Where do Hurricanes go after another Second Round exit?
This is probably not the result the Carolina Hurricanes were expecting.
Not after a 116-point regular season where they looked like one of the most complete teams in the league and won the William Jennings Trophy. Certainly not after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead against the New York Rangers in a series where they were significant favorites.
But with their 6-2 loss in Game 7 on Monday night, the Hurricanes’ season came to an end in the Second Round for a second consecutive season, making it three straight seasons in which they have been unable to get back to the Eastern Conference Final.
On one hand, nothing about this season should be seen as a significant failure. They were one of the best teams in the league over 82 games and lost a Game 7 and a series to the likely Vezina Trophy winner and a Hart Trophy finalist in Igor Shesterkin. It happens. But even the season is not a complete failure it still has to be frustrating for the Hurricanes to not get over the hump and get any closer to the Stanley Cup with this core group of players. Carolina has been one of the best teams in the league the past three years and has seen its postseason end in the First Round, Second Round, and Second Round.
So how do they get over this hump?
One of the big problems for the Hurricanes this postseason was some of their top players did not really play at their best. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrei Svechnikov were good, but not consistently great or game-changing. Which brings us to this question: Do the Hurricanes have enough impact players to really be at a Colorado or Tampa Bay level in terms of contenders?
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Overall the team has no real weaknesses. The forwards are excellent and they have depth. Aho, Svechnikov, and Teravainen or legitimate top-line players. The defense has always been a strength of this team with Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce leading the way. Even though Frederik Andersen was injured this postseason, they still had an outstanding goalie duo all year with him and Antti Raanta. Rod Brind’Amour is one of the league’s best coaches.
For as good as the team is, and for as good as its top-line players are, the Hurricanes do not really have a top-tier scorer on their roster. Aho is probably the closest, and the only player on the roster to finish in the top-30 (exactly 30th) in the scoring race this season. Svechnikov was 52nd and Teravainen was 65th. After those three, the Hurricanes next top scorer was Trocheck at 123rd. That is only three scorers in the top-120 of the league. That is way less than we usually see from Stanley Cup teams.
By comparison: The Rangers had three top-40 scorers (Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Mika Zibanejad) and six in the top-120.
Colorado had four players in the top-25 and seven in the top-120.
Tampa Bay had two players in the top-20 and five in the top-100.
There is a clear difference in terms of impact players.
The hope for Carolina is that Svechnikov still has another level to reach in his development (and he very well might) and that players like Martin Necas and Seth Jarvis can continue to take steps forward in the coming years. But do they need to add more to complement them? Especially with the pending free agents they have coming off the books this offseason?
They have six unrestricted free agents this offseason including Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, Derek Stepan, Max Domi, Ian Cole, and Brendan Smith. Combined with restricted free agents Necas, Ethan Bear, and Tony DeAngelo the Hurricanes have nearly $40 million in salary cap space this offseason. The Hurricanes do not seem like the type of team that would be in the market for a huge splash in free agency (plus, there is always a ton of long-term risk with that), but at some point when you are so painfully close and just need another player to put you over the top it might be something to consider. Would an Evgeni Malkin, or Nazem Kadri, or Filip Forsberg be something that could make a difference?
In the end, this is not a team that necessarily did anything wrong. They are very good and were a Game 7 away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s not a team that needs a major overhaul, and if you brought back this exact same roster next season you would get another outstanding regular season performance and a team that would have a chance to make a serious run in the playoffs. It would not be fair to crush their top players for not scoring a ton of goals in the playoffs because sometimes that happens to even the best of the best in a short series. Especially against a world class goalie starting to play at the top of his game. But even with all of that said if they are going to get over this second round mountain they might still need at least one more impact player to really be a difference maker.