Our annual What Went Wrong series examines the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2017-18 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
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Carolina has the longest playoff drought in the league at nine straight years. The Hurricanes posted a record of 36-35-11 to finish 14 points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Carolina faded late in the year, winning just nine of their final 25 games (9-14-2) of the season.
Carolina didn’t get much in the way of offense outside of Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, who both surpassed the 60-point plateau. Justin Williams was the only other member of the Hurricanes who managed to register 50 or more points, but he earned just 16 goals in 82 contests. The Hurricanes didn’t take advantage of their scoring opportunities and ranked 28th in the league with a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 7.03.
Scoring was certainly a problem, but keeping goals out of the net was a much bigger issue for the Hurricanes. Goaltending being a sore spot for Carolina is nothing new. Carolina has placed in the bottom-four of save percentage in each of the last four seasons. In 2017-18. the Hurricanes ranked 31st overall with an .893 save percentage. They also had a save percentage of 90.88 at 5-on-5, which was better than just the Ottawa Senators (90.82). The 179 goals against they surrendered at 5-on-5 ranked them 28th overall even though they were in the middle of the pack in high danger chances against and high danger goals against. The bottom line is the Hurricanes desperately need better goaltending.
Bill Peters resigned as head coach at the end of the season and Rod Brind’Amour will be behind the bench for the 2018-19 campaign Carolina was a big winner at the NHL Draft Lottery when they moved up to the second overall selection. The Hurricanes possess some solid building blocks up front and on the back end, but steps forward need to happen or else changes are inevitable.
Jeff Skinner - Skinner netted a career-high 37 goals in 2016-17 and he tied a personal best with 63 points, but he only generated 24 goals and 49 points in 82 games last season. The 26-year-old winger is viewed as a popular trade candidate this summer and the rumor mill has already heated up with talks that he could be on the move in the near future. Skinner has one more season left on his contract and then he is eligible for unrestricted free agency.
Scott Darling - Darling inked a four-year, $16.6 million contract with Carolina shortly after he was acquired from Chicago a year ago. It was hoped that he would take over the reins as the team’s number one goaltender, but his first campaign with the Hurricanes was a complete flop. In 43 appearances, Darling posted a 13-21-7 record with a 3.18 goals-against average and .888 save percentage. He was outplayed by Cam Ward, who can become an unrestricted free agent in July, and has a great deal to prove next year.
Justin Faulk - Faulk dropped to eight goals last season after he scored 17 times in 2016-17. He had 16 goals in 2015-16 and 15 goals in 2014-15. Faulk also posted a personal worst minus-26 rating and his 31 points represented his lowest total since his rookie year, excluding the lockout-shortened campaign of 2012-13. Faulk will look to get back on track next season.
Elias Lindholm - Lindholm improved from 11 goals in each of his previous seasons to 16 markers in 2017-18, but he accounted for just 44 points in 81 contests after he had 45 points over 72 outings during the 2016-17 campaign. He scored a mere two goals in the final 33 games of the year. The fifth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft hasn’t made much progress offensively, but he is only 23 years of age and there is some potential for more.
Calgary was in the thick of the playoff race until a second-half fade landed them on the outside of the postseason for the seventh time in the last nine years. The Flames were in a playoff spot on Feb. 25, but collected a league-low 11 points for the rest of the year to finish 11 points behind the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. Calgary slipped from a record of 45-33-4 in 2016-17 to a mark of 37-35-10 this past campaign.
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk were productive up front, but the Flames lacked secondary scoring. Gaudreau and Monahan were the only members of the team who topped the 50-point plateau. Calgary’s 33.6 shots per game placed the squad sixth in the league, but their 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 6.85 was the third-worst in the NHL. The Flames lack of finish can also been seen in their 29th-ranked high danger shooting percentage (11.17%). It also didn’t help that the team’s high danger save percentage was 22nd overall (86.78%).
Mike Smith helped mask some of the struggles that Calgary had in their own end, but he eventually hit a wall. Prior to the All-Star break, he posted a 20-13-6 record with a 2.39 goals-against average and .926 save percentage. Smith was not nearly as solid after that with a mark of 5-9-0, a 3.45 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in 14 appearances. He also missed 13 games due to a groin injury.
Calgary placed 29th overall on the power play after they finished 10th in 2016-17. The Flames made the playoffs in Glen Gulutzan’s first season behind the bench, but he was fired after the 2017-18 campaign. Bill Peters was named the Flames’ new head coach after he resigned from Carolina.
Mikael Backlund - Backlund produced career-highs in 2016-17 with 22 goals and 53 points, but he was unable to build on those numbers. He fell to 14 goals and 45 points over 82 contests last season. Backlund was credited with a personal best 214 shots on goal, but he didn’t take advantage of his chances. That was running theme for the Flames in 2017-18.
Sam Bennett - Bennett didn’t become the sleeper scorer that some hoped he would be in 2017-18. He earned 26 points for a second straight season after he 18 goals and 36 points during his rookie campaign. The Flames desperately could have used some depth scoring and Bennett, who was the fourth overall pick in 2014, should be able to take some steps forward. He will be just 22-years-old when the 2018-19 season begins so there’s still time for him to live up to his potential.
Michael Frolik - Frolik was coming off a 44-point season in 2016-17 in which he scored 17 goals, but he struggled to produce last year. He notched a mere 10 goals and 25 points in 70 matches. Frolik has never reached the 50-point plateau in his career, but he is capable of hitting 40-plus points especially if he stays healthier.
Mike Smith - As previously mentioned, Smith was very good for the Flames for the first half of the season, but his struggles in the last two months of the year and injury proved to be costly. Smith has plenty of motivation to bounce back, as the 36-year-old veteran netminder can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 campaign.