The Carolina Hurricanes have not been in the playoffs since the 2009 season and they just seem to be spinning their wheels in the big picture sense, as they just can't seem to get any traction with their roster or their draft picks or their coaching staff. With some of their decisions, you would think they would be much closer to the playoffs by now, in the last six seasons, than sitting in 26th overall in the NHL standings and going into another off-season with more questions than answers.
The Hurricanes were a shaky bunch heading into the 2015 regular season, especially with Jordan Staal on the mend from a broken leg, something that cost the forward the first half of the season. The lack of depth in their organization really came to bite them in the rear end, as they were not ready to fill that void with the roster of players that they had.
Some underperforming, highly paid players were also very problematic and there might not be an immediate solution to that problem, but the team could definitely do well to at least work around that lump on the payroll. Hey, Alex Semin... I didn't mention your name there. Oh, wait... oops!
In the draft pool this year, 11 players, who finished the season as Hurricanes, were taken in the pool at one point or another and only six belonged to an active roster by the time the season finished. There wasn't a lot of scoring to be had out of the Hurricanes and it really showed, both in the skaters up front and the goaltending not getting any help for wins.
There's no surprise here, as Eric Staal has been one of the most consistent players in the Eastern Conference, but it's a shame that his team cannot say the same. The biggest let down for Staal this year was his team, as they were not able to provide him much help in the scoring department and when the going got tough for playoff spots, teams were able to put their best defense against Staal's line and he would disappear from the scoresheet for games at a time, limiting his overall production to 23 goals and 54 points in 77 games. Already with a Stanley Cup ring on his hand, he is still a pretty good player to build a franchise around, but management have yet to really land anyone big to help him out of the basement.
Just how bad was it for Staal? For pool worthy forwards this past season, the top 184, Staal finished 67th, while Elias Lindholm finished 132nd, Victor Rask was 176th and Jeff Skinner was 183rd. That's some very bottom end kind of help. Lindholm finished with 39 points, which is a pretty low total to be finishing the season with, as the team's second best forward.
Justin Faulk had a breakout year on defense, finishing 12th among blueliners in scoring with 15 goals and 49 points, but he was sort of left above everyone else on his team, as John-Michael Liles ranked 80th, the last pool worthy defender on the team, with 22 points in 57 games, being a healthy scratch from time to time.
It was a 22-win season for Cam Ward in 2015, but you could hardly say it was a return to form for him, as the team in front didn't give him a lot some nights. Ward was back to taking a lot of mintues though, which is good for the team, as they still have a number one goalie in their system. Anton Khudobin barely figured to be a pool worthy back-up, winning 9 games and earning a shutout for 20 points in the season as well, but it was pretty rough for him.
2016 Pool Outlook
The Hurricanes haven't exactly proved that they are ready to take the hockey pool by storm, but a couple players that suffered some injuries through the 2015 season might make their way back into relevance in 2016, assuming they are not to get hurt again. If you're late to the starting goalie boat, you'll probably be in line for Ward, as I don't think with the team that they have, on paper, is going to win as many more games than they did this past season. If they are going to see an increase in pool participation, they'll need some more help from management.
The Hurricanes played seven players that will still have rookie status in 2016, but none of them really had much of an impact in 2015 to really warrant a good look for next season. 2014 1st round pick, Haydn Fleury, will get a look in camp, but being a defenseman and only 18 years old, he may go back to juniors before too long. I don't think there will be much of a rookie crop for the Hurricanes next season... or a bountiful crop, anyways.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
The Hurricanes are not in any salary cap trouble going into this off-season, as the projected $71.1 million ceiling may not even be attainable as a goal. They currently have 27 players on their signed roster, with disclosed cap hits, and they are still $10.1 million away from that projected total and I couldn't see a lot of these guys playing next season on a full time basis.
Restricted free agency has a few forwards that will require some attention, as Riley Nash, Andrej Nestrasil and Chris Terry, who all featured mildly well in 2015, will all need new deals. There isn't a lot of money to be tied up there, so the cap ceiling won't have any fingerprints from those kids.
Forward Patrick Dwyer, who played in 71 games, leads the way in unrestricted free agency, which is a very shallow pool when we start here. There's nothing too pool worthy to speak of here.
Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft
The Hurricanes could pride themselves on their depth on defense in their stocks and they do have a number of goaltenders to work from as well, so in the opening round of the Entry Draft, it seems like a certainty that they'll look for a forward in the 5th spot. With Ryan Strome falling down through my selections thus far, I think the Hurricanes have a no-brainer on their hands, as Strome had played really well, even with his teammate, Connor McDavid, off at the World Juniors or hurt. Getting a little bit more scoring will definitely go a long way for Carolina, who is in desperate need of it.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
As for the 2015 season, the Hurricanes will see some improvement on their 83-point season the year before and I think they will be active in the off-season markets, which could very well give a hand to the Staal's, Skinner and Semin up front and hopefully solidify their goaltending situation in the back. With that being said, they will still be in tough on a Wild Card spot in the playoffs, as the Eastern Conference remains pretty tight and teams above them still seem to be improving, so it will have to take a monster off-season for them to really make that push. If Francis and company can make that push, sign a big name or two in the free agent frenzy, we will see the Hurricanes push.
I didn't think the Hurricanes could do worse than 83 points in the regular season standings, but there they went... 71 points. The Hurricanes, like the rest of the Eastern Conference basement dwellers, fell well out of parity and dropped well below expectations. They were definitely in tough for the playoffs, as they were out pretty early. They were not able to make a big push in the off-season last year, as a number of high profile players headed to better markets. Yeah, my expectations of the Hurricanes were definitely too high.
For 2016, the Hurricanes are going to need a whole lot more than a kid like Ryan Strome to get their train back on the tracks or even back to being somewhat competitive. No, with the free agent pool being as shallow as it is, their plethora of young defenseman still developing at various stages of the minors and juniors, the veteran core of the team, most of which under-performed last year, will need a big boost or a re-shuffle before they get to that point again. The only way Carolina proves to make a name for themselves this year, is if they manage to snake a deal or two, much like the Islanders did before the 2015 season, scooping a couple big players from teams in salary cap trouble. As doubtful as that seems, I would look for the Hurricanes at the bottom again.