For the Carolina Hurricanes, the upcoming 2017-18′ season is about building a good team into a playoff contending one. 2016-17′ provided a step in the right direction, but they still finished short of cracking the Eastern Conference’s Top 8. There’s no doubt that near miss was on GM Ron Francis’s mind, as he went about retooling a team that hasn’t cracked the postseason since 2009.
In an offseason highlighted by major moves, the Hurricanes improved on every front. Whether it be through trade or free agency, they showed a commitment to remaining competitive in a crowded Metropolitan Division.
The additions of Marcus Kruger and Justin Williams bring experience to a relatively young group up front. Both have won multiple Stanley Cups, with the latter earning the nickname “Mr. Game 7” for his role in series-deciding games. Add them to an already dynamic forward group, headlined by rising stars Jeff Skinner and Sebastien Aho, and this team becomes even more dangerous.
On the back-end, the emergence of young blueliners Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin made Francis’s job easier. He swung a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, landing Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh round draft pick in exchange for a 2017 second round pick. He then inked Pesce and Slavin to six and seven-year contract extensions respectively.
He then addressed the goaltending issues that contributed mightily to the Hurricanes inability to make the playoffs last year by trading for Scott Darling. That led to the former Chicago Blackhawks backup being signed to a four-year, $16.6 million contract with the hopes he can take over the starting role. It makes sense, as Cam Ward is 33 years old and unable to perform at the highest level every day.
What makes these moves so significant?
Other than the previously noted reasons, they make this team harder to play against. Sporting a career plus-12 rating and 31 points in 158 games, van Riemsdyk is a perfect fit for the Hurricanes. He’ll likely be paired with one of their up and coming talents, such as 2015 first round pick Noah Hanifin. That would surely benefit the youngster who unsurprisingly struggled in his first NHL season. With that pairing a possibility, Pesce and Slavin can either play together or separately depending on the opponent. Higher octane offenses could face pairings of Slavin and Klas Dahlback, followed by Pesce/Philip Samuelsson and van Riemsdyk/Hanifin, with Trevor Carrick potentially being an extra seventh defenseman.
As for Darling, the experience he gained backing up Corey Crawford in Chicago will come in handy. He’s received ample playing time over the years, with a 39-17-9 record, 2.37 goals against average and .923 save percentage the past three regular seasons. He also has no trouble in high leverage situations, evidenced by a 3-1 record, 2.21 goals against average and .936 save percentage in five Stanley Cup Playoff games. That helped propel the Blackhawks to the 2015 Stanley Cup, their third in six seasons.
Is this enough to propel the Hurricanes to their first playoff berth since 2009? While that remains unknown, it will make them a team capable of making noise in the Metropolitan Division. One that can hang with perennial contenders such as the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and possibly the Pittsburgh Penguins. For fans in Raleigh, that would surely be a welcome sight!