For the second straight season, the Carolina Hurricanes qualified for the playoffs under head coach Rod Brind’Amour.
However, it was an early exit for the Hurricanes, who were knocked out in the first round by the Boston Bruins. This offseason was a quiet one for Carolina, who did not have much cap-space and RFAs Warren Foegele and Haydn Fleury looking for new deals. Even with the goalie market being as busy as it’s ever been, the Hurricanes did not make a move and enter 2021 with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer once again.
Projected Forward Lines
The Hurricanes dynamic trio of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen was one of the more effective lines in hockey in 2020. They didn’t always play together because Brind’Amour was trying to lengthen the lineup out, but they scored in bunches when they were. In their 286.9 5v5 TOI as a line, their 4.39 GoalsFor/60 ranked third in the NHL behind TBL1 (Stamkos-Point-Kucherov) and EDM2 (RNH-Draisasitl-Yamamoto). They were average defensively but I don’t think Brind’Amour cares when they’re still carrying a 61.8 GoalsFor%.
Their second and third lines are virtually interchangeable. Vincent Trocheck’s line as a lot more offensive upside, but Jordan Staal’s line typically gets more usage and is often deployed in defensive situations.
Let’s talk about the Trocheck line first. The 27-year-old centre was acquired from the Florida Panthers in late-February, and he tallied just four points (1G / 3A) in 15 combined regular season and playoff games. During his seven regular-season games, he played with Martin Necas and Nino Niederreiter for the majority of the time. On paper, that is a terrific looking line. With Trocheck’s playmaking ability, Necas skating and hands, and Niederreiter’s shoot-first mentality you’d expect them to be terrific. The sample size for them was so small that it’s hard to judge them on their performance in 2020. During their brief playoff run, they had a 52.7 CorsiFor%, averaged 29 Scoring Chances/60 and outscored their opponents 1-to-0. That gives them something to build off of, and a full training camp with Trocheck should help them continue to build chemistry.
With Justin Williams retiring, the Hurricanes used some of their cap space to bring in Jesper Fast via free agency. Fast is the type of defensively-responsible winger that will fit perfectly with Staal. With Warren Foegele on the other side, this line boasts good size (Avg: 6-foot-2, 203 lbs.) and skating ability and should be very difficult to generate offence against.
Carolina’s fourth line has a chance to be the highest-scoring fourth line in the NHL. Ryan Dzingel, Morgan Geekie and Brock McGinn are all hard-working forward who should capture the hearts of Hurricanes with every shift. Geekie showed some offensive promise in 2020, scoring 22 goals with 20 assists (42 points) in 55 AHL games before being promoted. Once with the Hurricanes, he had three goals and two assists (five points) in 10 combined regular season and playoff games. Both Dzingel and McGinn have shown 30-point upside in the past, so it would be difficult to find a fourth-line with this much offensive punch.
If they elect to start Geekie back in the AHL, Jordan Martinook will centre the fourth line.
Projected Defensive Pairings
Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin were one of 20 defensive pairs that played at least 650 5v5 minutes together in 2020, even though Hamilton missed 21 games. They are one of the best D-pairings in the NHL, ranking seventh in Goals Against/60 (1.72) and 10th in GoalsFor% (59.2) among D-pairs that played at least 400 minutes together. After a disappointing debut season in Carolina, Hamilton was on-pace for 70 points in 82 games before he got hurt–that would have blown away his previous career-high of 50 points (2017). His partner remains one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL. He’s quietly recorded four straight seasons with at least 30 points and has not missed a single game over that stretch.
Brady Skjei was acquired from the New York Rangers in late-February to help replace Hamilton and Brett Pesce, who were both out long-term. In 2021, he’s expected to be paired with Pesce. It will be the first time they’ve played together, so there’s no historical data to analyze. However, Skjei is a much better defenseman than Joel Edmundson and Jake Gardiner, who were Pesce’s most used partners last year.
Their third pair will come down to three players. Jake Gardiner is probably a lock to play the left-side, which would suggest that Haydn Fleury will play the right side. However, Jake Bean would make the jump on almost every other roster in the league. The 2016 No.13 overall pick led all AHL defensemen with 48 points (10G / 38A) in 59 games last season. The logjam in front of him could keep him in the AHL again to start this season.
If it is Gardiner-Fleury to start, they’ll need to be much better than they were in 2020. Of the 198 pairs with at least 160 5v5 TOI, they ranked 188th with a Goals For% of 27.3 while giving up the 23rd-most Goals Against/60.
Salary Cap Figures via PuckPedia.com