Monday, April 30, 2018

Pool Outlook for Carolina

I certainly had some much greater expectations from this Carolina Hurricanes team, but there's a good chance that the yips might have got the best of them a little bit in 2018, as they are still a young team, growing into themselves and teams around them in their division, just had a little bit more experience and got the best of them.

By no means were the Hurricanes a terrible team, but playing in the Metropolitan Division is a tough slog, especially for a young team.  The Hurricanes were not overly strong at home, still over .500, but could have been better.  They were okay on the road, just under .500, which isn't awful.  They tinkered a bit in the off-season, bringing on a new goalie, who faltered during the year and they had to go back to an old trusty keeper for the back half of the year, but the bright side of it all is, they have a core that gained a year's worth of experience and are sticking together for a while.

Or are they?  The Hurricanes now have new ownership and this new owner is really putting his stamp on things, changing up the dynamics of the team's front office, which has bled down to the coaching staff and there could be more changes abound.  The team still hasn't found a new General Manager, the coaching vacancy is still warm from the departed Bill Peters and we don't really know what to expect going forward.  All we can really do is look back on this past year and then speculate about moving forward.

20-year old Finnish winger Sebastian Aho was the team's top player in the 2018 season and he was truly the team's breakout player in the year, but he wasn't going to carry this team... not yet, anyways.  In the 2018 season, he finished with 29 goals and 65 points in 78 games, good enough for 60th overall in pool scoring, 45th among all forwards, qualifying him for a 3rd round pick in the draft redo among our 25 teams.  That's a pretty good finish, indeed.

Teuvo Teravainen, Justin Williams, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan were also pool worthy from the forward positions, contributing well, but clearly not often enough for the team not to make the playoffs.  Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin were all pool worthy from the blueline, keeping a pretty good handle on things from back there.  Then, both goalies played (and won) enough to both be considered as pool worthy, Cam Ward finishing 24th among goalies and Scott Darling finished 47th, a goaltending tandem that definitely had its struggles through the year, but did well enough to get the mentions here.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Already adding a new goalie to the mix in this off-season, before the playoffs have even ended, gives us all the impression that the Hurricanes are out to do something next season... and I certainly think they can. They only fell four wins short from a playoff spot and the team's gradual improvement, both on paper and on the ice, suggests to me that they are going to be hunting for that playoff spot again. This team could really do with one more pool worthy forward to help carry the load offensively, but with Skinner making a comeback and Aho emerging as a solid option, they do have lots to play with already in-house. If the Hurricanes don't make it to the playoffs at this time next season, they'll be damn close to it.

The Hurricanes didn't make the playoffs and they were 7 wins back of the two wild card teams in the Eastern Conference.  Does that make them close?  Florida was technically closer, so I would probably say no... they weren't close to it.  The goaltending situation let them down, the defense wasn't much better, but the youthful side of this team may have gotten the best of them.  It isn't to say that they're not close to competing, but it had to be a frustrating season, not to be able to do it in 2018.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Defenseman Jaccob Slavin was my pick for the most intriguing player on the Hurricanes roster, heading into the 2018 season, especially since the team's blueline still carries some relative unknowns, including Slavin.  Slavin's previous two season's numbers were impressive enough for the team's management (at the time) to sign him to a long 7-year extension and he turned around and put up a 30-point season, down a bit from my projections, but still a decent season.  He's certainly going to be one of those players that could surprise down the line.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jordan Staal 6.000 Jaccob Slavin 5.300 Scott Darling 4.150
Jeff Skinner 5.725 Justin Faulk 4.833 Alex Nedeljkovic 0.812
Justin Williams 4.500 Brett Pesce 4.025
Victor Rask 4.000 Haydn Fleury 0.863
Marcus Kruger 3.083 Roland McKeown 0.745
Teuvo Teravainen 2.860 Jake Bean 0.894
Sebastian Aho 0.925 Josh Wesley 0.695
Martin Necas 0.925
Julien Gauthier 0.894
Brock McGinn 0.888
Janne Kuokkanen 0.843
Warren Foegele 0.747
Nicolas Roy 0.720

There are a good number of exciting players on this Carolina Hurricanes team, which makes them a great candidate for some bargain picks at the hockey pool draft.  Unless you're right in the thick of their own market, the Hurricanes tend to hide in the reeds and quietly go about their business.  The trick is always not to pick them too high.  The team has some worthy elements on their current summer roster, but depth will need to be addressed, first and foremost.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Four of their pool worthy players are on the verge of free agency, key young cogs to the organization Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin are looking for big deals to go forward with, while Derek Ryan and Cam Ward may question their roles with the team this summer and may hit the open market.

The struggle for the Hurricanes, even putting together that 22-man roster above, was getting to last season's salary cap floor and this year, it'll go up even further.  Thankfully, the Lindholm and Hanifin deals will see to it that it won't be a struggle to get to the floor, but will they start spending to get to the ceiling any time soon?  With a buyout on the books, I currently have their cap space, with the roster above and a buyout, at $18.2 million.

It was hard to miss Martin Necas at this past World Junior tourney, as he dazzled for the Czech Republic, alongside countryman Filip Zadina and this certainly has the Hurricanes excited for the near future.  Carolina already boasts some pretty good young talent on their roster, especially on the blueline, so if Necas can fill that void as a very good offensive centre in the next couple of years, the Metropolitan Division race only gets that much tighter.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
The Hurricanes scored huge at the NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday night, moving all the way up from 11th to 2nd and they get the taste of the wild cards that are the three below Rasmus Dahlin.  And as highlighted above, the chemistry between their own prospect in Necas and the draft eligible Zadina, makes this a perfect fit.  Zadina is a pure goal scorer with a heavy shot, has some great skating ability and some decent size.  An add like this could be very deadly for the Hurricanes and give them that offensive punch that they need to compete with some of the big boys.

The Hurricanes remain on the cusp of the playoff picture and they are a couple blossoming players away from really making that push.  If the kids like Lindholm and Aho can follow the same suit as Teravainen, finally making that push up through the trend lines, they add a couple more key young guns, this team will be so much fun to watch.  Goaltending and defense still remain a bit of a question mark, maybe more so out of comfort among teammates than an actual skill level, so something that could definitely come around.  This Hurricanes team will compete, but just how much closer to the playoffs they get, will certainly depend on the youth movement.
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