Thankfully, the enormous eight-year playoff drought could come to an end this upcoming season, but in the meantime, there are some valuable lessons that this young Carolina team and front office can take away from the final two teams remaining - the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.
It’s all about defense and center depth
The Penguins and Predators have gotten to where they are thanks to their strengths in very important areas.
Pittsburgh is where they are because of their center depth. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino, and Matt Cullen patrolling the middle of the ice, the Pens have huge talent at the top end of their forward unit and the depth to follow it up.
Of course, no team in this league has or will have the top-two demolition crew of Crosby and Malkin. Right now, Carolina’s top two centers are Jordan Staal and Victor Rask. That’s a massive skill gap that can’t be made up within the organization.
That’s where the need for a top-line center comes into play for the Hurricanes. Inserting a true 1C turns Carolina’s competent top-six into a real top of the line scoring threat.
First-line centers are incredibly difficult to come by, especially when you aren’t drafting in the top two positions in the draft. Carolina’s “kind of rebuild, kind of trying to win” state with Jim Rutherford at the helm usually put them in the 5-12 range in the first round, thus decreasing their odds of getting a franchise centerman, and the presence of Eric Staal lessened the urge to acquire that kind of player.
If Ron Francis is going to address this issue in the summer, it’ll have to be via a trade, and it will cost them a top-four defenseman.
Speaking of top-four defensemen, the Predators have built their playoff run from the blueline out. P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm make up the best top-four in the league.
This is where things get more promising for the Hurricanes, who could easily be hot on Nashville’s tail in regards to game-breaking defensemen.
This is where Carolina is at a crossroads. Do you sacrifice an important piece of your top four in exchange for a first-line guy? Having Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean in the organization certainly makes it a more palatable option.
The regular season doesn’t matter in the playoffs
We’ve seen low seeded teams go all the way. The one that sticks out the most is Los Angeles winning the cup as an eight-seed in 2012, and now Nashville is in a position to win it as a fellow eight-seed and an overall 16-seed.
The Predators were the final team to get into the playoffs in regards to seeding, but after sweeping the best in the west Blackhawks in round one and getting past the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks, you wouldn’t guess that they were in that spot in early April.
The playoffs aren’t always about who's good, it’s about who’s hot. Nashville hit their stride at the right time and they’ve played like a championship team ever since.
The Hurricanes routinely finish their seasons as one of the league’s hottest teams, but their early-season demons emerge and make it all for nothing. If Carolina can put themselves in a position to make the playoffs, that late season magic can carry them far, just ask Nashville.
Home ice advantage
The Penguins and Predators were both in the top ten in home ice win percentage during the regular season, and both clubs have used their home ice advantage to power their way to huge playoff success.
Pittsburgh is 10-1-2 at PPG Paint Arena in the playoffs and Nashville is nearly unbeatable at Bridgestone Arena since the postseason began, sporting a 9-0-1 record at home.
You have to take care of business in front of your fans because, if you don’t, your opponent likely will and you’re instantly behind the eight-ball.
Carolina was dominant at home in 2016-17. In fact, they were better than four of the eight Eastern Conference playoff teams in points accumulated on home ice in the regular season.
This is a trend that needs to continue. PNC Arena has to be a difficult building to play in, and to Carolina’s credit, they made it that way a season ago.
With a better roster and bigger sense of optimism, the Hurricanes need to not only get their way through their home schedule over .500, they need to be among the league’s best.
And if the Hurricanes find themselves in a place where they are playing for home-ice advantage in the playoffs come March and April, they need to get it. Home ice plays an incredible difference, a difference that a young team needs in their favor.