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Game of Takes: Thoughts on Carolina’s needs

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There are a few areas the Hurricanes will need to improve upon heading into next season, but what are some of the areas many may be getting blown out of proportion?

Boston Bruins v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the Hurricanes eliminated from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s time to begin looking forward to next season, which we hope will be 2020-21, but not holding any breath on that.

There are a few areas of concern that the team will either need to address internally with players stepping up or there will need to be external changes brought in, but there are some areas which have been made to seem more pressing than they actually are.

I will put forth five areas of concern that have been discussed and my thoughts on what’s a pressing concern and what shouldn’t be too much of a worry.


Areas of Concern

Discipline

One of the biggest fires the Canes played with this season was the undisciplined nature of the team. The Hurricanes took the seventh most penalties in the league, were fourth highest in penalties taken per 60 and second to last in net penalties overall.

Luckily enough, the Hurricanes’ penalty kill was one of the best in the league — fourth overall — operating at an 84% success rate.

And while the team has used its penalty kill to garner momentum and, hell, even score — second-overall in the league with 10 total shorthanded goals — that is not a sustainable model. In fact, it was Boston’s power play that ultimately sunk the Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs.

No matter how well you handle it, going a man down is bad. Case closed. Overall, the Canes really need to work on keeping tempers and sticks in check more moving forward and that’s not just a coaching message, but a mental hurdle for Carolina to pass.

Scoring Depth

The biggest detriment to the Carolina Hurricanes however, was the over-reliance on their top line. It wasn’t that they went to them too much, but rather the only option most of the time was to play them.

Only four players broke 40 points in the regular season: Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton. Past that, only three additional players reached 30 points: Martin Necas, Jaccob Slavin and Warren Foegele. And among all of the roster, only seven players reached double-digits for goals.

Nino Niederreiter saw a steep drop off from the production he had last season and newly acquired winger Ryan Dzingel failed to live up to expectations. Captain Jordan Staal saw his lowest points-per-game season since 2008-09.

The fourth line also took a step down from last year’s production highs as Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook each saw a drop in their points per game total. Funny enough, Lucas Wallmark, before he was traded, was the Hurricanes’ second-most productive center behind Aho, although Geekie seems to be an ideal fit for that position and should hopefully boost the team’s potential.

There were bright spots on the depth, as Warren Foegele doubled his point total from last year while developing a strong two-way game as a reliable penalty killer and power forward and Necas proved to only get better as the regular season progressed with his skating ability and hockey sense.

In regards to Necas’ potential, it’s a similar situation to last year with Svechnikov where Rod Brind’Amour opted to shelter him on lower lines and with less opportunity, to really hone his 5-on-5 game and overall responsibilities. So, there is a thought that we will more than likely see more out of him next season.

There is also the hope that Vincent Trocheck can finally fill that number-two center spot that Carolina has been desperately looking for and while his uptick to the Canes’ game was slow upon joining, the 2020-21 season should present a great opportunity for him to prove himself.

The bottom line is that the Hurricanes’ scoring past the top line just wasn’t good enough. There are a few players that will need to and should step up their games, but if the season starts slow, the team will need to find help in the middle six.


Blown out of Proportion

Physicality

The Carolina Hurricanes have been called “softer” by many and, in a way, that’s true.

Last season, the Hurricanes ranked seventh in the league in hits per 60 and in 2019-20, they ranked 28th in both hits per 60 and total hits.

There were a few key factors in this.

First, of the team’s top five hitters from 2018-19, three of the players are no longer with the team: Calvin de Haan, Micheal Ferland and Justin Faulk. The other two, Jordan Martinook and Dougie Hamilton, missed significant time due to injury.

Second, hitting isn’t so much a part of Carolina’s identity and overall game. Sure, when hits are there, the team takes them, it’s part of the game, but the team isn’t actively looking to hit players as a way of procuring the puck. The team is much more adept at picking off passes and stealing pucks than they are at trying to win it after throwing the body.

Finally, things like fights are being phased out of the game. The Hurricanes were involved in six total fights for the year, one of the lowest in the league.

Many are saying after the Boston series, that the team let the Bruins walk all over them and that’s simply not the case. Sure, the response to losing your captain wasn’t ideal, but the game was already tilted out of control.

Furthermore, the Canes outhit the Bruins in that entire series, 191 to 171 and it didn’t do too much for them. Calls were already not going their way, so would running around errantly really be wise to a team losing the special teams battle?

Obviously hitting is part of the game, but it is less so a part of the Carolina Hurricanes’ game and it works out pretty well for them most of the time. Hell, look at the Rangers series, the Canes were outhit 116 to 78 and the Canes ran away with it.

Looking to add a “physical” or “big-body” player to the mix of the Hurricanes’ roster is an irrational decision and one that ties up money in an irrelevant problem and with a player that provides, more than likely, little other upside.

The team cares about one another and will protect one another. When Petr Mrazek was knocked down by Joe Thornton, Jake Gardiner and Martinook were both racing to get to him. When Mrazek was bumped by Robby Fabbri, Haydn Fleury was instantly all over him.

There were many examples of the team fighting for one another and just because one hit isn’t followed by one immediately after, it doesn’t mean the Hurricanes are a weak or pushover team and the lack of physicality shouldn’t be a worry.

Power Play Specialist

Now this one is interesting. For all intents and purposes, the Carolina Hurricanes power play, despite what you may otherwise think after the Boston series, was by all accounts... good this year.

They had the eighth best power play in the league, converting on 22.3% of chances. The Bruins, for reference, had the second best league percentage at a 25.2% success rate.

The team was good on the power play, but to be fair, at times they were not. I know I just said that the team was good at it, but the real issue was the consistency. The power play either looked like a perfectly executed plan or a floundering mess and I’m on the fence to agree that the success of the units was more up to the players’ skills rather than good plans of attack.

I’d be curious to see what a coaching specialist might be able to accomplish with the team’s talent, but there really is no “need” for one. The team is good enough in terms of chemistry to make it work as we saw through the regular season.


Can be Improved

Goaltending

This is such a weird thing to think about, but for a second year in a row, the Carolina Hurricanes actually had good goaltending. What was once such a foreign concept and a prayed for bounty is actually seeing the Hurricanes onto the stage as contenders.

But now, is the team in a position to be greedy?

When was the last time the team had a true number one, game-stealing, highlight reel goaltender? I don’t know if that was ever a reality for more than stretches, but there have been some great guys that have put together some great runs over the years.

But the one thing the franchise has always lacked is that difference maker in net.

Goalies are one of the trickiest things to predict and decipher when it comes to signing, trading and especially drafting. Scott Darling looked like a great choice going into the deal and not so much soon, soon after. Even when many thought Alex Nedeljkovic was going to be the franchise saver, he has proven to have not quite lived up to that expectation placed upon him.

Goaltenders are very rarely, consistently great for long stretches and it’s even more rare to see one stand out with multiple franchises.

So when it comes to this year’s goalie market, there are a lot of question marks.

The Hurricanes still have Mrazek and James Reimer each under contract for an additional year and that is still a good tandem that works well.

But should the team try to move one of them? Do they go for a goalie off the market? From a trade? Do they wait to see if Pyotr Kochetkov develops or maybe use the 13th overall pick to hopefully land Yaroslav Askarov?

Whatever the team decides, at least there is solace in the fact that for the time being, goaltending isn’t really an area that has to be fretted over as the make or break aspect of the team.