NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Carolina Hurricanes believe they are ready to take the next step after qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-01 and 2001-02.
“We’ve been through two years of it now and we don’t want to talk about the playoffs anymore,” Carolina general manager Don Waddell said. “We talk about how we’re going to compete and win a Stanley Cup.”
The Hurricanes didn’t think they needed to change much to do that. Their most notable offseason addition was forward Jesper Fast, who signed a three-year contract Oct. 10 and will try to replace Justin Williams, who announced his retirement two days prior.
Other than that, Carolina is happy to let its young core grow from its experiences the past two seasons. And although the Hurricanes lost to the Boston Bruins in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round last season after being swept by the Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, they think they made progress.
“Last year, guys were kind of feeling the accomplishment of getting to the conference finals and this year, it really hurt,” Waddell said. “I think that’s the old saying that you’ve got to learn how to lose before you win. …. We went into the offseason knowing that we liked what we had, and we wanted to just continue to build off it, that we didn’t need to make major changes.”
It helps that forwards Sebastian Aho, 23, and Andrei Svechnikov, 20, have yet to reach their primes and should continue to improve. Aho scored an NHL career-high 38 goals last season and led the Hurricanes in points (66) for a third straight season.
Svechnikov scored 61 points (24 goals, 37 assists) last season after scoring 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) as a rookie.
“Obviously, the talent’s there with those two guys,” said coach Rod Brind’Amour, who is entering his third season with Carolina. “But I think what excites me, and you’ve heard me say this all the time, is their will to get better. These guys are not satisfied with where they are individually and certainly not teamwise.”
Aho led the Hurricanes with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in eight postseason games.
“The next step for me is to be the best team in the League and, obviously, win the Stanley Cup,” Aho said. “We showed everyone that can play good hockey and we are a competitive team, but this is not good enough to just get to the playoffs or have good runs. Everyone on our team feels the same way that we can really raise the bar.”
The Hurricanes can begin to do that by being more consistent during the regular season. Although they had a good start in each of the past two seasons, lulls in their play left them in a precarious position where they needed a late-season surge to secure a playoff berth.
Last season, Carolina was not in a playoff spot prior to winning its final three games and earning the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference as part of the 24-team NHL Return to Play Plan.
“Especially if it becomes a shortened season, you’re not going to be able to afford those lapses,” Waddell said. “If you remember, at the [NHL] Trade Deadline, we were like one point out of the playoffs and we went on a good run there and were playing well going into the pause.
“So we’ve talked about it here probably daily that we can’t let off the gas. We have to start the season the right way and continue going.”
Before the Hurricanes made the conference final in 2019, they hadn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2008-09, when they also advanced to the conference final. So despite having players who have won the Stanley Cup (Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen), the past two seasons have been filled with new experiences for most of their roster.
“We have a great group of guys that are starting to really understand how to win games and grind out teams and stuff,” Staal said. “It’s an exciting time in Carolina and the young core we have is very special and very driven. I love those guys and they work so hard, so it’s going to be a bright future in Carolina.”