NHL 31 in 31 Season Review: Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes are among the most interesting teams in hockey. They are analytics darlings, they have publicly stated they have bought into the analytics movement and are among the top teams in terms of both Corsi and Fenwick measurements. However, the team failed to make the playoffs despite being the best Corsi for % team in all of hockey. We will explore some of the reasons as we move through this piece.
The Hurricanes have plenty of young talent that should excite fans moving forward. If new ownership is willing to spend to the cap to keep the young talent the team could have an exciting future. The first player that comes to mind is the 20-year-old Sebastian Aho. Aho had 49 even strength points and an outstanding 55.5% Corsi For. Aho remains under contract for next season and the Hurricanes must be excited about that fact. Aho is among the best in the league at driving possession. He makes 20 possession driving plays per 20 minutes and is able to control 6.21 offensive zone entries per 20 minutes as well. He is great off the rush and is responsible for 1 primary assist every 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time. The only issue with Aho is he did have a high shooting percentage. Even if the percentage drops closer to the league average he will still drive possession and create chances for the Hurricanes.
Teuvo Teravainen was another great playmaker up front for the Hurricanes. He had 40 assists on the season and registered 23 goals. He is different than Aho in the sense that he is more of a powerplay specialist, but he is still able to drive possession at 5v5. It is not a surprise that Teravainen has good possession numbers, but for a player with so much offensive talent it is impressive that he is able to hold his own in the defensive zone as well. We mentioned earlier that he is at his best on the powerplay and the numbers back it up. He is a great at setting up teammates for one timers on the powerplay, he averages 4.2 passes for one timers per 20 minutes. His contract status is the same as Aho so both forwards should be returning to Carolina for next season and possibly beyond.
The Hurricanes have locked up Brett Pesce and Jacob Slavin to long term deals. This was a smart idea for the team because the two young players figure to continue developing and the cap hits have the potential to be very reasonable once the players reach their primes. Slavin is on the books for $5.3M and Pesce has a $4.025M dollar hit. Pesce is an interesting case, his offensive zone start percentage is 30% yet he is still able to maintain a 54.2% Corsi. There is not one aspect of his game that particularly stands out, he is a well-rounded defenseman that any team would want on their roster. He blocks 7.1 passes per twenty minutes and has a north pass success rate of 65%. This means that he is very good at moving the puck out of the neutral zone into the offensive zone, something that any team would strive to do.
Lastly, two bigger named defenseman had successful seasons as well. Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk played big minutes for the Hurricanes and were productive while they were on the ice. Hanifin is rounding into form and people forget that he is only 21 years old. The team was careful with how he was used, his offensive zone start percentage was 40.8% which is in line with an offensive minded defenseman. He is fantastic at moving the puck out of the defensive zone and recovers 77.5% of opposing dump-ins. Faulk also excels at moving the puck and starts in the offensive zone slightly less often than Hanifin. He excels on the penalty kill and is a well-rounded defenseman.
The Hurricanes do not spend to the cap so their potential for high money disappointments, but they do have a few players who did not perform to their expectations. Marcus Kruger was acquired from the Blackhawks and the team expected him to play a bottom six role and contribute a little bit offensively. Kruger has never been a big scorer but 6 points in 48 games was simply not enough and the team ended up moving him to Arizona.
The biggest disappointment in Carolina was the goaltending situation. Cam Ward was not getting any younger, so the team shelled out big money to Scott Darling in hopes of him becoming a franchise goaltender. Ward performed up to expectations, his goals against and his expected goals against were the same (2.45). He played in 43 games this season and had a record of 23-14-4. His counterpart Scott Darling had a record of 13-21-7. It goes without saying that the team expected more from Darling. His expected goals against was 2.53 but his actual was a much higher 2.90. He struggled saving shots from the inner slot, in other words Darling rarely was able to make the “big save”. There is no sense in beating a dead horse, but the Hurricanes will need Darling to step up in a big way next season.
The Hurricanes are one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason. New owner Tom Dundon has been struggling to hire a General Manager for weeks and the position is looking like it will never be filled. Dundon represents a new way of thinking in hockey and it remains to be seen how much of his own money he will spend and how the team on the ice will be impacted. If the team decides to spend to the cap they will have plenty of money to spend. This season the team had nearly $16M available in cap space and they will have $27M heading into the offseason. Noah Hanifin must be resigned to what figures to be a sizable contract. Klas Dahlbeck and Trevor van Riemsdyk are also pending RFA’s but are much easier to replace in comparison to Hanifin.
Up front Elias Lindholm is the biggest name that is heading into free agency this offseason but the issue for the Hurricanes will arise after the completion of the upcoming season. Aho and Teravainen will be RFA’s. If Dundon is looking to make a splash right away he could lock up both players to long term contracts. Aho is a particularly interesting case, he is only 20 years old and the way the buyout rules work it only makes sense to sign him to an 8-year deal. This would allow the team to lock up the player for a long time and if Aho falls off the wagon he could be bought out before age 25 and the team would only have to pay 1/3rd of the contract. If he signs a short-term bridge deal and continues to perform well the team could be on the hook for much more money with his next contract than they would be if they locked him up for eight years now.
When looking at free agency it is difficult to say what the Hurricanes should look to do because nobody is sure what Dundon will let happen. The Hurricanes will have the money to make a big splash and the most hopeful of fans might let themselves imagine John Tavares surrounded by all the young talent in Carolina. Of course, that is not likely to happen, but the point still stands that the Hurricanes are able to pursue free agents if that is the direction they chose to head in. By not spending to the cap, the Hurricanes have themselves well positioned for the future and if Dundon allows it to happen the Hurricanes could be a force in the Eastern Conference.
Please be sure to check in again tomorrow as we take an in-depth look at the Calgary Flames. If you enjoyed this review, please follow us on Twitter, @afpanalytics, and share it with your friends!
Stats have been pulled from NaturalStatTrick.com and Corsica.hockey. Salary info from Capfriendly.com
JUSTIN WHITE is an intern AFP Analytics. Justin is a graduate of St. John Fisher College where he earned his degree in Sport Management and Statistics. He has worked with the Rochester Americans and members of their coaching staff on various analytics and statistics based projects.