The NHL is less than 31 days away from the beginning of the 2017/18 season. Over this period we’re diving into the 31 NHL teams in alphabetical order, take a look at their previous standings and upcoming season predictions, as well as their key additions and subtractions. Yesterday we looked at the Calgary Flames. Today we make our first foray into the Metropolitan division. It’s time to remember once again why I jumped on the Hurricanes bandwagon!
2016/17 record: 36-31-15
Key losses: Eddie Lack
2017 prediction: Wild card spot
Last year, the Carolina Hurricanes finished with 87 points, 8 points shy of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the last wild card position. And then they went out and had what most around the hockey world are declaring to be the best offseason. The additions of Marcus Kruger, Scott Darling, Justin Williams and Trevor van Riemsdyk have the Canes set up well heading into the 2017/18 season. But is the best offseason in the league enough to vault them back into the playoffs?
The short answer is yes. Last season the Hurricanes had the 6th best 5 on 5 CF% (51.31%) in the league. They were also blessed by Cam Ward and Eddie Lack with the 4th worst save percentage in the league. The arrival of Scott Darling can only mean good things for the Hurricanes. The 0.901 save percentage by the Hurricanes last year is a full 2.2% below Darling’s career average of 0.923. Now, Darling has all of this as a backup goaltender. How will he handle the #1 job? That is the ultimate question. However, if Darling even comes half way back to the Hurricanes’ totals from last year and ends with a 0.912 save percentage, that is a midpack value that will be more than enough to get Carolina into the playoffs.
With goaltending solidified, all that GM Ron Francis did the rest of the offseason is improve the skaters on the roster. With the return of Justin Williams and former Blackhawks Marcus Kruger and Trevor Van Riemsdyk joining the squad, the Canes now have increased depth up front and on the backend. Are any of these players difference makers? No. But they are improvements over what they had last year. Marcus Kruger will be an improvement over the departed Jay McClement, likely centering the 4th line and Justin Williams will have an important role on both the powerplay and the 3rd line wing. TVR will likely slot in on the 3rd defensive pairing on what is now a sneaky deep defense. Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce make it so that Van Riemsdyk can easily be a quality bottom pair defenseman on this team.
The Hurricanes are a team that improved in every necessary area this offseason, while some of the teams they’ll be catching for the playoffs have gotten worse (see our Boston Bruins preview). With players like Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce (to name a few) continuing to improve, the 8 points that the Canes fell short of the playoffs last year can easily be achieved. All aboard the Hurricanes bandwagon, before it fills up!