Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes.
46-29-7, 99 points (4th in Metropolitan Division, 7th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in the Eastern Conference Final in four games against Boston
Calvin de Haan
2018-19 Season Summary
The past 18 months or so have been a bit of a whirlwind for the Carolina Hurricanes, who’ve gone about a massive shakeup from the top down.
A new owner (Tom Dundon), a new general manager (Don Waddell), a new head coach (Rod Brind’Amour) began the process early last year of re-vamping a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009.
By the time summer rolled around, it didn’t look promising that they’d break out of that funk during the coming season.
[MORE: X-factor: owner Tom Dundon | Three Questions | Hurricanes under pressure]
Losing names such as Cam Ward, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin and Jeff Skinner during the offseason didn’t inspire much confidence that the Hurricanes could reverse their playoff misfortunes.
Even moving up from 11th to second in the 2018 NHL Draft (taking Andrei Svechnikov with the pick) wasn’t supposed to put them over the playoff line, nevermind into the Eastern Conference Final.
Then again, not every team is ‘bunch of jerks.’
And so despite Don Cherry’s best efforts to get under their skin, and flying in the face of expectations that didn’t offer much hope of closing a 14-point gap from the previous year, the Hurricanes turned in one of the more exciting seasons and a deep playoff run no one really expected.
Goaltending certainly helped their cause. The team got a solid 1-2 punch in the crease from Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, the latter who was picked up on the eve of the season from the waiver wire — and a move that would play a pivotal role when Mrazek got injured in November (and then again in the playoffs.)
An in-season trade that brought in Nino Niederreiter at the expense of Victor Rask was a shrewd move that immediately paid off and the Hurricanes took the fight down the stretch and won, claiming a seventh-place finish and a date with the Washington Captials in Round 1.
You’d have forgiven the Hurricanes for crashing out after a hard-fought run-in. Instead, the team rallied around one another, used that playoff-style hockey they played in the final month to their advantage and eeked out a win against the defending Stanley Cup champs in seven games.
Those gale-force winds only intensified in Round 2, with the Hurricanes pulling off another shocking upset, this time in emphatic fashion with a 4-0 series win against the defensive-minded New York Islanders.
It’s only when the storm reached Boston did the winds fade into a near-still breeze. The Hurricanes forced their way into the Eastern Conference Final, only to be shown the door after four games.
On one hand, it was a disappointing end to a rollercoaster ride. On the other, it was a massive period of growth that Carolina could take into the offseason as they looked for continued growth.
And they’ve done so with the addition of Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel, who should provide a goal-scoring boost to a team in the middle of the pack in that department.
Mrazek will have to shoulder most of the load this season with McElhinney’s departure to Tampa Bay.
The Montreal Canadiens helped sort out Sebastian Aho’s contract with the first offer sheet since 2013. Other than the anxiety that brought, it’s been a good offseason for the Hurricanes, who will look to make it consecutive seasons in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck