Nine seasons. That’s how long it’s been since playoff hockey has been played in Raleigh. In many eyes, including a large majority of the fanbase and a good number of people around the league, this was the year that this streak would be broken.
Nobody was out of line in predicting that the Hurricanes to return to the playoffs. Former GM Ron Francis seemingly did enough to allow this team to get over the hump, bringing in Scott Darling, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, and Josh Jooris.
Darling was supposed to be the guy to change the state of goaltending in Carolina. He had been one of the best backups in the NHL for a couple of seasons, so how could it not work out? He seemed like the perfect guy to fix the continued mediocracy in the crease in Raleigh. How could it not work out? Well, it hasn’t yet.
Kruger was supposed to be a good fourth line center and penalty killer. It didn’t take long for that to change. Kruger, along with Jooris, was placed on waivers and later assigned to the Charlotte Checkers in the AHL. Kruger was a terrible fit on this team, whether or not you want to blame it on Bill Peters. Either way, it was ugly. Jooris was a solid depth guy, but he was traded at the trade deadline for Gregg McKegg.
Williams and van Riemsdyk have both been very good additions to this team. Williams is tied for third on the team with 49 points. TVR leads the team in plus minus and has arguably been the most consistent defender on the Hurricanes’ blue line. While they both have been good, it just wasn’t enough.
Here’s a month by month breakdown of the season:
Oh, what an opening game it was! Eric Staal and the Minnesota Wild were in town. What an atmosphere it was. A playoff atmosphere, if I may. Here is a video I took at the opening game, which resulted in a shootout win:
October was interesting. Sebastian Aho failed to score a goal in the first month for the second time in his two year career. Jeff Skinner scored seven goals, leading us to believe that he was going to replicate, or even surpass, his 37 goal mark from a season ago, which was the 4th highest total in the league. Overall, the Canes finished the month 4-4-2, with a lot of close games. Outside of the 5-1 loss against Tampa Bay, the team was competitive in every game. They didn’t have the best record, but they looked good enough to give us hope that the curse may finally be broken!
In his 16th game of the season, Aho finally got his first goal of the year. He would go on to score in five consecutive games. Aho ended the month with 13 points. Oh, he was alive. On the other hand, Skinner scored just twice in November. Just as Aho starts putting the puck in the net, Skinner falls off dramatically. Skinner would go on to score just 15 more goals from the end of November to the end of the season.
The month got off to a poor start with losses to Colorado and Arizona. That’s right. Arizona. The Canes would actually go on to get seven out of the next eight possible points against Florida, Columbus, Chicago, and Dallas. WE WERE ACTUALLY GOOD! Two disheartening losses, a 6-4 game against the Islanders, and a 6-1 beatdown by the Rangers, had us wondering if we were stupid for falling for this trap again. The team would go on to finish November 6-4-3. Not too bad, but definitely needed to be better.
December would start off in typical Canes-Rangers fashion, with a blowout Rangers win. It was bad. Very bad. Two games later, the Canes were shutout by Vancouver. Then, the team won three in a row, including a win against the brand new, red hot Vegas Golden Knights. We were good again! So we thought. Then came the Toronto game. 8-1 loss. Sadness awaits.
Following the embarrassment against Toronto, hope was lost and everybody was in a state of panic. The season was over. But wait, the Canes would go on a four game win streak! We had hope again! An 8-5-2 record was not bad at all considering the team melted down twice against Eastern Conference opponents. Overall, we were good enough to have a sliver of hope.
After a tight 5-4 OTL to Washington and a 4-0 win against Pittsburgh, we were all sold. This team was going to do it. Boston. 7-1. Yep. Again, we melted down. The entire month of January was back and forth. Win a couple, lose a couple. The five game bye week also took place. Overall, this wasn’t a good month. 5-6-1.
Hello, darkness. Completely disheartening efforts plagued this month. The three game stretch at the start of the month against Detroit, San Jose, and Philadelphia was very bad. One point. The team didn’t even look like they cared anymore. BUT WAIT! The Canes would then go on to win three amazing games in a row, a 4-1 win against Vancouver, a 3-1 win against Colorado, and a monstrous 7-3 win against Los Angeles. Wow. WE WERE ACTUALLY GOOD AGAIN! FOR REAL THIS TIME!
5-2 L. 3-0 L. 3-2 OTL. 6-1 L. 3-1 L. 4-3 OTL. What an end to the month. We got excited again, only to be disappointed shortly after. Surprise! 4-6-3 month.
Overall, the team went 8-8-0 in March. Too many games given away. Every win was a good win, but every regulation loss was so much heavier. Three of the eight losses were by a single goal. If the Canes push those games to OT, they may have had a chance.
6-2, 6-3, and 6-4 losses to Minnesota, New York, and Boston was all she wrote. Took all hope away from us all. And then Edmonton demolished us, 7-3 to top it off. At least Zykov was up? *shrugs*
April was only three games, so we won’t unpack much from that.
This season was exactly like most seasons, but it was also extremely different. This year’s hope wasn’t just fueled by the fan base predicting the playoffs. This year, everybody believed it. National media was on board. The Hurricanes were by far the most common sleeper pick. It was everyone. Everybody believed in the 2017-2018 Carolina Hurricanes.
This team has been plagued by mediocre (at best) goaltending for years. Scott Darling was supposed to be the guy to fix that. His .888 save percentage says otherwise. Now, Darling is coming off of one of the worst seasons by a goaltender in NHL history. And he’s under contract for three more years.
The man who brought in Darling, Ron Francis, would be removed from his GM role. I think he was a little too patient. And the moves he did make, in regards to Darling, didn’t work out.
At least we have a new owner! Karmanos finally sold the team, to businessman Tom Dundon, who at first was a very promising figure for this franchise. He seems as if he cares about the fan experience. Great. We need a guy like that. But his aggressiveness and overall lack of hockey experience didn’t mix well to some. He scares some people. Is this the man we want running a hockey team coming off of nine years in a row of failure?
Now, our new owner is faced with arguably one of the most important offseasons in franchise history. He has to hire a new GM (we hope). He has to make a decision on head coach Bill Peters. It would be wise to let the new GM have a hand in that decision, but if Peters has an “out” in his contract and is worth $1.6 million next season, he isn’t just walking away from that. Dundon will need to make that decision soon.
To sum it up, heading into the offseason, the team has no GM, probably no head coach, and has an owner that has just a couple of months of experience running a NHL hockey team. That’s a little scary. And there’s too much uncertainty surrounding the team.
The roster itself isn’t in a bad spot. The Canes have solid foundational pieces in place to build around, mainly Aho, Teravainen, Slavin, Pesce, and Hanifin. Martin Necas could join this group come next year. But the team still lacks goaltending. The team needs a legit top line forward to go along with that.
The pipeline isn’t bad, but there aren’t really any top end guys outside of Necas and Jake Bean. That’s what being good enough to miss out on a top five pick and not good enough to make the playoffs will do.
Will this finally be the offseason that the Canes aggressively pursue top end talent? John Tavares should be a free agent. Guys like Mike Hoffman may be available via trade. If there was a year to make some moves, this would be it.
No matter what moves the team makes this summer, they need to be in the playoffs next season. This franchise can’t endure a playoff drought hitting double digits. Multiple fans, including myself, have already felt the burnout. It’s tough. And it’s time to stop burning out and start lighting it up. The team needs hope. Justifiable hope. And there’s one way to truly make that happen.
At some point, you have to stop preaching about the potential of what things could be, and start talking about right now. And you need results to do that.