Making the NHL playoffs is the goal of every team at the beginning of every season. At the start of the current season, no one predicted or expected the Carolina Hurricanes to even sniff a playoff spot. With the rebuilding focus of management and the large contingent of young players, it just wasn’t practical to forecast the ‘Canes to be in a playoffs chase.
Surprise! Before last week, the Hurricanes were legitimately in play for a wild card playoffs spot. The team had excellent chemistry and even though Eric Staal was not scoring, the slack was being picked up by his brother Jordan Staal and others. Jeff Skinner was finding the goal and the work in-goal was steady.
NHL Playoffs Plunge
Then the bottom began to get shaky and has now apparently fallen out. Justin Faulk, an NHL All-Star and the backbone of the ‘Canes’ defense went out with an ankle injury. Then Andrej Nestrasil went out with a season-ending injury to his back. Nestrasil was a key-component of the Jordan Staal line that had meshed extremely well and was the main component behind why the Hurricanes were winning or at least staying in games that they did not win until the end.
Two key players out is not a positive when it comes to trying to climb up the NHL playoffs ladder. A loss can be devastating and wins may or may not move the team up depending on whether or not teams that are ahead win, also.
As of this writing, the Hurricanes are six points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the last wild card spot. More telling is the fact that they are next to last place in the Metropolitan Division. That’s not where a team needs to be if they are hoping to make the NHL playoffs.
However, the truth is that there has been a logjam in the Eastern Conference for most of this year fighting for a wild card spot. I wrote on February 25 that at that time there was a logjam of eight teams and a range of eight points fighting for a spot. The ‘Canes were right in the middle of that logjam. Now the scrum is down to six teams and a range of seven points. The withering has begun in full.
Hurricanes GM Ron Francis said at a press conference on Monday after the trade deadline had passed that management had looked at where the team was and the other games in hand that teams ahead of the ‘Canes have and decided that it was time for a reality check. This was a large part of the decision to pull the trigger on moving Eric Staal to the New York Rangers. (For an exclusive look at what Staal’s agent Rick Curran had to say about the move, read Eric Staal Contract Negotiations Inside Story which I wrote Monday.)
Francis added that it would not surprise him if his young team kept fighting to make the NHL playoffs. But, in the world of math and points and games in hand, the reality is that absent an extended winning streak over the remaining 19 games, it’s time to
look ahead to next season for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The leadership of Jordan Staal will be in the spotlight over the course of the remaining games. Will he continue to lead by example on the ice, or will he allow disappointment over brother Eric’s being traded to get the best of him? He has a prime opportunity to make a case for being the next ‘Canes captain when they name a new one prior to the start of next season, as does Justin Faulk.
The Rangers should trade for Jordan Staal. He looks so sad.
— Vaxx Pacioretty (@_jlsl) March 1, 2016
Staal did look sad Sunday against the St. Louis Blues. That is only natural. But, he is now the man in Raleigh, and if he wants it, this team can be his for the foreseeable future. If not, there are plenty of “young guns” on this team who are hungry and will gladly work hard to prove they belong. I believe Staal will step up and continue to play well and lead the Hurricanes. Who knows, maybe to next season’s NHL playoffs.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.