The Carolina Hurricanes earned 99 points last season, their most since the 112 they had the year they won the Stanley Cup. They lost very little over the summer in terms of the scoring punch, the defensive acumen and the goaltending prowess that got them to that point. For all of the front office melodrama, the Hurricanes that take the ice October 3 will look a whole lot like the team that was last seen on May 16.
Yet if you listen to certain pundits, the Hurricanes took a step backward this offseason. BetOnline and the Westgate SuperBook have the Hurricanes to finish at around 95 points. Charting Hockey and The Athletic have them projected for 87. Westgate gives the Hurricanes a 30/1 shot at winning the Stanley Cup; the Florida Panthers have 20/1 odds.
Perhaps more damning, BetOnline has the Canes at 20/1 to win the Eastern Conference. The three New York teams are all at 12/1, and even the Flyers - the Flyers! - are at 14/1. Among Metropolitan Division teams, the Blue Jackets, 25/1 longshots, are the only team with worse odds to claim the Prince of Wales Trophy.
What in blazes is going on here?
Even if you build in a bit of regression for the likes of Nino Niederreiter, who set the world on fire after his trade before settling in a bit toward the end of the season, and accounting for the departures of Calvin de Haan and Curtis McElhinney, there is no universe in which a team that was eight wins away from the Stanley Cup last season has fallen behind to that degree.
The Hurricanes added Erik Haula, a second/third line type, at the cost of a player who wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot. Some combination of James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic will back up Petr Mrazek, and while that platoon might not reach the heights that McElhinney achieved last year, it’s certainly acceptable; maybe a win or two under, but no worse.
It seems that some may not be accounting for the presence of Martin Necas, who has the inside track to a roster spot coming out of training camp. Necas is absolutely not a known quantity, but the chances are better than not that the Hurricanes get some production out of him. At the very least, he’ll replace Micheal Ferland’s 40 points. Assuming Justin Williams comes back for one last year, the Hurricanes’ top 16 scorers are all returning (the scoring list goes all the way down to de Haan, who had one goal, before you get to another player who left this summer), and Haula should be a top-10 (if not top-5) scorer. The Hurricanes should have no trouble scoring goals next season.
They may give up a few more, to be fair, given the presumed swap of Haydn Fleury into de Haan’s vacated spot. Jaccob Slavin played at about the top of his game last season, and Justin Faulk was close, so if either of those regress even a little it could spell trouble. But if Dougie Hamilton can outperform his usual slow starts, all the better.
There’s no question that the Metro has increased exponentially in difficulty this offseason, and unlike the Atlantic where the top three can basically be identified today, it’s anyone’s guess how the Metro will shake out. The BetOnline projections bear this out; they don’t project any Metro team to break 100 points, and they have the Hurricanes tied for second at 94.5 points alongside the Penguins. The two teams trail only the Capitals, projected to win the division with 97.5 points. (Four NHL teams have projections north of 100 points, and to no one’s surprise, three of them are the Atlantic’s usual suspects.) This could be a case where the Metro cannibalizes itself, artificially suppressing points totals because the teams bash each other’s heads in for 82 games.
For a team with such a high-profile soap opera in the front office, the Hurricanes entering 2019-20 are remarkably stable. They have a coaching staff that’s largely unchanged. Their roster looks very familiar. They might not be playoff shoo-ins, but their chances are as good as anyone’s. And if they can avoid a slow start again, they can put themselves in a position where they can ascend above the battle royal that will consume the Metro this season.
Bet the over on the Hurricanes this season. Despite what you might read, they’re not appreciably worse than last season. And it’s been a long time since we could say that two months before opening night.