Welcome to the latest submission in THN.com’s ongoing “Three Burning Questions” series – an NHL team-by-team breakdown of big questions before the beginning of the upcoming regular season. In today’s file, we’re asking Three Burning Questions about the Carolina Hurricanes:
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE HURRICANES IN 2022-23:
1. How will their many major off-season acquisitions pan out? For a team that finished first in its division and had the third-best record (54-20-8), the Hurricanes made a slew of notable changes this summer: first, they acquired former Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns from San Jose; then, GM Don Waddell traded for former Vegas Golden Knights/Canadiens star forward Max Pacioretty; and he signed a handful of veterans to improve their depth – forwards Paul Stastny and Ondrej Kase signed cheap one-year contracts, and center Derek Stepan and defenseman Calvin De Haan agreed to professional tryout contracts.
Unfortunately, Pacioretty is sidelined for another five months after tearing his ACL in off-season training. When he does return, Carolina will get a boost, but Waddell recognized the hole Pacioretty is leaving in the first half of the season, and he wisely landed proven veterans in Stastny (who had 24 goals in 71 games with Winnipeg last year) and Kase (who may be injury-prone, but when healthy, brings a high-tempo, robust physical element to the game). They need to step up and give the ‘Canes a solid performance in the bottom-six forward group.
Meanwhile, the impact of Burns will make the Hurricanes a much more physical team. He’s 37 years old now, and although his best days are behind him, Burns can have an important impact on Carolina, play on the top defensive pairing with Jaccob Slavin, and Waddell got San Jose to retain $2.72 million of Burns’ $8-million salary for the next three years, so he’s not a money pit.. The ‘Canes defense has serious depth (including veteran Jake Gardiner, who has recovered from hip and back surgeries that caused him to miss the entire 2021-22 campaign), and because they’re over the salary cap limit by approximately $2.61 million, Waddell may peel off some of that defensive depth. But when you’ve got that many veteran contributors on the back end, you should just be happy you’re in a position where you can deal away one player, still be a stacked lineup, and try to get a high draft pick or prospect in return in the trading of one of those veterans.
2. Will their veteran goalies stay healthy up to and through the playoffs? There’s no question the Hurricanes have enough talent and solid coaching to put them high in the Metropolitan Division standings, and land home ice advantage, perhaps throughout the playoffs. But Waddell has stayed with last year’s goalie tandem of starter Frederik Andersen, and veteran backup Antti Raanta – and that could be a problem for the second straight year.
The 32-year-old Andersen was having a standout performance in his first year with the ‘Canes when he tore his MCL in mid-April and never returned to action, although he would later say he was ready to step back in if Carolina had advanced to the third round. Nevertheless, the Hurricanes had to turn to Raanta, who had an excellent 2.25 Goals-Against Average and .922 Save Percentage in 13 playoff games. Unfortunately, the 33-year-old Raanta was injured in Game 7 of their second-round showdown against the New York Rangers, and Carolina had no choice but to play No. 3 goalie Pyotr Kochetkov, who allowed three goals on 12 Rangers shots in the ‘Canes’ loss.
That naturally leads many to keep a close eye on Carolina’s goalies this season. Andersen and Raanta can give them top-notch netminding, but any further injuries to either of them could cause the Hurricanes to drop in the standings and have much difficulty advancing in the playoffs. The ‘Canes’ trainer is under major pressure to keep this lineup healthy, and that matters most for their goalies.
3. Can the ‘Canes youngsters elevate their games? The Hurricanes have more than their share of veteran talents, but it’s their young star forwards who are the real engine for this franchise. For instance, 20-year-old Russian sniper Andrei Svechnikov set new career bests in goals (30), assists (39) and points (69) in 78 games last season, but ‘Canes brass believe he’s got the potential to be even more of an impact player.
Elsewhere, first-line center Sebastian Aho is only 25 years old. Projected first-line winger Seth Jarvis is just 20. Second-line center Jesperi Kotkaniemi is 22. And second-line winger Martin Necas is 23. The sky could be the limit for one or all of them, and they’re all under team control for a few years. Head coach Rod Brind’Amour has an embarrassment of riches up front, and if there are improved performances from their youngsters, Carolina could contend for the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular-season squad. The kids are more than alright for the Hurricanes, who are a legitimate threat to win the Stanley Cup this season.