In a recent post, I discussed the option of Carolina turning into a more defensive-minded organization, one that would seemingly break the mold of their history in the league thus far. With Justin Faulk, Hayden Fleury, Roland McKoewn and Ryan Murphy on the back end, the Canes have a lot of young defensemen with high potential. They can add to that by possibly drafting Noah Hanifin or Ivan Provorov in this upcoming draft.
However, at the same time, the Hurricanes finished 27th in the league in goal-scoring, averaging a measly 2.23 goals per game. The numbers are even worse when focused solely on even-strength play, as the Hurricanes basically allowed 4 goals for every 3 goals they scored 5-on-5. Their shooting percentage at 5-on-5 ranked 29th in the league at 6.2%. Head coach Bill Peters did a lot of good things for the team during his first year with the Canes, but the drastic drop in scoring needs to be addressed.
Alexander Semin: Injured or Broken?
Let’s discuss the elephant in the room first. Alexander Semin had an unbelievably poor year last season. The former 40-goal scorer managed only 6 goals and 19 points, well below even the most conservative expectations for the enigmatic winger. To make matters worse, he was paid $7 million to put up such paltry numbers, a situation that the Hurricanes literally can’t afford to have happen again.
Almost immediately, it was obvious that Semin and Peters didn’t mesh well, as the winger spent many games in November watching the game from the press box. The coach claimed that Semin “wasn’t moving his feet” or “playing at the pace the league is at.” Peters followed that statement up by saying it was “a decision that I think is best for the individual and for the team.”
To his credit, Semin did seem to find his game late in the year, showing a remarkable change in confidence and skill in February/March from what he presented in October and November. This change in play led many to believe that Semin’s wrist may have not fully recovered from the surgery he had in the offseason and it hampered his play this year.
There’s certainly evidence that may back up that case. Semin only put up 93 shots on goal this year, a far cry from the 210 he produced the previous year. In his first 19 games of the season, he only had 22 shots. For a guy that routinely burned the Hurricanes with his deadly wrist shot while playing for the Washington Capitals, he didn’t showcase it much this year.
The Hurricanes might put out feelers to see if any team is willing to take Semin’s contract off their hands for cheap, but barring that, they may just go into next season with Semin on the roster and hope for the best.
No Luck and No Production
General manager Ron Francis has an easy explanation for Carolina’s scoring woes: Mass injuries and a new coach.
“I don’t care what team you are – if you lose three of your top six forwards, it makes it tough to win in this league,” Francis said. “It’s tough when you’re healthy, let alone when you’re missing top-end guys.”
It’s true that the Hurricanes did face a surprising amount of injuries in their lineup early on. Jordan Staal fell victim to a broken leg in the preseason that kept him out for half the season. Jeff Skinner suffered a concussion shortly after. Then to top it all off, Eric Staal missed a few games with an upper body injury. For a good portion of October, the Canes had Riley Nash and Viktor Rask as their top two centers. Solid players in their own right, but top six players they are not.
The transition from Kirk Muller’s system (or lack thereof) to Peters’ puck possession system also caused obvious issues with certain players as well. Semin was mentioned above, but Skinner also struggled to adjust his game to Peter’s demands. The idea that players should always be moving “North/South” rather than “East/West” seemed to go against the natural instinct of the two players, who often used such tactics to buy time and space.
Ultimately, the lack of scoring this past season could be chalked up to luck as well. Almost all of Carolina’s advanced metrics indicate they should have been a much better team than 26th in the league. They often controlled the puck more than their opponents, and they often greatly outshot the opposing team. However, converting on those shots was the main issue. No better game serves as evidence than a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in November, where the Hurricanes outshot the Sharks 45-19 and still managed to get shutout by the rookie goaltender Troy Grosenick in his first NHL game.
Help Now or Help in the Future
While the Canes do have a decent prospect pool when it comes to defensemen, their forward prospect pool is rather bare. Over the past few years, many of their young forwards were given a chance to strut their stuff in the NHL, including Justin Shugg, Brody Sutter, Brendan Woods, and Patrick Brown. However, only Shugg appears to have a future as a possible top six forward, while many of Carolina’s other forward prospects are looking like bottom six grinders at best.
Ultimately, that’s not a huge issue for the Canes if their current top six lineup can play as expected. The Staal brothers and Elias Lindholm showed great chemistry as a top line, and Skinner and Semin centered by Rask appeared to work as a serviceable second line. However, if the Canes wanted to address the need for another future top six forward in the near future, the 2015 draft could drop one of Mitch Marner or Dylan Strome in their laps.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.