Petr Mrazek

What is the long-term outlook for the Hurricanes?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

This has the potential to be one of the best long-term situations in the league given their collective age (one of the youngest teams in the league), the talent and potential on the roster, as well as the fact that so many of the key players are already signed to long-term deals.

The Montreal Canadiens did them a huge favor this offseason by signing Sebastian Aho to an easily matchable offer sheet, locking him in place for the next five years.

Meanwhile, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck, Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, and Brett Pesce are all signed to long-term deals for at least the next two seasons. Several of them signed beyond that, while only two of those players (Aho and Staal) count more than $5.5 million against the salary cap individually.

Add in the fact that Dougie Hamilton is signed for another year, while Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas are both still on their entry-level deals and will not be eligible for unrestricted free agency for another six seasons and all of the most important players are locked in place.

Out of that core group, Staal is the only one over the age of 30 (currently 31), while the majority of them are still age 26 or younger. That means they are all either in the prime of their careers right now, or are just about to reach their prime years in the coming seasons.

Aho, Svechnikov, and Necas are already outstanding players, and all might still have their best days ahead of them.

Long-Term Needs

Goaltending has been the single biggest question mark for this team for almost a decade now, and that still might be the case.

That is not meant to be a knock on the current duo of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek. They have been solid this season when healthy, and a team could certainly do worse than having those two as their regular goalie tandem.

Given the overall strength of the team — and especially the defense when it is healthy — they do not need a game-saving superstar between the pipes to give them a chance. They simply need solid, steady, consistent play. They are getting that.

The question comes from the fact that I just do not know if either one is a true long-term solution in net, and if they have that solution somewhere else in their organization right now.

Both players are signed through the end of next season.

Other than maybe finding a potentially better long-term option in net, there are not a lot of truly pressing needs here. As mentioned above, their core group is locked in place and the addition of Trocheck from the Florida Panthers just before the trade deadline adds what could be an ideal long-term fit in the second-line center spot.

Long-Term Strengths

This current core has been built around its young defense, and that is still by far the team’s biggest strength both now and in the immediate future.

Slavin, Pesce, Skjei, and Gardiner are all signed through at least the 2022-23 season, while the former three all go through the end of the 2023-24 season. Add in Hamilton, who is signed through the end of next season, and that is as good of a top-five as you will find in the NHL right now. They are all in the prime of their careers, they are all outstanding players that fit the modern NHL game with their mobility and puck skills, and they are the backbone of what has been one of the league’s best teams when it comes to limiting shots and scoring chances over the past four years.

If they can manage to get Hamilton re-signed that would be another major piece in place.

Along with the defense, they also have what look to be two of the most important pieces for any contending team already in place with the duo Aho and Svechnikov — impact forwards that can carry the offense.

Aho is already a sensational player and a top-line star, while Svechnikov might end up being the best of the bunch. Aho’s contract could end up looking like a steal over the next four years, while Svechnikov still has one more year on an entry-level contract, giving them a huge advantage when it comes to adding pieces next season.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Hurricanes
Hurricanes surprises and disappointments
• John Forslund tells his quarantine story

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Looking at the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 38-25-5 (68 games), Fourth place in Metropolitan Division; first Wild Card spot in Eastern Conference
Leading scorer: Sebastian Aho 66 points (38 goals, 28 assists)

In-season roster moves

  • Acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils for Janne Kuokkanen, Fredrik Claesson, and a conditional 2020 fourth-round draft pick.
  • Acquired defenseman Brady Skjei from the New York Rangers for a 2020 first-round draft pick.
  • Traded for Vincent Trocheck by sending Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Luostarinen, and Chase Priskie to the Florida Panthers.
  • Veteran forward Justin Williams returned mid-season after using the first half of the season to contemplate his future.

Season Overview

After their surprise run to the Eastern Conference Final during the 2018-19 season, expectations were sky high for the Hurricanes at the start of this season.

The results so far have been a bit of a mixed bag.

At the time of the NHL’s hiatus the Hurricanes occupied the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference but were in the middle of an intense fight alongside the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Florida Panthers for those two playoff spots. They still seem to have the inside track for one of them, but the overall results may not be exactly as good as they hoped given their success last year and the improvements they attempted to make to the roster in the offseason (additions of Jake Gardiner, Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel) and internal improvements from young players like Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas.

One of the biggest things that has held them back — injuries.

Specifically, the injuries to top defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce.

Prior to breaking a bone in his leg in mid-January, Hamilton was not only having a Norris Trophy caliber season, he may have been the best all-around defensemen in the NHL this season. It was a completely dominant performance and one that was not going to be easy to replace.

When Pesce was injured a month later — along with James Reimer and Petr Mrazek, the teams top two goalies — it put a pretty significant dent in their greatest overall strength.

They attempted to address the defense at the trade deadline by acquiring Vatanen and Skjei in separate trades, while also adding another potential impact forward in Trocheck. The latter joins an already impressive core of forwards that includes Aho, Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen.

Assuming everyone on defense is healthy, that is a potentially imposing roster.

Highlight of the Season

What else could it be other than 42-year-old David Ayres, a zamboni driver by day, entering a game and getting the win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

MORE:
Hurricanes’ biggest surprises and disappointments
Hurricanes long-term outlook
John Forslund tells his quarantine story

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Where every team stands right now

NHL Power Rankings
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Even though there is no hockey at the moment but we will keep the NHL Power Rankings rolling along every Monday.

In future weeks during the NHL’s hiatus this will take a more off-beat approach, but for now, we are going to take another look at where every team in the NHL stood before the season was put on hold.

Here is where we are for right now.

1. Boston Bruins. The Bruins were well on their way to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and potentially finishing with one of the best records in franchise history. They have it all this season.

2. St. Louis Blues. The defending Stanley Cup champions were looking even better than a year ago and starting to hit their stride in the stretch run. There is also that possibility of a Vladimir Tarasenko return lurking in the background.

3. Colorado Avalanche. Even as the injuries mounted they kept winning. A lot. A truly scary team in both the short-and long-term.

4. Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers finally find a franchise goalie and then a global pandemic brings everything to a stop.

5. Vegas Golden Knights. They were starting to go on a roll at just the right time, have two great goalies, and were still going to get Mark Stone back.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning. They won just three out of 10 after their 11-game winning streak came to an end. Losing Steven Stamkos, and more recently, Victor Hedman, were two big injuries to deal with.

7. Washington Capitals. John Carlson was on pace for a 90-point season, which is still pretty absurd to think about it in today’s NHL for a defenseman.

8. Edmonton Oilers. If nothing else, Leon Draisaitl has shown this season he can not only carry his own line, he can dominate while doing so.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins. Their big question going into the playoffs would be whether or not one of Tristan Jarry or Matt Murray could step up and run with the goaltending job. Lately, neither one had done that.

10. Minnesota Wild. Truly one of the strangest teams in the league this season. At so many different points they seemed finished, only to keep coming back and staying in the race. They are 15-7-1 in their past 23 games and looking like a playoff team.

11. Carolina Hurricanes. The injuries on defense were going to be a lot to overcome, but getting Petr Mrazek back (and hopefully James Reimer) would have been a huge lift.

12. Nashville Predators. Once one of their goalies (in this case Juuse Saros) started making some saves they magically started winning again.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. There is no team in the NHL that has a wider range of possible outcomes than this one. They could win it all. They could lose in Round 1 in five games. They could keep everyone together. They could trade a core piece this summer. Who knows?

14. Winnipeg Jets. Not only should Connor Hellebuyck get serious Vezina Trophy consideration, he should get a few top-five MVP votes for what he has done for this team.

15. Calgary Flames. I feel like this team should be better than it has been, and at the same time, isn’t as bad as I thought it has been.

16. Dallas Stars. The offense would hold them back and be a concern. The goaltending would give them a chance.

17. New York Rangers. There is a foundation in place for this team to be very good, very fast, and for a very long time,.

18. Vancouver Canucks. They were set to get Brock Boeser back, which would have been huge, but the Jacob Markstrom injury was going to be a problem.

19. Florida Panthers. Back-to-back wins against Montreal and St. Louis (an extremely impressive win) helped them stay in it, but this season has mostly been a disappointment.

20. New York Islanders. Speaking of disappointments, after last year’s surprising performance and that 15-game point streak earlier this season the bottom completely fell out on this team. It was not getting any better down the stretch.

21. Chicago Blackhawks. The story of the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks was going to be “too little, too late.”

22. Los Angeles Kings. Say this for the Kings: The players still there never quit on this season. One of the hottest teams in the league going into the hiatus and beating playoff teams regularly.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets. It would have been interesting to see what this team was capable of with better injury luck.

24. Montreal Canadiens. He probably will not get many votes because he is very overlooked, but Philip Danault would be a good Selke Trophy sleeper.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They made a lot of the right moves, things just did not work out. Losing their two goalies definitely hurt. While Adin Hill did find in place of them, a healthy Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta were difference makers.

26. New Jersey Devils. One of the bright spots here was the late season resurgence of Cory Schneider. He has had such a great career it would have been a shame to see him just suddenly lose it all.

27. Anaheim Ducks. They desperately need an influx of offensive talent for next season and beyond.

28. San Jose Sharks. Get them healthy and give them better goaltending and let’s see what this core can do next season.

29. Buffalo Sabres. In a different year on a better team we would be talking about Jack Eichel as an MVP contender.

30. Ottawa Senators. With a little draft lottery luck they could have two top-five picks this year (their pick and San Jose’s pick). That could be franchise changing.

31. Detroit Red Wings. But no team needs the No. 1 overall pick more than the Red Wings.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Goaltending help on the way as Mrazek returns for Hurricanes

Hurricanes
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Injuries have been a pretty big hurdle for the Carolina Hurricanes recently in their push for a playoff spot.

Not only are they without two of their top defensemen — Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce — but they have also been down to their third-and fourth-string goalies due to the injuries to James Reimer (lower-body) and Petr Mrazek (concussion).

They will be getting one of them back on Tuesday when Mrazek gets the start against the Detroit Red Wings.

Both goalies were injured six games ago in Toronto, resulting in emergency goalie David Ayres taking their spot and getting the win.

With Mrazek and Reimer sidelined, the Hurricanes then went on to lose the next four games before finally snapping that streak with back-to-back wins against the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins this weekend.

In 39 appearances this season Mrazek has a 20-16-2 record with a .904 save percentage.

Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg split the playing time over the past couple of weeks. Together, they had a sub-.900 save percentage in the six games.

Reimer has also been back on the ice this week and has accompanied the Hurricanes on their current road trip.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings sitting in the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, owning a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders, Hurricanes slide leaves playoff door open for Rangers

NHL Playoffs
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Thanks to Mika Zibanejad‘s five-goal performance on Thursday night, the New York Rangers were able to pick up a huge win against the Washington Capitals to snap what had been a three-game losing streak.

Combined with regulation losses by the Carolina Hurricanes (against Philadelphia) and the New York Islanders (against Ottawa) on Thursday, the results helped the Rangers inch a little bit closer to a potential playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The odds are still stacked against them, but the fact they are even in the race at this point is a remarkable accomplishment and a minor hockey miracle.

As of Friday the Rangers are two points back of the Islanders for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Hurricanes, and two points ahead of the Florida Panthers.

Here is how the current Wild Card race shakes out, including every team’s current pace.

Given their current paces you can see the Rangers still have some work to do to catch either the Columbus Blue Jackets or Islanders and stay ahead of the Hurricanes, but this is still a dramatic change from what we saw as recently as one month ago.

Go back to the start of February and the Rangers were 10 points back of the Islanders and seven points back of both the Hurricanes and Panthers. Today, they have pretty much drawn even with the Hurricanes, moved ahead of the Panthers, and climbed to within striking distance of the Islanders. Those are significant gaps to close in that period of time. It is remarkably rare for teams to make up even a four-or five-point gap at the halfway point of the season, and the Rangers are currently in the process of closing 7-10 point gaps in just a little more than a month.

It’s been the perfect storm of the Rangers getting white hot and quite literally every team in direct competition with them starting to crumble for a variety of reasons.

Columbus, a team that has been completely devastated by injuries this season, has lost 11 out of its past 13 games (six of those losses have come in overtime or shootout, though).

The Islanders still have a decent hold on a Wild Card spot, but have been one of the league’s worst teams (no exaggeration) since that early-season point streak came to an end in late November. In 45 games since Nov. 25 the Islanders own only a .489 points percentage, 24th in the league during that stretch. Most recently, they have won just two of their past 11 games and take a five-game losing streak into Saturday’s game with the Hurricanes.

Speaking of the Hurricanes, their current injury situation is really starting to catch up with them.

They are still playing without both of their regular goalies (Petr Mrazek and James Reimer) and have lost four in a row since they exited the lineup. The most recent Hurricanes goalie to record a win was David Ayres. Even more concerning the goalie situation is the fact they are now without Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. That puts an absolutely massive dent in their blue line, and for as good as trade deadline acquisitions Brady Skjei and Sam Vatanen are, neither one is an upgrade over the two injured players and Vatanen has still yet to appear in a game due to his own injury. They are just 8-7-1 since Hamilton went out of the lineup, and remain winless since Pesce went out.

That’s not to say the Rangers don’t have their own concerns right now.

Igor Shesterkin, who had overtaken both Alexandar Georgiev and Henrik Lundqvist as the team’s no No. 1 goalie, remains out of the lineup due to injuries sustained in a car accident just before the NHL trade deadline. Chris Kreider, meanwhile, is going to miss most — if not all — of the remaining games in the regular season due to an ankle injury. In the meantime, they are going to need to keep leaning on the duo of Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin to keep carrying the offense, and hope that the Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets continue the recent slides that have helped close the gap.

It’s asking a lot, and any extended slump by the Rangers or any winning streak by the Islanders, Blue Jackets or Hurricanes could render all of this meaningless. But the Rangers have at least given themselves a chance and a reason for their fans to pay close attention to the stretch run of the regular season.

Related: Western Conference Wild Card race is still not clear

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.