It is no secret that the Carolina Hurricanes last made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the 2008-2009 season. Since then, Hurricanes fans have been through some tough times. With the Canes in a position to fight for a playoff berth, let’s look back at the disappointing time period between today and their last playoff berth and talk about how much a playoff berth would really mean to this fanbase.
The Hurricanes’ 97 points was good for 6th place in the Eastern Conference. Eric Staal scored 40 goals. The Southeast Division was still a thing (and the Hurricanes finished 2nd in it). The Hurricanes defeated New Jersey and Boston in a magical run before being swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Pittsburgh Penguins. A disappointing end, although nobody could have expected the next few years to go the way that they did.
The Hurricanes had just 80 points, which placed them 3rd place in the Southeast Division and outside of the playoffs by 8 points. Eric Staal was great, scoring 70 points in as many games. Joni Pitkanen would score 46 points in 71 games. Not a terrible year, I guess.
This year alone almost stopped me from writing this article. The Canes finished went into the last day of the regular season with 91 points, sitting just a win away from clinching a playoff berth. The 6-2 defeat handed to them by the Tampa Bay Lightning was heartbreaking, and the Hurricanes were on the outside looking in for the second consecutive season. Jeff Skinner scored 31 goals in his Calder Memorial Trophy winning campaign. There was hope!
82 points. That was it. The Canes missed the playoffs by 10 points. Cam Ward would play in 68 games. Eric Staal scored 70 points, but after that, nobody had more than 46. After a year that gave fans so much hope, this was an extremely disappointing season. Luckily, the team drafted Jaccob Slavin in the 4th round of the 2012 NHL draft. Yeah, 4th round. Crazy. The Hurricanes had no idea how good they were about to have it with Slavin.
The Canes finished with 42 points in the lockout-shortened season. They missed the playoffs by 13 points. The Jiri Tlusty-Eric Staal-Alexander Semin line was special. Tlusty had 38 points in 48 games, Staal had 53 points in 48 games, and Semin had 44 points in as many games. This was the first year of Jordan Staal’s Hurricanes’ career, and the team drafted Brett Pesce 66th(!) overall.
Hello Metropolitan Division! Hello 83 points. The Hurricanes missed the playoffs by 10 points. Jeff Skinner returned to his 30-goal scorer form. Eric Staal had 61 points. Honestly, there wasn’t much else this season. The team did draft Alex Nedeljkovic in the 2nd round, who could push for a roster spot next season.
71 points. Missed the playoffs by 27 points. Yeah, this was a rough year for the Hurricanes in what was the first year of Bill Peters’ tenure as head coach. Nobody scored more than Eric Staal’s 23 goals or 54 points. This was just an ugly season. At least the 2015 draft brought the Hurricanes Sebastian Aho.
The Hurricanes improved by 15 points, finishing with 86 points, 10 points outside of the playoffs. Jeff Skinner led the team with 51 points. The 2016 trade deadline was the tough one. Eric Staal was traded to New York. Kris Versteeg was traded to Los Angeles. The moves needed to happen, but it was a tough pill to swallow for everyone.
More improvement. 87 points, missing the playoffs by 8 points. Hello Jeff Skinner and his 37 goals. Sebastian Aho put up 49 points as a rookie. Ron Francis signed Victor Rask to a six-year, $24 million contract extension, and then signed Scott Darling to a four-year, $16.6 million deal in free agency. We all know how those two deals worked out. At least the 2017 NHL Draft brought in Martin Necas.
This was the year. The Hurricanes were everybody’s sleeper pick to make the playoffs. Welcome back, Justin Williams! The fans were excited. They were finally going to do it. And then the Canes finished with 83 points and missed the playoffs by 14 points. Aho and Teravainen were bright spots. Victor Rask and Scott Darling were the opposite. On the bright side, the Hurricanes finally got some draft lottery luck and ended up with Andrei Svechnikov with the 2nd overall pick!
Then came the offseason. Ron Francis and Bill Peters were gone. Tom Dundon was in his first offseason as the majority owner of the team. With fans wanting a fresh start, it’s fair to say that a lot of people were skeptical of his two major hirings; Rod Brind’Amour as head coach and Don Waddell as GM (for now). While trading Jeff Skinner left a sour taste in a lot of mouths, that was a move that the team felt they needed to make.
The rest of the offseason was positive. The Canes traded two former lottery picks in Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to Calgary for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and the rights to NCAA defenseman Adam Fox. Jordan Martinook was acquired. They signed Calvin de Haan and Petr Mrazek, both of which have had very good first seasons in Carolina. And then during the season, the Canes claimed Curtis McElhinney on waivers. An expected temporary solution to the goaltending situation, McElhinney played his way into a role on the team for the rest of the year. Now, he and Mrazek form the best goalie tandem the Hurricanes have had in a very long time. Then they traded Victor Rask and his bad contract to Minnesota for……… Nino Niederreiter! Yeah, they did. No, I still can’t believe it.
Rod Brind’Amour has, for the most part, been very good in his first year as a head coach. His leadership has been a big part of the Hurricanes success this season. He has handled Svechnikov’s rookie season very well, and now the rookie has 20 goals, all at even-strength. Sebastian Aho is finally a full-time center, and he has had a career year. Teuvo Teravainen is also having a career year. And now, the Hurricanes sit in a playoff spot with two games remaining in the regular season. With 95 points, the Hurricanes sit in the first wildcard spot and will host New Jersey on Thursday and end the regular season on Saturday in Philadelphia. Columbus, with 94 points, currently sits in the final wildcard spot and will finish the year off traveling to New York to face the Rangers on Friday before finishing on Saturday in Ottawa. Montreal, with 94 points, is currently on the outside looking in, and they have two tough games remaining; Thursday in Washington and then hosting Toronto on Saturday.
The Hurricanes can clinch a spot in the playoffs as early as Thursday. If the Hurricanes win against New Jersey on Thursday and Washington defeats Montreal in regulation, the Hurricanes will clinch. Or, if the Canes win Thursday and Columbus loses in regulation on Friday, they will clinch.
If the Canes can finish strong and make the playoffs, it will be a sign of hope for a fanbase that has suffered for 10 years. The playoff drought will be over. And that will mean the world to every fan that has stuck with the Hurricanes through it all. We have suffered long enough. No more being stuck in mediocracy. No more awful goaltending. No more drafting 5th or 7th overall every year. And no more being stuck on the outside looking in come April. That time is over. At least we all hope it is.