A new year, a new Carolina Hurricanes. Well, not really.
After ending the 2019-20 season with a loss to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoff bubble, the Hurricanes remained largely inactive in free agency, instead opting to rely on their young core of players to continue to develop.
The move makes sense given the talent already present on the roster, but it also introduces some lingering questions as the Hurricanes begin training camp for the new season.
Will the Goaltender Be Found?
A position most thought the Hurricanes would address during this offseason was the goaltender spot. They ran the 2019-20 season with a 1A/1B tandem of veterans Petr Mrázek and James Reimer. Together, the two combined for 35 wins in 65 games played, and each posted save percentages over .900, as well as helping in Carolina’s sweep of the New York Rangers in the playoff bubble’s qualifying round.
The Hurricanes were assuredly a competitive team with the duo in net. However, neither goaltender distinguished himself to be good enough to be the primary starter long term. And Carolina remains in limbo on what to do for perhaps the most important position in hockey.
But whether Waddell and the front office want to or not, a decision is coming. Mrázek and Reimer’s contracts both expire at the end of the season, and the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft will also force Carolina to choose just one goalie in its system to protect.
While time still remains, the Hurricanes must find a resolution, whether it be to stick with one of Mrázek or Reimer, make a move for another enticing veteran like Marc-André Fleury, or even giving a prospect like Alex Nedeljkovic his shot. The future holds so many possibilities, and the Hurricanes have plenty of options, but they still need to find the goaltender of the future.
Depth Scoring Needed
Carolina fans have a lot to be excited about in this new year in terms of offense. The top of the lineup contains young, exciting names like Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teräväinen. The blue line possesses solid two-way defensemen like Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin, who have shown they can step up offensively when needed. But while the headliner names have earned their praise, the contributions from the depth lines have left some to be desired.
A lack of scoring from players lower on the depth chart was a big reason Carolina ranked just 15th in total goals last season despite its top three players scoring nearly a point-per-game.
The Hurricanes’ dormancy during free agency frustrated some, but it sent the message that they are sticking to the plan of allowing its young roster to develop as it comes of age. A patient approach and admirable if it pans out, but it also adds pressure on younger players like Morgan Geekie and Martin Necas to help carry the load for the scoring outside of the top line as Carolina hopes to compete for a Stanley Cup this season.
Carolina’s one big move in free agency did attempt to help remedy this issue. They signed veteran winger Jesper Fast to a three-year deal in October, a move that garnered praise from Waddell, calling Fast a “versatile player who fits the mold” of Hurricanes’ head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s system with his ability to facilitate the puck.
No matter who leads the way, Carolina will still need help from its depth players and darkhorse contributors if it truly wants to be a top team.
Revenge in the Playoffs
Last year, the Hurricanes made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2001 and 2002. A remarkable feat, but their run came to an end at the hands of a familiar foe.
The Boston Bruins have had the Hurricanes’ number for a while now, winning 14 of their last 16 matchups, including a sweep in the Conference Finals in 2019 and swiftly beating the Canes in five games in the playoff bubble last season.
Every team must overcome obstacles to get to the promised land, and if the Hurricanes truly want to compete — for which they have the talent to do so — the Bruins provide the metaphorical hump that they may need to overcome. The Canes will need to be motivated for whoever they face, but if they want to make a dream run reminiscent of 2006, the Bruins will most likely be there waiting.
Carolina has a golden opportunity to turn a strange new year into a positive one. The shortened season plays right into their strengths, hopefully reducing the injury bug that hindered their campaign last season. A young team like Carolina only needs a few breaks to go its way, and 2021 could produce a second Stanley Cup.