Carolina Hurricanes: 2021-22 NHL season preview

Carolina Hurricanes: 2021-22 NHL season preview
Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Carolina Hurricanes.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 36-12-8 (80 points); first place in Central Division
• Postseason: Reached Second Round, lost in five games to Lightning
• Offensive leader: Sebastian Aho (56 games, 24 goals, 33 assists, 57 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (successful offer sheet), Tony DeAngelo, Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, Ethan Bear (trade from Oilers), Ian Cole, Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo, Stefan Noesen, Brendan Smith.
• Free Agent Subtractions: Dougie Hamilton (Devils), Alex Nedeljkovic (trade to Red Wings), Petr Mrazek (Maple Leafs), James Reimer (Sharks), Jake Bean (trade to Blue Jackets), Morgan Geekie (Kraken expansion draft), Warren Foegele (trade to Oilers).

Biggest Question Facing the Hurricanes

• Did the Hurricanes outsmart themselves?

Heading into the 2021-22 NHL season, the Hurricanes are betting big that they’re the smartest people in the room.

Was it truly bitter revenge? Maybe a savvy move with a splash of trolling? Either way, the Hurricanes weren’t being modest with the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet.

Yes, there could be more than meets the eye if that Kotkaniemi offer sheet translates to an affordable contract down the line. But there’s the risk that the Hurricanes burned themselves with a “galaxy brain” move.

It’s easy to act like the Hurricanes can just wash their hands of Kotkaniemi if he’s a dud in 2021-22. They’d still need to accept that they paid him way more than expected, and also gave up picks in what’s expected to be a strong 2022 NHL Draft. If it works, they can point to their craniums. But, yeah, it’s possible that they trolled themselves, most of all.

It’s not the only area where people can wonder if the Hurricanes were overconfident heading into 2021-22.

Did they underestimate how important Dougie Hamilton is to their defense? Maybe they weren’t convinced that Alex Nedeljkovic was the real deal. If the younger, cheaper Nedeljkovic is better than Frederik Andersen, then that’s another strikeout in net. Andersen – Antti Raanta could be what the doctor ordered. It could also figure into a narrative of overthinking things.

What’s the salary cap situation?

During a polarizing offseason, just about anyone would agree that Andrei Svechnikov‘s new contract is a big win.

Between Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina enjoys a young, talented trio at about a $21.6M cap hit for multiple seasons. It gets even better when you consider bargain deals for Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.

Also, the Hurricanes may have simply made a difficult-but-necessary decision with Dougie Hamilton. From Erik Karlsson to Drew Doughty, we’ve seen teams burned by paying big for elite, aging defensemen.

On the horizon, the Hurricanes might soon wave goodbye to Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, and/or Jordan Staal. Unlike less proactive teams, Carolina may already have solutions lined up. Kotkaniemi, Martin Necas, Seth Jarvis, Ryan Suzuki, and others could make up the difference. They could also end up even better.

(Oh, and the team cleared up a more immediate concern. With Jake Gardiner headed to LTIR, Kotkaniemi’s offer sheet fits in to the cap puzzle.)

Breakout Candidate

• Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Martin Necas

Is it cheating to include Martin Necas as a breakout candidate? With 41 points in 53 games, he’s already a valuable Hurricanes forward. Still, this season could be the time where Necas gains more mainstream attention.

If Necas counts as a cheat, then Kotkaniemi seems like a worthy candidate. Certainly, the Hurricanes have plenty of incentive to help him succed. (If anything, there’s the potential for grumbling if they try to force it.)

Frighteningly for the competition, there are other candidates. It’s more likely that Hurricanes prospects Seth Jarvis and Ryan Suzuki will truly break out later than 2021-22. Don’t count them out from leaping sooner than expected, however.

Best-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Hurricanes

Look, the Hurricanes have been knocking on the door for a long time now. Carolina merely needs to look at the Capitals to recall that, sometimes, teams go deep later than expected. It wouldn’t be outrageous if the Hurricanes remain daunting defensively, even without Hamilton. In that event, they’re that much more likely to get the goaltending they’ve needed, while that offense looks potent. Few would be stunned if Carolina rises that one extra level.

Worst-Case Scenario for 2021-22 Hurricanes

Then again, it’s easy to ignore that Dougie Hamilton’s put up elite results for years. Multiple NHL teams have allowed him to walk. What if the Hurricanes end up regretting that? Things could start to turn sour if they slip defensively, their goaltending bets backfire, and Tony DeAngelo does … well, Tony DeAngelo things. The worst-case scenario would be missing the playoffs outright, then falling into a crisis of confidence. Patience may really start to wear thin if they barely make a postseason run, as well. At some point, a promising future needs to translate into a fulfilling present.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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