Dougie Hamilton

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What is the long-term outlook for the Hurricanes?

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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.

Carolina Hurricanes: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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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 surprises and disappointments for the Carolina Hurricanes.

What happened to Nino Niederreiter‘s offense?

From an overall performance standpoint this might be the single biggest disappointment for this year’s Hurricanes team.

The Hurricanes acquired Niederreiter from the Minnesota Wild a little over a year ago for Viktor Rask, and it looked like an immediate steal. At the time he seemed to be an ideal bounce-back candidate and made an instant impact on the Hurricanes’ lineup during the stretch run of the regular season. He’s been a dependable two-way player for several years and along with strong defensive play and an ability to drive possession, he’s also been a near lock for 20-25 goals and around 50 points every season.

This season, though, his offense took a dive off the cliff.

While his underlying numbers remain outstanding, he managed only 11 goals and 29 points in 67 games. That put him on an 82-game pace for just 13 goals and 35 points. Just for comparisons sake, In 36 games with the Hurricanes a year ago after the trade he recorded 14 goals and 30 points. Given his career track record, as well as the fact that he is still an elite possession-driver, it’s possible that it’s just an outlier of a season driven by some bad luck and a poor shooting percentage. He seems to be a good bet to bounce back next season, but the overall production was still a bit of a disappointment.

Andrei Svechnikov takes a big step toward stardom

I don’t know if this is technically a “surprise” as much as it is the expectation, but the second-year forward (and 2018 No. 2 overall pick) looks like an emerging superstar for the Hurricanes.

After scoring 20 goals as a 18-year-old rookie, he came back in his sophomore season and was on track to hit the 30-goal mark while playing an advanced all-around game for his age.

As if that was not enough, he also brought the Lacrosse goal to the NHL. Not once, but twice.

Dougie Hamilton loses his shot at the Norris Trophy

This is one of those disappointments that is simply the result of bad luck. Nobody is to blame here.

In mid-January Hamilton was playing at a level that almost no other defenseman in the league could match and was starting to emerge as one of the leading contenders for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. He was leading the Hurricanes’ offense from the blue line, driving possession, and helping to form one of the league’s best defense pairings alongside Jaccob Slavin.

Then a broken bone in his leg sidelined him for months and not only robbed the Hurricanes of one of their best players, it took away his opportunity and winning a major piece of hardware to finally cement his status as one of the league’s best blue-liners.

Justin Williams returned and made an immediate impact

Williams was not with the team at the start of the season as he contemplated his future, but it always seemed inevitable that he was going to return at some point before the playoffs.

The question was always going to be how much he would have left in the tank at age 38 and after missing half of a season.

The answer: A lot.

In his 20 games after re-joining the team Williams played like he never took any time off. He scored eight goals, scored shootout winners, and was the same outstanding all-around player he has been for his entire career. It was like getting a significant in-season trade addition without having to give up anything and made an already deep roster just that much better.

The Jake Gardiner question

The Hurricanes added Gardiner to their roster just before the start of the season, signing him to a four-year, $16.2 million contract to add even more depth to an already loaded defense.

But has it really worked out as hoped or planned?

The traditional box score numbers paint a rather uninspiring picture. His offensive production is down from where it has been at its peak despite getting decent power play time, he is a team-worst minus-24, and has mostly played a third-pairing role in terms of his usage. Probably not what you want from a $4 million per year blue liner.

He has looked a lot better from the analytical side of things where his possession, scoring chance, and expected goal differentials are all quite strong. None of that is a new development for his career.

Gardiner has always been a polarizing player because the analytics always seem to like his performance more than the eye test does. That creates some strong extremes in the narrative surrounding his career and allows him to become either extremely overvalued or undervalued depending on which side of the fence you reside on.

MORE:
Looking at the 2019-20 Hurricanes
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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes

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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.

Islanders, Hurricanes slide leaves playoff door open for Rangers

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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.

Trades: Hurricanes get Vatanen from Devils, Brady Skjei from Rangers

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The Carolina Hurricanes were one of the busiest teams at the NHL trade deadline on Monday, and given their current injury situation they probably needed to be.

With defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce both sidelined longer-term with injuries, the Hurricanes added Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei in separate deals with the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.

In exchange for Vatanen, the Hurricanes are sending a conditional 2020 4th round pick, forward prospect Janne Kuokkanen, and Fredrik Claesson to New Jersey.

Vatanen, who has been injured for the past couple of weeks, is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

For Skjei, the Hurricanes sent a 2020 first-round pick to the Rangers.

The Hurricanes have two first-round picks in the 2020 class (their own and Toronto’s) and will send the lesser of those two picks to the Rangers.

Skjei is signed for five more years at a salary cap hit of $5.25 million per season. He joins Jaccob Slavin, Jake Gardiner, and Pesce as defensemen on the roster that are signed through at least the 2022-23 season. Hamilton is still signed through the end of next season.

The Hurricanes also added Vincent Trocheck in a blockbuster deal with the Florida Panthers earlier on Monday.

While all of these moves either address significant short-term needs (Vatanan and Skjei) and add potential impact talent to the roster (Trocheck) the biggest question for Carolina down the stretch will be the health of their two goalies, James Reimer and Petr Mrazek.

Both were injured on Saturday night in the Hurricanes’ 6-3 win against Toronto, resulting in emergency goalie David Aryes entering the game and getting the win. Both goalies are expected to be sidelined due to their injuries and there is currently no timetable for their returns. With no trade for a goalie completed before Monday’s trade deadline, that leaves the Hurricanes with a goalie duo of Alex Nedeljkovic and Anton Forsberg. The performance of those two for however long the Hurricanes need to rely on them will do more to impact the team’s playoff chances than any trade made on Monday.

The Hurricanes next game is on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.

They enter the week in the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 74 points. They are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for that spot but still have two games in hand. They are also just two points back of the New York Islanders for the first wild card spot, and three points back of the Philadelphia Flyers for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division.

 

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

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.