Micheal Ferland

Bunch of questions for Hurricanes during offseason

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The Carolina Hurricanes continued their strange pattern during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs: during the rare times when they reach the postseason, the Hurricanes have made a big run of it.

It surely was bittersweet to get swept by the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, much like it had been the last time the Hurricanes made the playoffs, when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who eventually won the 2008-09 Stanley Cup.

Once the agony and ecstasy wears off from that run and the gutting sweep, the Hurricanes face a difficult task. They must build on this season, and ideally avoid spending another decade between playoff appearances. Most ideally, the Hurricanes would see this as a stepping stone to even bigger things in the future, rather than a peak that they can’t repeat.

Don Waddell is a finalist for GM of the Year, yet some of his toughest work could very well be ahead. It’s one thing to enjoy a Cinderella run, but what about becoming a consistent contender? Let’s consider some of the make-or-break factors and questions.

  • The goalie question(s)

For almost as long as they’d been out of the playoffs, the Hurricanes have grappled with problems in net.

To some surprise, the Petr MrazekCurtis McElhinney tandem eventually worked out for the Hurricanes this season, only crumbling after Round 2.

It could be a short-lived duo, however, as both Mrazek (27) and Curtis McElhinney (35) are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Should the Hurricanes bring one or both back? Where does 23-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic (37th overall in 2014) fit in? Would the Hurricanes be better off throwing their names in the Sergei Bobrovsky sweepstakes, or generally going after a bigger name?

There are some definite positives when looking at the Hurricanes’ salary structure at Cap Friendly.

Teuvo Teravainen and Nino Niederreiter are very affordable. Andrei Svechnikov has two more years on his entry-level deal. More or less dead money in Scott Darling and Alexander Semin’s buyout will expire after 2020-21.

Overall, Cap Friendly estimates that the Hurricanes only have about $54.24 million locked up in 14 players, and potential young additions such as Martin Necas should be cost-efficient.

But there are some contracts to hand out beyond whatever Carolina does in net, and Aho is the guy who could break the bank. Evolving Wild’s contract projections place Aho’s next cap hit at a hair above $10M per season, and even if Waddell can waddle that number down a bit, things could get challenging during a summer where other prominent RFAs (Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Brayden Point) could serve as the rising tides that lift all boats.

  • Other free agent calls

The Hurricanes also see two veterans eligible for the free agent market, as Justin Williams and Micheal Ferland need new deals. At 37, Williams still brings value, although you could argue that maybe the Hurricanes deployed him in excessively prominent spots at times. Ideally, you probably don’t want Williams on your top PP unit at this phase of his remarkable career. Ferland’s future with Carolina seemed to ebb and flow, with his season ending on such a low note that it might be surprising to see him back.

Then again, maybe that would make his asking price more modest? Teams often covet guys who can score a bit and also deliver hits like these.

  • Ship out some of that defensive surplus?

For some time, people have wondered if the Hurricanes might deal from their position of strength on defense to improve in other areas. That only intensified when they added Dougie Hamilton, who creates a mild logjam with Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce commanding big minutes as a right-handed defensemen.

That really didn’t feel like too much of a good thing during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though, as Jaccob Slavin and Calvin de Haan rounded out a great group.

Still, it’s fair to continue to ask that question. Faulk’s contract expires after next season, and Hamilton is only locked up through 2020-21. So who knows?

  • Go bold?

Let’s say the Hurricanes still have a decent chunk of change left over after figuring out their goalie situation, signing Aho, and tending to other business.

There’s a difference between bumping against the cap ceiling and dealing with an internal budget, and the question is: did this run inspire owner Tom Dundon to maybe spend a little bit more? The Hurricanes haven’t been named as suitors for the likes of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, but maybe Carolina would hit an even higher level with a gamebreaker added to the mix? They certainly could’ve used just a little more oomph beyond Aho, Teravainen, Svechnikov, and Jordan Staal when the Hurricanes were struggling to score against the Bruins, both on the power play and overall.

Going the trade route could be especially lucrative because the Hurricanes didn’t sell out their 2019 NHL Draft at the deadline. They have three second-round picks thanks to previous moves, so those could be used to sweeten certain deals. After building patiently through the draft for years, the Hurricanes are in a spot where they can be aggressive in seeking more immediate returns.

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For the most part, the Hurricanes are a young team, and while you never know when everything’s going to click for deep playoff runs, it’s easy to imagine Carolina getting even better.

Then again, the 2008-09 Hurricanes probably thought there would be great days ahead, so it’s all about making the right moves — and getting some good luck.

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.

Armstrong, Sweeney, Waddell are 2019 GM of the Year finalists

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Last but not least in the list of major NHL awards to be handed out next month in Las Vegas is the 2018-19 General Manager of the Year.

Doug Armstrong of the St. Louis Blues, Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins, and Don Waddell of the Carolina Hurricanes are the three finalists for the award, which was first handed out in 2010.

Voting was conducted by the NHL’s 31 GMs, a panel of League executives, and print and broadcast media following the end of Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Case For Doug Armstrong: After firing Mike Yeo in November, he promoted Craig Berube from the organization’s AHL affiliate, and later did the same with Jordan Binnington as Jake Allen struggled in net. Both moves defined the 2018-19 season for the Blues, who went from being dead-last in the NHL in early January to reaching the Western Conference Final. Berube is now a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, while Binnington is up for the Calder Trophy. Also contributing to this Blues’ turnaround, and were moves made by Armstrong, are Ryan O'Reilly, who was acquired from Buffalo over the summer, and Game 7 hero Patrick Maroon, who was signed during free agency. Having won the GM of the Year Award in 2012, Armstrong is looking to be the first to win the award multiple times.

The Case For Don Sweeney: The Bruins finished third overall in the NHL with 107 points and are back in the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2013. Injuries forced the team to use 37 players, with production from their depth being a major contributing factor for their success this season. Some of that depth came via trades Sweeney made before the February deadline with Marcus Johansson (via New Jersey) and Charlie Coyle (from Minnesota) coming in and making impacts during their playoff run.

The Case For Don Waddell: The former Atlanta Thrashers boss is in his first season as Hurricanes GM and helped guide them to their best performance (99 points) since 2005-06 when they won the Stanley Cup. Following his hiring in May 2018, Waddell signed key pieces Petr Mrazek and Calvin de Haan in free agency; acquired Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and Nino Niederreiter via trade; and picked up Curtis McElhinney on waivers in October. Each players has played a big role in helping get the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in a decade.

MORE 2019 NHL AWARD FINALISTS
• Selke Trophy
Lady Bing Trophy
Masteron Trophy
Norris Trophy
Ted Lindsay Award
Calder Trophy
Jack Adams Award
Hart Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Rask’s roll has Bruins a win away from Stanley Cup Final

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Tuukka Rask is stopping just about any puck playoff opponents can shoot his way – even the ones he doesn’t see.

The goaltender has been dominant in the Boston Bruins’ six-game postseason winning streak that has them on the doorstep of the Stanley Cup Final. Just don’t expect him to make any grand declaration of being ”in the zone” as he makes stop after stop in these playoffs.

He’s confident and comfortable. Leave it at that.

”I’ve felt good for many, many months,” Rask said. ”It’s just the way when you’re seeing the puck, when you feel comfortable. It’s about timing and patience and all that. I think experience helps that. … The way I usually want to play, I want to play calm and make myself look big and maybe even tough chances, try to make it look easy kind of.

”So if that’s in the zone, then so be it. But I just try to be focused and give us a chance.”

That’s exactly what Rask has been doing, too, in helping the Bruins to a 3-0 lead on the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final. Boston goes for the sweep Thursday night in Raleigh.

The 32-year-old Finnish netminder has stopped 85 of 90 shots in the first three games of the series with the Hurricanes, who have just been unable to solve Rask even when getting a handful of open-net chances. He’s allowed nine goals amid 205 shots in the six-game streak, good for a .956 save percentage and a 1.5 goals-against average.

Overall, he’s second in the playoffs for save percentage (.939) and goals-against average (1.96) while posting a playoff-best 11 victories in 16 games.

”He looks super calm right now,” said Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who spent three seasons as Rask’s teammate with the Bruins. ”We have to do a better job of getting in his face and making it harder on him. I mean, if he’s going to see it, he’s going to stop it, so we’ve got to get some sloppy stuff around the net.”

Yet it didn’t matter what the Hurricanes did Tuesday night in an all-out attack on Rask to start the game. They couldn’t zip or slip one by him.

Rask stopped 20 first-period shots – 20! – and ensured the Bruins went into the first intermission in a scoreless game despite the Hurricanes carrying play in front of a rowdy crowd that had helped Carolina go 5-0 at home in the postseason to that point.

That included one sequence roughly three minutes in when Rask stopped Nino Niederreiter‘s tip, Micheal Ferland‘s putback at the crease and Justin Williams‘ follow-up try despite Rask losing his stick. There was another Williams rebound that wasn’t officially counted as a shot on goal,, too. It was a harrowing few seconds for Boston coach Bruce Cassidy, who quipped: ”I might have had my eyes closed for three of them.”

”He’s been dialed in” since the start of the playoffs, Cassidy said. ”He’s been excellent. He really hasn’t had a poor night. He’s had a couple that were, I’d say, above average and the rest have been very good. Tonight the first period was excellent.”

That gave the Bruins a chance to regroup, then come out and score twice in the second period to take control.

Sure, Rask caught a break when Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen missed a wide-open net in the opening minute when the goalie fell trying to slide across the crease. And Rask said there were shots that he never spotted until the puck hit him.

”There’s a couple of chances I didn’t see in the first period,” he said. ”A lot of times, if you don’t see it and don’t move, you’re going to have a better shot at saving it than if you would move too much.”

Then again, when a goaltender is playing as well as Rask is, sometimes he makes his own luck.

”He’s always given us a chance to win,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. ”That being said, right now he’s definitely in the zone and doing some amazing stuff.”

NOTES: Cassidy said fourth-line winger Chris Wagner has returned to Boston for further testing and will not play in Game 4. Wagner, who scored the Bruins’ first goal in Game 3, hurt his right arm while blocking a shot late in the third period. … Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said Curtis McElhinney would ”probably” make his second straight start in goal. Petr Mrazek started the Hurricanes’ first nine playoff games but allowed 10 goals in the first two games of this series.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins blast Hurricanes in Game 2

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  • Ouch. Look, every now and then, a game just gets away from you, even during the playoffs. It’s happened before for the Hurricanes, and Carolina found a way to win their Round 1 series against the Capitals, anyway. They’ll need to channel those emotions, as the Bruins absolutely stomped the Hurricanes in Game 2 on Sunday.

Bruins 6, Hurricanes 2 (Boston leads series 2-0; Game 3 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN; stream here).

After running away with Game 1 thanks to a four-goal third period, the Bruins duplicated that success when it mattered during Game 2. Boston scored two goals in each of the three periods to take a 6-0 lead, coughing up those two late goals when the two teams were basically killing time. Granted, the Hurricanes probably felt some relief by scoring a couple goals against Tuukka Rask, including a blunder by Rask on the second tally. From special teams to even-strength play to goaltending, the Hurricanes have a ton of work to do as the scene changes to Carolina for Games 3 and 4.

That one save

Game 2 was brutal for Petr Mrazek. It’s fair to wonder if Rod Brind’Amour should have replaced Mrazek for Curtis McElhinney heading into the third period, and it’s equally fair to ask if McElhinney should be the Game 3 starter. Yet, as bad as things were … at least Mrazek made this save.

Three Stars

1. Matt Grzelcyk

It could have been a short Game 2 for Grzelcyk, considering how hard that Micheal Ferland hit looked.

Instead, the blueliner enjoyed a standout afternoon, generating two of the Bruins’ first four goals (when the game was still reasonably competitive). That included the 1-0 icebreaker, an ugly-looking thing that Mrazek surely wishes he could have back.

Along with scoring two important goals, Grzelcyk logged 18:21 time on ice, delivered two hits, and blocked two shots. At this rate, people might not even feel anxious about misspelling his last name.

2. Charlie Coyle

Consider this the combined Charlie Coyle – Marcus Johansson entry.

Johansson’s work caught the eye in a more prominent way, as he did most of the work to make the 1-0 goal happen, and both of his points were primary assists.

Coyle deserves a mention, too, and he actually had one more point (three assists to Johansson’s two). It was a subtly effective all-around Game 2 for Coyle, as he enjoyed a +3 rating, went 12-3 on faceoffs, registered one hit, and one SOG in a modest 14:02 TOI.

The headlines (and amusing Dunkin’ Donuts commercials) go to Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, but the Coyle – Johansson duo is really starting to click for Boston, allowing them to win games even when the top trio is being held in check. Carolina needs to find answers quickly, or the Bruins will go through them faster than Pastrnak polishes off a cold brew.

3. Torey Krug

With it being a relatively light day at the office for Tuukka Rask (two goals allowed on 23 shots, including a funky giveaway by Rask), it seems fairer to stick with skaters for the top three.

Krug had a strong Game 2, generating three assists. Two of Krug’s assists happened on Boston’s power-play goals, which occurred when the game was still on respectable street (the 4-0 stretch through the first 40 minutes).

Those three assists give Krug 11 points in 15 playoff games, tying Krug with Jaccob Slavin and Alex Pietrangelo for third place in scoring among defensemen. Krug is one point away from matching his career high of 12 postseason points, a mark he set during last year’s postseason.

Factoids

  • With Connor Clifton scoring his first career NHL goal, the Bruins have received at least one goal from 19 different players during their 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs run. That ties the Bruins’ franchise record for a single postseason, as Boston saw 19 players find the net in 1988.
  • As Capitals fans would like to forget, the Hurricanes have already come back from a 2-0 deficit, doing so in Round 1. They’re hoping to just be the third team to successfully fight back from 2-0 deficits during the same postseason. On the bright side, this parity-filled age is responsible for the two teams who’ve done it: the Bruins in 2011 and the Penguins in 2009.
  • The Bruins scoring 10 consecutive goals marks the fourth-best playoff run in team history. The best stretch was 18 consecutive goals, which they managed in 1969.

Monday’s game

Game 2: St. Louis Blues at San Jose Sharks (San Jose leads 1-0); 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN; stream here.

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.

Bruins’ Grzelcyk scores after taking huge hit in Game 2

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When Matt Grzelcyk made it 1-0 for the Bruins during the first period of Game 2 against the Hurricanes on Sunday (airing on NBC; Stream here), it was surprising for more than one reason.

For one thing, it was a goal Petr Mrazek will surely regret. Marcus Johansson made some great moves to set up the play, but Mrazek really cannot let a goal like that squeak through, not from that angle. You can see that goal in the video above this post’s headline.

It was also a little surprising because, frankly, it’s impressive Grzelcyk wasn’t feeling too many ill effects from an absolutely massive hit by big Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland. Grzelcyk didn’t seem to see Ferland coming, as the puck was lost in his skates, and Ferland delivered an absolutely thunderous hit on the Bruins defenseman. There seemed to be some head contact during the collision, but no penalty was called:

Ouch.

Maybe it wasn’t as painful as it looked, as Grzelcyk was able to give the Bruins that early lead, which Jake DeBrusk fattened to a 2-0 advantage minutes later. Carolina must show similar resilience in Game 2 if they want to avoid dropping to a 2-0 hole in this Round 3 series.

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.