The Carolina Hurricanes were unarguably not good last year. They finished fifth from last in the NHL– out of the McEichel sweepstakes, but low enough to snag Noah Hanifin when he dropped in the draft. Multiple issues plagued them: poor goaltending, a low shooting percentage, and an underperforming or injured top six.
Season previews are popping up. The order of the Metro Division is contentious, but the same teams are at the top. The Rangers, Penguins, Islanders, Blue Jackets, and Capitals are all expected to contend. Maybe the Flyers. It is entirely possible that the Canes will finish sixth or seventh in the division, out of the playoffs and out of true contention for Auston Matthews. But the Canes might also just be alright.
Last season, Carolina finished 13th in the NHL in Score-Adjusted Corsi, tied with San Jose– who also missed the playoffs– at 51.5. They won 30 games out of 82, and lost 11 in overtime. (The Sharks, to contrast, won 40, and lost 9 in OT).
Jordan Staal broke his leg on September 23rd in a preseason game, and didn’t come back from injured reserve until December 29th. During this stretch, the Canes put up a 49.9 Score-Adjusted Corsi, 18th in the league. From the beginning of the New Year to the end of the season, they were at 52.6, good for ninth.
Their win/loss record was bad, and often their actual hockey was frustrating. I personally sat through a Canes/Devils game at PNC Arena in the beginning of December where they outshot the Devils 40-16 and lost 2 to 1– thanks for that, Cory Schneider. When I walked into the arena, they were 8-16-3, and had lost 10 of their last 13. When I walked out, it was one more in the loss column, but at least back home my parents got to see me on the TV broadcast.
Of course Jordan Staal, while underrated, doesn’t make or break a team. Carolina spent last season dedicating itself to Cam Ward as a starter, with Anton Khudobin as backup. This got them an on-ice save percentage of .909. It’s also worth noting that they traded top-pairing defenseman Andrej Sekera to the Kings at the deadline, netting a first round pick and a prospect. They then continued to keep on suppressing shots, with a Score-Adjusted Corsi of 53.0 through the end of the season. Overall, their PDO was 97.1, which suggests they will regress back up.
It’s also worth noting, when examining PDO, how low their on-ice shooting percentage was. Prior to the 2014-15 season, 6.8% was the lowest they’d reached in several years. Last year, it was 6.2%. The Canes haven’t shot particularly high in recent years, but the combination of low on-ice shooting and save percentages led to a goal differential of -39. It is highly unlikely that this repeats.
But the difference isn’t only predicted regression. Jordan Staal probably won’t break his leg. The goaltending problems may be mitigated by Eddie Lack, who has a real chance of at least splitting starts with Cam Ward and even overtaking him as starter by the new year. Justin Faulk will continue to be excellent, and he might be joined by high-ceiling defensive prospects like Hanifin.
Saying the Canes will simply be bad this season is lazy analysis. The root causes have been corrected, whether through time or trade. This does not guarantee they’ll make the playoffs. They’re in a tough division, coaching and management might give too many starts to Ward, and injuries can unpredictably happen. Scoring may still be an issue. And it’s hockey. Weird stuff happens sometimes.
But still. It could be exciting in Raleigh this season. Go to PNC Arena. Hang out for a while. Play some cornhole. Watch some hockey.
all statistics from war-on-ice.com and puckon.net