The Carolina Hurricanes have only one player, Micheal Ferland, with a double-digit goal total. He’s also the only Hurricane with nine or more goals. For context, every other team in the NHL has at least two nine-plus goal scorers. The Tampa Bay Lightning have six. Four other teams have five. More than half the league has at least four. Yet, the Hurricanes have one, Ferland, with Sebastian Aho second in scoring with eight tallies to his name.
Suffice to say, Carolina has scoring issues.
Entering action Thursday, on a night the Hurricanes visit the Montreal Canadiens, Carolina has the league’s second-least effective attack. At a paltry 2.45 goals per game, a rate better than only the offensively inept Los Angeles Kings, the Hurricanes are on pace to score just 200 goals this season. That’s 28 fewer than last season and 15 fewer than the season before that. And given a rise in scoring that amounts to one-third of a goal per game compared to the 2016-17 campaign, the Hurricanes’ scoring woes are troubling, to say the least.
While undoubtedly true that few expected Carolina to boast an offense among the league’s best this season, it would have been impossible to expect the attack to fall as flat as it has through the first third of the campaign. But the extent to which the Hurricanes’ offense is struggling borders on spectacular, because though the Kings have scored fewer goals — and fewer goals per game — than the Hurricanes, there’s no team that has shown an inability to finish as great as Carolina. Nothing illustrates that quite like the Hurricanes’ almost absurdly low shooting percentages.
Through 29 games, the Hurricanes’ shooting success at 5-on-5 is a mere 5.2 percent. That’s dead-last in the NHL by a margin of 1.1 percent. And at all strengths, Carolina’s shooting percentage has been only marginally better. However, at 6.4 percent, the Hurricanes remain last in the NHL and 1.3 percent behind Los Angeles’ lowly attack. To give this all some historical context, if Carolina’s shooting percentages remain as low as they are entering Thursday’s action, the Hurricanes would own the league’s worst 5-on-5 and all strengths rates of the past decade by more than half a percent.
Worst of all, Carolina playing its way out of this seems increasingly unlikely. When the Hurricanes made a change behind the bench in the off-season, prompted by Bill Peters exercising his out-clause in Carolina to step into the vacant job behind the Calgary Flames’ bench, the hope — and some would say belief — was that Rod Brind’Amour would be able to push the offensive aspects of the game on his group. Seasons with 5-on-5 shooting percentages of 6.2 percent, 6.9 percent, 7 percent and 7.4 percent had left some feeling that Peters’ style of play was part of the problem, that while conducive to great possession numbers but not high-scoring hockey.
It’s remarkable how wrong that belief has been proven, though. True to form in Calgary, Peters’ Flames have been a dominant possession team that overwhelms opponents, but the group is also shooting 8.1 percent at five-a-side and 10.8 percent at all strengths. Top talents such as Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and especially Matthew Tkachuk have flourished. There’s not even a whisper of goal-scoring concerns. Quite the opposite, really. And that has served only to amplify the already neon-lit sign on the outside of PNC Arena that reads, “Goal Scorers Wanted.”
The cruel irony here, of course, is that the one player who would have been far-and-away the Hurricanes best and most lethal goal scorer this season, Jeff Skinner, finds himself on the Eastern Conference rival Buffalo Sabres. He’s nearly lapped Ferland in goal production — Skinner’s 21 goals put him one shy of doubling the 11 scored by the Hurricanes’ off-season addition — and Skinner is picking corners like he’s Robin Hood. He’s shooting 23.1 percent, and while that’s vastly higher than his career average, one has to imagine that Carolina fans wish they could have a mulligan on that one right about now. (It’s also painful that the one year Carolina’s goaltending is actually somewhat reliable – tied for 18th with a .900 SP at all strengths – it’s the offense that isn’t getting the job done.)
This doesn’t have to continue for the Hurricanes, though, and depending how aggressive Carolina GM Don Waddell is willing to get, there could very well be options out there to help improve this offense. Among those on expiring contracts with unrestricted free agency on the horizon are Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Eric Staal, Wayne Simmonds and Jakob Silfverberg, while rumors have been abound about players such as Phil Kessel and Charlie Coyle.
Far-fetched as landing any of the biggest names on that list or chasing a top talent on the trade market may seem, don’t go thinking the Hurricanes’ front office wouldn’t be willing to take the bat off its collective shoulders and swing hard if a potential top-six, goal-scoring talent became available. Throughout the William Nylander saga in Toronto, the Hurricanes were connected to the Maple Leafs and Carolina was considered a potential frontrunner if push came to shove and Nylander was moved along. It’s been made clear, too, that Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon wants his management group to add offensive punch.
Carolina has pieces that could help facilitate such an acquisition, as well. The defense corps is incredibly rich, arguably one of the league’s finest. Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk and Calvin de Haan would be a fit and an upgrade on near any team in the NHL. The prospect pool is also one of the deepest in the NHL, which means moving along a few high picks in a trade that brings in a top-tier scoring talent could be a worthwhile proposition.
No matter how the Hurricanes go about it, though, it’s becoming abundantly clear that Carolina won’t be able to take any significant steps forward — let alone snap their near decade-long playoff drought — without addressing the need for a player who can score with some semblance of consistency.