The Carolina Hurricanes took to the 2018-2019 with aplomb, securing their first playoff berth since 2009 and becoming a Bunch of Jerks in the process. To say the season was transformative goes without saying, but they were still swept out of the playoffs by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.
So, what went wrong?
For starters, out of the Eastern Conference playoff teams only the New York Islanders scored fewer goals in the regular season. The Hurricanes managed just 245 goals, fewer than the Montreal Canadiens and Florida Panthers and a whole bunch of other teams.
Granted, Carolina was downright parsimonious on defence and permitted just 223 goals against – good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Islanders allowed fewer goals against.
But that did tip the differential, giving the Hurricanes a paltry plus-22 down the line – the worst goals/goals against differential of any playoff team.
The Hurricanes took to 2018-2019 minus Jeff Skinner, who was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in August of 2018 for Cliff Pu and a pile of draft picks. In February, Carolina turned Pu over to the Florida Panthers for future considerations.
The bulk of the offensive heavy lifting consequently fell to Sebastian Aho, who managed 30 goals and 83 points in 82 games. He’s Carolina’s clearest offensive threat, which explains why Montreal tabled him a perfunctory offer sheet. He signed that offer sheet, but the Hurricanes will match it.
That is, without a doubt, the best decision for general manager Don Waddell. It’s the only decision. Losing the offensive prowess of Aho is out of the question.
Justin Williams, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov were the other Carolina players to notch 20 or more goals in 2018-2019, while defenceman Dougie Hamilton was stellar with 18 goals and 21 assists in 82 games.
In terms of goaltending, Petr Mrazek asserted himself as the man for the Hurricanes and Waddell rewarded him with a two-year contract on July 1. He also caught James Reimer from the Florida Panthers.
Mrazek’s year included four shutouts, his career best, and the fifth lowest single season goals against average in franchise history at 2.39. Was it enough? Apparently. When it came right down to it, the Hurricanes were dazed by the Bruins in the post-season and their historic, encouraging run was at its end. Just like the Storm Surge.
What went wrong?
Firepower. Or a lack thereof. That will remain an issue for the near future, but it’s lucky that Aho is still in the fold. Waddell had no choice, as mentioned, and the 21-year-old Finn is the future of the franchise. He’ll have every chance to reward the Hurricanes and prove he’s worth the fuss.
Defensively, Carolina could stand to close ranks. That said, Brett Pesce keeps pushing the offence and posted a career high seven goals in 2018-2019. He also boasted a career high plus-35, blasting his ill-fated minus-six from last year out of the water. Like Aho, Pesce is the future.
With a little tightening and a little more planning, the Hurricanes can push the envelope in 2019-2020. They’ve proven a lot and emerged from the shadows of the Eastern Conference to become one of the most inventive hockey clubs in the NHL. They’ll need more playoff success to prove 2018-2019 wasn’t a fluke, but they’ll need more goals to get there.
(Lead photo credit: Gregg Forwerck/Getty)