The Carolina Hurricanes were supposed to take a step forward this season, but are currently 21st in the NHL, tied for last in the Metro division and most importantly, out of a playoff spot. They looked to be primed for their first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season. Signing Justin Williams, or Mr. Game Seven, seemed to point towards a hopeful playoff run. Is it really as bad as it seems?

Why Carolina Is Performing So Poorly This Season

A big reason for the lack of winning is their team save percentage is sitting at 25th place with 0.897%. This abysmal sv% is due mainly to Scott Darling having a season no one could have predicted. Before being acquired in a trade this past offseason, Darling was a magnificent backup in Chicago but now ranks 43rd out 46 goalies that have played this season in sv%. It’s not only Darling that is having a bad year, newly appointed co-captain Justin Faulk is on pace for his worst point total since the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season. Both of these key players have been having awful seasons since the get-go.

Between Darling and Faulk, there is no reason these two players shouldn’t regress back towards the norm and begin to pick up the quality of play. Faulk has played significantly better than this on the Hurricanes, and Darling will not continue to play at 0.022% lower than his career save percentage, especially with the fantastic defense that the Hurricanes have.

Building A Defensive Core 101

What the Carolina Hurricanes have done with their blueline is what any other team can only hope to achieve. With 5 of their 6 regular defenseman have been drafted by the team (rather than via trade or free agency), the Hurricanes have drafted extremely well to create one of the top defense in the league. Despite his awful first half of the season, Justin Faulk is an amazing defenseman on a down year. He is a quarterback on the powerplay unit and in an 82 game season is a player that puts up 40+ points as a defense. Along with Faulk headlining the pack, the Hurricanes also have a former 5th overall pick, and recently named all-star, Noah Hanifin.  

The Hurricanes also have Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, newly acquired Trevor van Riemsdyk, and rookie Haydn Fleury. Pesce and Slavin are quickly growing to become premiere stay at home defensemen, and are both extended through to 2023-24 season.
Data courtesy: Corsica.Hockey and Hockey Reference
With every defenseman on the Hurricanes roster above the 50% corsi for percent threshold, Pesce and Slavin are the only two to do so while starting more in the defensive zone than offensive, as well as Slavin and Pesce facing the toughest competition in terms of corsi. These two are a dream for any team to just have one of, and both are on a team-friendly, long-term deal at the young age of 23.

A Struggling Offense

Despite being a fantastic defensive team, the Hurricanes struggle with scoring. The Hurricanes top line has been good for the team, but despite that, the Hurricanes are 21st in the league in goals for. Teuvo Teravainen is the team’s leading scorer with 35 points. Among the rest of the NHL’s team-leading scorers, he ranks 22nd. This isn’t the kind of offensive numbers you want to see from a bubble playoff team. Jeff Skinner, who finished 6th in the NHL in goals last season with 37, is now on pace for only 26 goals. Still a good season by any means, but a large step back from his previous totals. Despite the struggling offense, Sebastian Aho is on pace to break his rookie totals in goals, assists, and points.

The Hurricanes forward depth falls off quickly after their top line though. The second line center is Derek Ryan, who has a career high of 29 points previous to this year. On most any other team in the NHL Derek Ryan would be a 3rd or 4th line center, which has also likely heavily influenced Jeff Skinner’s numbers being on Ryan’s wing. Carolina ranks 26th in the NHL in shooting percentage, shooting only 8.0%. This is 1.3% below the NHL average of 9.3%. With numbers like these, we can expect players like Skinner, who has a 93.7 PDO, to heat up in the second half of the NHL season.

Down The Pipeline

Martin Necas, Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier all headline the Hurricanes prospects. Necas made opening night roster at the start of the year, posted 3 goals and 11 points in 7 games on a 4th place Czech team at the WJC this year. Bean won gold with Canada at the 2018 WJC and silver with the previous years’ team and was recently traded from the Calgary Hitmen, sitting in third last in the WHL, to the Tri-City Americans who are in the middle of the league at 9th.

Julien Gauthier in his draft year did quite well at the draft combine, as expected with his family being bodybuilders. He was also the last draft eligible player to make team Canada for the World Junior roster in 2016. In his first year of pro, Gauthier has struggled to produce at the level he did in junior but with time he will adapt to the pro ranks. All of these picks look to be very promising and will make an impact at the NHL level.

Next Steps

To become take the next step they were thought to this year, their depth players need to start producing more. Victor Rask is on pace for just 26 points this season, almost 20 back from last seasons totals. The prospect line is top heavy, but the top three look to be poised for good NHL careers.

The defense is one to marvel at, and though the goaltending has been atrocious, it will not continue to be as bad as it has been (or the Hurricanes better hope, because Darling is signed through to 2021). With Necas and Gauthier likely making the NHL sooner rather than later, and players such as Skinner and Rask to become better than they have been, this is a team that will be intimidating for years to come.

Despite being tied for last in the Metropolitan division they are only 1 point back of a wildcard spot, but unlike a team such as the Pittsburgh Penguins who only have to make the playoffs then anything can happen, the Hurricanes would be looking at a second-round exit at best this season. The season isn’t what was expected, but the best is yet to come for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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