on this team. Past that, he has consistently been a stand-up guy in the locker room with media and he isn’t afraid to face questions and take blame for his team’s struggles throughout the season. I think I represent a large portion of the fanbase when I say that he should be the captain when October rolls around.
- Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin have formed a game-changing defensive pairing, and that is huge for this team. We live in a world where Carolina’s top-four is comprised of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, followed by Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk. That’s a young, dangerous and smart top four that will be the anchor of a strong defensive unit for a very long time. Now, the “challenge” is forming a reliable third pairing. I put quotation marks around challenge because it probably won’t be that big of a challenge. I’ve actually really liked Klas Dahlbeck in a sheltered role. He brings a different dimension to the blue line with his grittiness and sandpaper-like play. Past him, the likes of Jake Bean, who joined the Checkers this past week, Haydn Fleury, and Roland McKeown are all waiting in the wings and are on the verge of becoming NHL defensemen. Combined with the opportunity to make trades for or sign bottom pairing defensemen in free agency, I’d say the Hurricanes are in the best case possible with their defense.
- Eddie Lack was a big part of Carolina’s success in March, which made the horrific scene in Raleigh against the Red Wings even harder to watch last week. Thankfully, Eddie is fine and he has already returned to game action. Going forward, the goalie question remains to be a prevalent one. One of Lack and Ward will be exposed at the expansion draft, but it seems doubtful that Las Vegas will even take one of them. Let that sink in. A brand new franchise with zero players likely won’t want either of Carolina’s goalies for free. That isn’t a great situation to be in if you’re the Hurricanes. What happens this offseason is anyone’s guess. Does Carolina buyout one of their netminders? In order to clear a roster spot for another goalie, which is something they absolutely have to do, they might have to bite that bullet, unless they find a trade partner, which, again, doesn’t seem too likely unless they are eating some salary. It was a treat to watch Eddie play as well as he did in March, but we’re fooling ourselves if we choose to believe that he can do it over a full season.
- Aleksi Saarela, the player Carolina got back for Eric Staal in the 2016 deadline move with the Rangers, has been an instant impact player in Charlotte. In five AHL games, the Finnish forward has scored five times and has seven points. Injuries have been an issue for him, dating back to his draft year where an ankle injury played a huge role in him dropping to the third round. But he’s been great with the Checkers and has put himself in a favorable position going into the offseason and next year’s training camp. Will he make the team next year? Well, he has the tough task of competing against young forwards like Lucas Wallmark, Julien Gauthier, and Nicolas Roy, but you can just add him to your list of extremely promising young players, if he wasn’t in there already.
- It’s old news at this point, but Elias Lindholm is an incredible player. Early in the year, he was doing absolutely everything right, but he couldn’t find the offensive touch. It was only a matter of time before he found that touch and started contributing at a staggering pace, which he has done over the past 40 games. With Skinner and Aho, Lindholm has been one of Carolina’s most productive offensive players while still playing a great two-way game. We are seeing why he was a fifth overall draft pick in 2013.
- Victor Rask’s play has declined as the season has gone on. It’s been tough to watch. He hasn’t made any real impact on the game as of late, even during Carolina’s 13-game streak. He appears to have little to no confidence in his ability to make plays, which is surprising to see, especially after his dominant play in the first half of the season. This is a player that can certainly contribute a whole lot to this team as he has many times before, but now he’s now a big contract player. He needs to play like a $4 million player. It’s not the time to get super worried about him, but if this bleeds over into October, there could be a problem.