Stop me if you have heard this one before, but the Hurricanes are struggling offensively. The Canes’ 2.6 goals per game is good for just 27th in the NHL. That sounds almost routine at this point. The Hurricanes haven’t finished in the top half of the league in goals per game since the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, where the Canes scored 2.65 goals per game, tying them for 13th in the NHL.
In the NHL, scoring three goals puts you in a good position to win. This season, the Hurricanes are 8-0-2 when scoring 3 or more goals, while they are just 1-8-1 when scoring less than 3 goals. You would think that a team that leads the NHL with 40.3 shots per game would have no issue scoring goals, but somehow, they still sit as the fifth lowest scoring team in the NHL.
For a team that hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2009, something needs to change. What can the Hurricanes do to improve offensively? Here are some possibilities and notes to keep an eye on:
Andrei Svechnikov Needs More Ice Time
The 2018 second overall pick has been solid so far in his rookie year, but he’s yet to be put in a position to truly succeed. Svechnikov has totaled 4 goals and 8 points through the first 20 games. Those numbers aren’t going to blow you away, but given the circumstances, they are solid totals.
Svechnikov is averaging 13:39 time on ice per game, which is the lowest among Canes forwards that have suited up in all 20 games. I understand easing a rookie into the NHL before fully unleashing him, but the Canes need offense, and that is what Svechnikov brings to the table.
Svechnikov has played primarily on a line with Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook this season. While that line has been good together, it is far from the best situation for Svechnikov. I believe that Svechnikov would benefit greatly from a promotion in the lineup, and he could fit in nicely next to Jordan Staal or Sebastian Aho.
Victor Rask Close to Returning
Victor Rask had a tough 2017-2018 season, but he seems confident in having a rebound 2018-2019 season. Those plans were put on hold during the preseason, when Rask suffered a serious injury to his finger while using a knife, causing him to miss the first part of the season.
Fortunately, Rask’s recovery has gone smoothly and perhaps quicker than anticipated, and he has been cleared to return to the ice. Rask should be returning to the lineup soon, and Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour anticipates him playing in the top nine immediately.
If Rask can return to his 2015-2016 form, or at least replicate some of his success from his only 20+ goal, 48-point NHL season, the Hurricanes will be ecstatic. Due to the nature of the injury, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rask start on the wing, but I wouldn’t think it takes too long for him to take back the third line center role. Ideally, that is exactly what happens. If Rask can take the third line center spot, that would push Lucas Wallmark down to the fourth line, and push Clark Bishop out of the lineup. Bishop hasn’t been bad, but he also has provided zero offense whatsoever. If Aho, Staal, Rask, and Wallmark are your four centers, you have four lines that are capable of producing offense.
It’s not news to anyone at this point that the Hurricanes are rumored to be interested in acquiring Toronto RFA William Nylander. I talked more on my thoughts of a potential Nylander trade here.
While Nylander is the most prominent name available in trade rumors at the moment, I have my eye on two other wingers; Mats Zuccarello and Wayne Simmonds.
Zuccarello, 31, has totaled 49+ points in five consecutive seasons, while remaining a consistent 15-goal scorer throughout his NHL career. The Rangers have been surprisingly competitive so far this season, which makes a trade of this sort unlikely. But, the Rangers have made it publicly known that they are rebuilding, and Zuccarello being due for free agency at the season’s end makes him an intriguing trade candidate.
Zuccarello isn’t known for his goal scoring abilities, which is arguably what the Hurricanes need the most, but I think that he would be a perfect fit in the Canes’ lineup. If the Canes were to keep someone like Andrei Svechnikov on the third line, they would need to find a playmaker who can help create plays and get the puck to Svechnikov. Having a third line of Zuccarello-Rask-Svechnikov could be sneakily dangerous, and that could give the Hurricanes a true second line that is a serious offensive threat. If the Rangers can remain competitive, Zuccarello’s price tag likely rises. But, if the Rangers start to fall off, he is almost certainly going to be dealt by the trade deadline. The Hurricanes have a surplus of draft picks and prospects to make a deal happen.
Simmonds, 30, is more of a goal scorer. He is a two-time 30 goal scorer, and he has totaled 24+ goals in every full season of his NHL career. Simmonds plays a big game, and he is a true power forward. Adding a player like Simmonds to the lineup could go a long way in helping the offense.
Like Zuccarello, Simmonds is also due to hit free agency at the conclusion of the season. Philadelphia has had a somewhat disappointing start to the season, so if the Flyers aren’t in true contention by mid-season, there is a good chance that trade talk around Simmonds picks up. The Flyers aren’t quite in a cap crunch, but with multiple players needing new contracts after this season (Konecny, Provorov, Sanheim) and next season (Patrick), they could see their salary cap space dwindle, making a move to send off Simmonds more plausible.
Neither Zuccarello or Simmonds are the “sexy” option, but both could prove to be valuable additions to the Hurricanes’ lineup, and they could provide a cheaper alternative to someone like Nylander.
The reluctance to make a change to the lineup so far has fans frustrated and feeling awfully similar to the Bill Peters’ era. Justin Williams is playing second line minutes and key minutes on the powerplay, but he has scored just two goals and clearly does not skate how he used to be able to. Williams drives possession and is good at containing the puck, but playing him next to Jordan Staal gives that line no speed at all and no true threat offensively, no matter who else is playing with them. Please, just don’t play Williams and Staal on the same powerplay unit…
The Canes’ top line of Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, and Micheal Ferland has been red hot to start the season, but it might be time to split it up. Brind’Amour is supposedly considering moving Aho back to the wing once Victor Rask returns, in hopes to unleash Aho even more offensively. While I understand the thought, I think that Aho has excelled as a center and that he is the first line center the Hurricanes have coveted for years.
Ferland and Aho have been a dynamic pair, as they seem to produce in every single game. That pair likely stays the same for the foreseeable future, but there is a case to make a change and move Teravainen to another line. If Aho and Ferland play together, they are going to produce no matter who their final linemate is. With the team hungry for offense, it makes sense to find a new line for Teravainen. He has played well on Jordan Staal’s wing before, so that makes a lot of sense. Teravainen could also be a solid player to play next to Svechnikov, or could also give Svechnikov a spot next to Aho if they decide to shake things up.
The point is that the Hurricanes need offense. The top line has been one of the NHL’s best to start the season, but you have to give a little to gain a little. Teravainen could help spark another line and add even more offense, which would only be beneficial to the Hurricanes. Here is a look at what a move like that could look like once Rask returns to the lineup:
I think that the Hurricanes need to make a trade for a forward, but if the team is willing to make some changes and split some players apart, they have a lot of flexibility. They become even more flexible when you consider that they have options such as Janne Kuokkanen, Martin Necas, Valentin Zykov (conditioning stint), among others currently playing in the NHL.
Warren Foegele had a hot start with three goals early on, but two of those goals came in the same game, and he hasn’t been creating nearly as much offense as of late. Foegele spent the start of the season on a line with Jordan Staal and Justin Williams, which was arguably a huge waste of Foegele’s most dangerous weapon, his speed. Staal and Williams are not fast skaters, so putting both of them next to Foegele really limits his ability to create offense with his skating. Foegele could be an intriguing option to play on Victor Rask’s wing upon his return.
Rask’s injury threw a curveball to the team’s plans. Coming into the season, the plan was for Rask to center the third line with Martin Necas playing on his wing. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and Necas took the third line center role when Rask was injured. Necas showed that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL game. Necas has been okay since being assigned to Charlotte. He has had a few great games mixed in with some super disappointing ones. This can be expected from a rookie, but due to the lofty expectations fans had for Necas, it is increasingly frustrating. Personally, I don’t think that Necas will see any full-time NHL action this season, although that could change if he proves he is ready for another shot.
Valentin Zykov has been used sparingly so far in the NHL. He hasn’t looked great in the limited minutes he has seen with the Canes, but one could argue that he would be better if he was playing in the top nine. Zykov is currently in the AHL on a conditioning stint, and he has looked good so far down there. He is a candidate to see more ice time once he returns to the NHL, and he could be a solid linemate to Victor Rask.