Carolina Hurricanes: 2021-22 NHL season preview

Carolina Hurricanes: 2021-22 NHL season preview
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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 or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.