The Carolina Hurricanes’ season came to an end last week, with the Hurricanes being eliminated in the second round after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.
The exit came earlier than the team and fans would’ve been hoping for, even factoring in who the Hurricanes were up against. That said, there are a lot of reasons to view this season as a success.
A key part of that was how great the Hurricanes were in the regular season, winning the Central Division and finishing third in the league overall. While regular season success obviously means very little in the grand scheme of things, Carolina took a huge step this season to being one of the top teams in the league.
They also managed to address their two key areas of weakness, being goaltending and secondary scoring.
Up front, the Hurricanes relied a lot on Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen last season, based on a lack of offensive support from other forwards. However, Vincent Trocheck was excellent in his first full season with Carolina and Martin Necas is seemingly getting better and better every time he’s on the ice. Nino Niederreiter and Jordan Staal also bounced back after a pretty lackluster 2019-20 season. It was a massive help for the Hurricanes, who were able to thrive without one of their top forwards in Teravainen for most of the season.
Then in goal, Alex Nedeljkovic emerged as a legitimate starting goalie and looks to have a bright future with the team. He posted an excellent .932 save percentage in 23 games this season, which was good enough to see him named as a Calder Trophy Finalist. The team also had solid depth in the form of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, though as we saw when it mattered in the postseason, Nedeljkovic should clearly be the go-to guy in net moving forward. While it’s still a small sample size overall, it seems as though Carolina may have finally sorted out their goaltending issues.
On the blue line was where the Hurricanes actually had some inconsistencies. Despite a reputation for a pretty excellent defense group, the team’s defenders were prone to some pretty bad lapses, especially early in the season. Jaccob Slavin was as sturdy as ever but Dougie Hamilton had some pretty soft plays in his own end that led to goals and Brady Skjei, despite stepping up and logging big minutes with the absence of Slavin through part of the first round, could be pretty unreliable in his own end throughout the year.
Jake Gardiner was on the sidelines through much of the season and Jake Bean, who made the jump to the NHL, certainly has room for improvement in defensive zone battles. Maybe this one’s just me, but it also seemed as though Brett Pesce was getting caught out of position more this season than in past years. I’ll say that I did think Jani Hakanpaa was generally fairly effective in a smaller, defensive role. It’s not like the defensive group was a major issue but considering the expectations, the Hurricanes did rely on their goaltending to bail them out more than should probably be necessary.
Despite the early exit though, I think it was still a positive season. The Hurricanes had an outstanding regular season and did win a playoff round, before being knocked out by potentially the most skilled and deepest team in the league. The Hurricanes are still a very young group and are poised to keep improving.
Of course, there are some offseason questions, mainly regarding the status of Dougie Hamilton and Rod Brind’Amour. It’s key for the Hurricanes that both return and hopefully Don Waddell finds a way to make things work. Plus, the Hurricanes are set to lose someone in the expansion draft and we can only hope the loss is minimal.
Again though, overall it was a good year for the organization. The Hurricanes have solidified themselves as a true contender and this season can be viewed as a step in the right direction.
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