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About Last Season: Coach and Front Office Reviews and Grades

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The season reviews shift to off-ice evaluations - the Hurricanes’ coaching staff and front office.

Carolina Hurricanes v Vancouver Canucks

With all on-ice portion of the season reviews and grades out of the way, we’re left with two more areas to evaluate from the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2019-20 season - the coaching staff and the front office.

These areas are tougher to evaluate, for obvious reasons. Ultimately, these two are graded based on how the players perform on the ice, but decisions made by these more invisible entities lead directly to the on-ice product - some more directly than others.

Today, we’re taking a look at how the Hurricanes’ bench staff and decision-makers faired this season.

NHL: NOV 12 Blackhawks at Hurricanes Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Coaching Staff 2019-20 By the Numbers

  • Team Record: 38-25-5, .594 PTS% (6th in the Eastern Conference, 9th in the NHL)
  • Goals per Game: 3.19 (9th in the East, 11th in the NHL)
  • Goals Against per Game: 2.84 (6th in the East, 11th in the NHL)
  • Power Play: 22.3% (5th in the East, 8th in the NHL)
  • Penalty Kill: 84% (2nd in the East, 4th in the NHL)
  • Goaltending: .912 5-on-5 save percentage (13th in the East, 26th in the NHL)

In year two of the Rod Brind’Amour era, the Hurricanes ran it back with the same group behind the bench every night, including assistants Jeff Daniels and Dean Chynoweth.

Compared to year one, the Canes improved in almost every stat listed above. They went from 2.96 goals per game to 3.19, 17.8% power play conversion rate to 22.3%, and 81.6% penalty kill rate to 84%.

All of those jumps are pretty significant in size, and the numbers are backed up by the way they looked on the ice. The Hurricanes were noticeably more dangerous offensively, thanks in part to another year under this coaching regime, but this was more-so a result of a young team gaining a year of experience and the huge steps forward that were taken by a number of players - Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton (now out of the shadow of Justin Faulk) led that particular charge.

The special teams experienced massive growth this past season, particularly the power play. The Canes went from a team that saw their play on the man advantage make the difference in losses to a team that made it a real weapon in pulling out wins. Again, Hamilton’s emergence into the number one defenseman on the top unit played a far-reaching role in that development, and while it took the removal of Faulk for that to finally happen, it did happen and the coaching staff deserves some semblance of credit for that.

The trio of Hamilton, Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen were lethal on the power play with their brilliant passing plays at the top of the offensive zone. With Hamilton in the middle, Svech and Turbo showed off their elite vision and passing abilities from one side of the ice to the other. All three players were a threat to shoot the puck or pass the puck, and they were profoundly impactful in the Carolina power play’s journey from awful to really good.

Led by Chynoweth, the penalty kill was equally impressive, finishing top-five in the entire league at keeping other teams off of the board. A big part of this was the coaching staff’s willingness to let their players play aggressive, tight-checking hockey that stifled opposing power plays and even pushed the puck the other way. The Hurricanes scored 10 shorties, tied for second-most in the league. Their shorthanded goal differential of -29 finished tied for sixth in the league.

The units Carolina used worked extremely well. Jordan Staal, flanked by Brock McGinn, usually led the first unit. That group made life hard on top power play units and gave way for Teravainen and Sebastian Aho to feast upon second units and push play the other way. Warren Foegele and Jordan Martinook also had strong contributions on the PK, often on on-the-fly line changes. They were aggressive and tough to play against.

One change that brought mixed results was in the goalie coach department. Mike Bales, who joined along with Scott Darling, departed ahead of the 2018-19 season, giving way to Jason Muzzatti. Muzzatti has all the credentials, and his first year with the team had its ebbs and flows.

Again, like with so much of this, it’s almost impossible to calculate the impact that one goalie coach has compared to another. Petr Mrazek had a very similar season to his first with the team. James Reimer was the newcomer, and he had an extremely solid season. He finished with a .914 save percentage and regained his form as a bonafide NHL goaltender.

Part of the team’s dip in save percentage can be attributed to the barrage of injuries they suffered in the second half of the season when Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic were forced into action. Neither performed well.

And finally, at the center of it all, was Brind’Amour.

Not one person in that Canes locker room will say anything bad about him - he’s earned the respect of every player on that team and every person in the organization. It’s been harped on countless times by countless people, but he is the perfect coach for this young group on this hockey team in this market.

Systematically, he has made mistakes in his first two years at the helm, but his successes far outweigh any negative things that have come from his decision-making. He still runs the power play, and while it was abysmal a year ago, it was hugely improved in year two. He faced the music night after night when it was bad, so he deserves praise now that it has reached the point it has reached.

Poll

How would you grade the Canes’ coaching staff for the 2019-20 season?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    A - Outstanding Performance
    (47 votes)
  • 64%
    B - Above Average Performance
    (96 votes)
  • 4%
    C - Average Performance
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    D - Below Average Performance
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    F - Significantly Below Average Performance
    (0 votes)
150 votes total Vote Now
NHL: JUN 19 NHL Awards Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Front Office 2019-20 By the... Moves?

  • Notable Players/Assets In: Erik Haula*, James Reimer, 2020 first-round pick*, Ryan Dzingel, Chase Priskie*, Jake Gardiner, Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk, Joey Keane, Sami Vatanen, Vincent Trocheck, Brady Skjei, David Cotton
  • Notable Players/Assets Out: Nicolas Roy, Scott Darling, Justin Faulk, Julien Gauthier, Janne Kuokkanen, Erik Haula*, Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Luostarinen, Chase Priskie*, 2020 1st-round pick*

*denotes players/assets that were brought in and promptly sent back out

Carolina’s turtleneck-clad general manager and team president was brought back on a three-year extension to run the club both on and off the ice.

Those negotiations with Tom Dundon were totally smooth and didn’t involved any outside controversy or courting from a team in Minnesota. At least that’s how I remember it...

Anyway, his evaluation starts way back in the summer of 2019 (I’ll spare you analysis on the in-house signings over the offseason, because there’s already far too many words as is). Fresh off of being nominated as a GM-of-the-year finalist, Waddell went out and acquired Erik Haula from the Vegas Golden Knights. He gave up prospect Nicolas Roy, but the move was a resounding success early in the year as Haula had a marvelous start and led the team in goal-scoring through the opening weeks of the season before going through a tumultuous period where he was in and out of the lineup before getting dealt to Florida in the Vincent Trocheck trade.

Waddell also landed a top college free agent prospect Chase Priskie on an ELC before also dealing him to Florida in that trade.

Speaking of Florida, the move that Carolina pulled off to acquire Reimer might be the best move they made. They sent Darling to the Cats for Reimer one-for-one. That move gave the Canes a very good NHL goalie and shed the horrendous Darling contract in one fell swoop.

During training camp, the Canes also parted ways with Faulk, sending him to St. Louis and getting Joel Edmundson and prospect Dominik Bokk in return. Faulk immediately signed a monster extension with the Blues which has had a questionable ROI in the early goings. Meanwhile, Edmundson added a much-needed element of grit to the blue line and had periods of unexpected offensive magic in his first year in Raleigh. Don’t sleep on the potential upside of the young German winger, either. He was a first-round pick just a couple of short years ago for a reason.

Notable free agent signings Ryan Dzingel and Jake Gardiner had... up-and-down results. Dzingel was great early, but the fast winger quickly saw his role muddied during the Haula saga and he struggled to find a nice place in the lineup to stick. He has another year on his contract that will see him own a $3.375 million cap hit, which is far from outrageous.

Gardiner is a different story. He was signed to a four-year deal late in the game of free agency. He had a loud start when he netted the game-winning overtime goal in Washington in game two, but he went on to see his game deteriorate to the point where it was almost comical to see the bad breaks he kept getting. His ice time went straight down as a result. Time will tell how this one pans out, but his play was noticeably better after Brett Pesce got hurt and forced him into more action. He was really getting to a good place when the season halted and there’s years of track record there that suggests he can get back to where he needs to be - whether it’s in Carolina or somewhere else.

I wrote in-depth about his deadline deals earlier this week, so I won’t touch on them much here. Vincent Trocheck and Brady Skjei represent bold moves on Carolina’s part, looking to add big pieces for a playoff run and for the next several years. Those are two guys to watch closely as play resumes. The move to acquire Patrick Marleau’s contract also paid dividends by way of the acquired first-round pick that made the Skjei trade possible.

Sami Vatanen hasn’t played yet, and until he laces them up in a game, I’m not sure he even exists. Janne Kuokkanen does exist, though, and he was the big piece that New Jersey landed in the trade. He’s still a promising young player who I like a lot. It was tough to see him go, but it became clear that he just wasn’t a fit in Carolina’s fast up-and-down system.

In the area of prospects, the Canes traded Julien Gauthier to New York for Joey Keane on February 18. That deal was puzzling, and it remains that way, but if Keane turns into a player at the NHL level, I think everyone will forget about it. That said, Gauthier’s game is tantalizing, and if he puts it together in the Big Apple, that’s a deal that might haunt Carolina for a long time.

As a cherry on top, Carolina inked top college player and long-time unsigned prospect David Cotton to an ELC before he could even reach the open market, which is a big win for the organization. Cotton was excellent in his junior and senior seasons at Boston College, so we’ll see what happens with him over the next couple of seasons.

And of course, I can’t wrap this up without mentioning Eric Tulsky. Carolina’s analytics mastermind and VP of Hockey Management and Strategy has continued his rapid and deserved rise in the organization. His fingerprints are all over this team, its roster construction, and the way it plays on the ice. He’s a gem of a hockey brain and the Hurricanes are extremely fortunate to have him.

Poll

How would you grade the Canes’ front office for the 2019-20 season?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    A - Outstanding Performance
    (25 votes)
  • 64%
    B - Above Average Performance
    (83 votes)
  • 9%
    C - Average Performance
    (12 votes)
  • 3%
    D - Below Average Performance
    (5 votes)
  • 2%
    F - Significantly Below Average Performance
    (3 votes)
128 votes total Vote Now