Our Carolina Hurricanes 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
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What was supposed to be an offseason to finally push the Carolina Hurricanes over the hump and into contender territory turned out to be anything but.
The 2020-21 season for Carolina was a wild success. A 36-12-8 record for 80 points won them the Central Division and placed them third in the entire NHL. Their 136 goals against tied them for fourth best in the league. Carolina’s special teams were magnificent, finishing second with a 25.6 PP% and third with an 85.2 PK%. They eventually lost out in the second round of the playoffs to the future Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
You’d think after a performance like that, the team would do its best to keep the key players, core, and culture together while being smart with what limited cap space was available, right? Well, upper management and ownership had other plans.
In a mind-boggling trade with Detroit, the Hurricanes sent home developed goalie and Calder Trophy finalst Alex Nedeljkovic to Detroit for Jonathan Bernier and a 3rd round draft pick (Bernier has since signed in New Jersey). The apparent reason was that Nedeljkovic wanted $3.5M per season but the team wanted to pay him $1.5M and was worried about going to arbitration. The trade and reasoning baffle me as I cannot understand why the Hurricanes wouldn’t pay $3.5M for a goalie who basically took over the starting goalie position this season through injuries to the other goalies.
Next, Dougie Hamilton was a UFA and needed a new contract. He was bound to get paid. Hamilton eventually got $9M per season from the Devils (a $3.25M per season raise over his last contract). Meaning the team has lost their number one defender, a reliable 40-point player who has been working his way up the Norris voting lists the past few seasons, finishing fourth in voting in 2020-21.
Over the past few seasons, between the Bunch of Jerks tagline and the Storm Surge celebrations and a fun social media presence, the Hurricanes had built up a ton of goodwill. The team was getting good, they were fun to watch, had some attractive personalities, and were becoming fan favourites and drawing attention to the team for once. But then the front office decided to give Tony Deangelo his umpteenth chance at being anything less than a despicable human being by signing him to a contract.
And finally, there is the whole thing with the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet. Yes, it’s funny for the petty/troll value and social media sharing but it’s an absolutely boneheaded move from a hockey operations standpoint. The entire thing is set up as a revenge plot against Montreal for offer sheeting Sebastian Aho a few seasons ago. It sounds like the plan came from Tom Dundon himself rather than the general management team as he took the Aho offer sheet as a personal attack against him. The contract signed is only for one year, but it is at $6.1M (probably double or triple what Kotkaniemi should get for a season at this point) and includes a $20 signing bonus.
This team is unwilling to spend an extra $2M to pay their starting goalie properly and an extra $3.25M to pay their number one, Norris calibre defender, but they can find $6.1M to offer sheet Jesperi Kotkaniemi, with a career high of 34 points in his rookie season, out of pure pettiness?
There is an impending power shift coming in the Metro Division as Washington and Pittsburgh start hitting the end of their competitive windows and the Hurricanes should have been pushing to fill that void. They will still be competitive. There is no denying the remainder of the roster is excellent and the gameplay style used by Rod Brind’Amour has had this team overperforming in the past. But this offseason was a colossal step back and a huge blemish on the front office and ownership of the team.
Carolina Hurricanes Roster Additions
Carolina Hurricanes Roster Subtractions
Carolina Hurricanes Roster Overview
The expected top line for Carolina is Andrei Svechnikov-Sebastian Aho-Teuvo Teravainen. The nice thing for Carolina up front is that the team now has the offensive depth to be able to keep these three together and not have to sacrifice the productivity of the rest of the forward lines.
However, Teravainen missed most of last season with various injuries and ailments so the Hurricanes got to try out new combinations. Some of these were highly effective. For example, putting Sebastian Aho with Martin Necas and Nino Neiderreiter led to an outstanding 86 GF% in their 130 minutes together.
I still see the default combinations of Svechnikov-Aho-Teravainen as the first line and Necas-Trocheck-Neiderreiter as the second line. Both of these are able to dominate and control play. But it is nice to know that the team can mix-and-match among their top 6 and likely end up with some dominant combination.
Jordan Staal will take the third line centre spot. Staal had an amazing 2020-21 season, recording 38 points in 53 games and being a part of the team’s top penalty killing unit. With the injuries in the Canes’ top 6 last season, Staal got more ice time higher in the lineup which helped boost his point totals. He might see a bit of a drop this season if he stays primarily in the bottom 6. Staal will get first dibs to jump up the lineup when needed. With Jesperi Kotkaniemi joining the team, I don’t see any way he makes it into the top-6 unless Neiderreiter struggles mightily. It has been confirmed by GM Waddell that Kotkaniemi will play on the wing, so this third line beside Jordan Staal makes the most sense. Jesper Fast and Jordan Martinook are the most likely to join in on this line of players currently on the roster.
This is the spot in the lineup where we start to notice a lack of depth compared to last season. Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele were two great depth and role players in the bottom 6 for Carolina but now they’ve got some openings. There are a few very high end prospects that will be driving to take those spots. Seth Jarvis is the team’s most exciting prospect and the one we’d all like to see in the NHL. He’s only played 9 professional games, a brief stint in the AHL last season, but he had 11 points. Jack Drury might be the best candidate and the team sure expects him to be NHL ready after he spent the season playing in Sweden.
Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo, and Steven Lorentz are left to occupy the fourth line, depending on if and how many prospects make the NHL team. Ideally, Jordan Martinook drops down to this line and bumps Leivo or Lorentz out so that one of the prospects can play on Jordan Staal’s wing to get some meaningful ice time. This could also bump Jesper Fast down to this line as well to help with the depth.
The loss of Dougie Hamilton leaves a massive hole on this blueline that the Hurricanes are going to struggle to fill. The presumed first pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce was able to put up decent numbers in limited time together last season. But, Pesce, who is normally around a 30 point pace per season, won’t be able to fully replace the offense and the shot that Dougie Hamilton possessed.
Pesce is also the most likely candidate to take over the top powerplay unit, as he had the second most powerplay ice time per game of lineup regulars last season (Jake Gardiner had more per game but only played half the season). Pesce’s point totals will likely rise up simply out of being put in more opportunistic situations so we will see what kind of adjustments need to be made to account for this transition.
Brady Skjei and newcomer Ethan Bear are the next best of Carolina’s defenders. There isn’t much offense in this pairing, as Skjei had 10 points in 52 games while Bear had 8 points in 43 games last season. However Skjei has shown in the past he can be a 20+ point player so in this new situation he may bounce back offensively. Ethan Bear will be a solid addition for Carolina’s defense. The young right-side defender very quickly rose up the depth chart in Edmonton, becoming an NHL regular over the past couple seasons. He isn’t the biggest but Bear is smart, has great positioning of both stick and body, and uses these to negate a lot of high quality chances.
Hopefully the third pairing is Brendan Smith and Ian Cole. Cole is a solid defensive defender who has bounced around a lot the past few seasons. He could be a great presence to help wear down the opposition, though he will likely run into penalty troubles. Jake Gardiner would have been an ideal option to pair up with Ian Cole but Gardiner will miss significant time this season after undergoing surgery at the beginning of September. This leaves a bit of a depth issue on Carolina’s defense.
And I should also mention Tony Deangelo but he is atrocious defensively and probably wouldn’t be offensively beneficial enough to justify having him play. But I guess as long as he is on the same team as Aho now things could be okay.
The Hurricanes have completely overhauled their goaltending for the 2020-21 season and it is not necessarily an upgrade. Gone are Petr Mrazek, James Reimer, and Alex Nedeljkovic. In are Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, and Alex Lyon.
Andersen heads into the season as the starter, but he has struggled for a couple seasons now in Toronto. Could be due to the various injury issues he has dealt with, or he could just have regressed. We will find out how he does in a different system, possibly one that is better for goalies.
Antti Raanta is also a very capable goalie but again, health is a major concern for him. The past 3 seasons he has only played 57 games combined.
I see this tandem as a definite 1A/1B situation with a fairly even amount of games between the two of them, unless one gets hot and gets a stretch of games.
It is worth mentioning the likely third stringer, Alex Lyon, who may end up with a decent amount of games as well. As mentioned, both Andersen and Raanta have dealt with injury issues in recent years. This could very quickly turn into an Arizona/Adin Hill situation where Raanta and Kuemper were out with injury and Hill had to come in and take over the starter’s role.
Carolina Hurricanes 2021-22 Prediction
3rd-4th Metro Division
As usual, this division is going to be a Thunderdome. There are 5 legitimate playoff contenders and 2 more teams that could easily find their way in with the right hot streak. I still think the Hurricanes will get a playoff spot this season. But, it might be close and if the offseason moves have an even bigger impact than I thought, it is well within reason that the team misses the playoffs in 2021-22.
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