Capturing the Central Division crown in 2021, the Carolina Hurricanes finished the regular season with 36 victories. One point clear of the second-place Florida Panthers, the team had the third-highest point total league-wide behind the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights. Led by the Jack Adams winner in Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes also saw defenseman Jaccob Slavin capture the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Given yearly to the player who demonstrates the most sportsmanlike and gentlemanly conduct while playing at a high level, the 27-year-old finished the season with just one minor penalty.
Inactive at the trade deadline, Carolina made just one minor transaction in acquiring defenseman Jani Hakanpaa for Haydn Fleury. They ultimately bowed out in the postseason for the third year in a row. The team defeated the Nashville Predators in the opening round before being defeated by the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in four games in round two.
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By the Numbers
Power Play: 25.61 percent (second in the league)
Penalty Kill: 85.23 percent (third in the league)
Goals For: 179
Goals Against: 136
Best Player-Sebastian Aho
Aho took another step forward to being mentioned among the truly elite players in the game this past season. Finishing in a tie for 16th in points, he also finished inside the top 15 in the league in goals. Averaging over a point per game, the 23-year-old recorded 24 goals and 33 assists in 56 games. Continuing to develop his two-way game, the former first-round pick also amassed 35 blocked shots and 33 takeaways. This led him to earn two votes for the NHL’s Selke Award for the game’s top two-way forward.
Leading the Hurricanes throughout the playoffs, he topped the team in points for the third season in a row. Racking up 11 points in 11 games, Aho averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per night. Praised by his teammates for his leadership ability as he heads into just his sixth year in the league, look for him to earn a letter on his jersey sooner rather than later.
Biggest Disappointment- Jake Gardiner
Enjoying an injury-riddled campaign during his third year in Carolina, Gardiner appeared in just 26 regular-season games. Hampered by a nagging back injury, the former Anaheim Ducks draft pick finished the season with just eight points. The 30-year-old also finished the season a minus-one with just over 16 minutes of ice time-averaged per night, the lowest total of his career.
In and out of the lineup all season long, Gardiner remains the odd man out on the Hurricanes blue line. A healthy scratch for many games to close out the year, he also spent time on the team’s taxi squad. Currently set to count for just over $4 million against the cap next season, he has two years left on his four-year contract with the Hurricanes. With expansion looming as Seattle is set to enter the league next year, the possibility looms that Gardiner is playing in a different uniform in 2022.
Behind the Bench
The heart and soul of the group, Brind’Amour lead the franchise to their third consecutive playoff appearance under his tutelage in 2021. Helping establish a culture inside the dressing room, the former ninth overall pick is 120-66-20 during his time behind the bench. Earning the highest win percentage in team history, he captured the Jack Adams Trophy this season after leading the team to a first-place finish in the Central Division.
He continues to be respected by opposing teams and front offices around the league for his leadership and warrior-like mentality. Furthermore, he also stresses communication and the ability to get his players to buy-in. Rewarded with a contract extension this past offseason, the longtime Carolina captain agreed to a three-year deal. It will keep him with the team through the 2024 season.
Front Office Analysis
Improving each year under the guidance of Don Wadell, Carolina has improved its overall win percentage in each of the last three seasons. Continuing to draft well, the former Pittsburgh Penguins scout has added centers Ryan Suzuki and Seth Jarvis in the previous two drafts. Furthermore, Wadell has also made multiple splashes in free agency, including the signing of goaltender Petr Mrazek, Warren Foegele, and Jesper Fast.
In addition to this, the one time Jim Gregory Award nominee was able to make the most crucial move of the offseason for the team. Locking up the coach of the year in Brind’amour to an extension, he also was able to lock up key members of the team’s coaching staff.
2021 NHL Entry Draft Picks/Prognosis
The Hurricanes currently hold eight selections in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. With all of their original picks from rounds, one to four left withstanding, the team will also have an extra fifth and two extra seventh-round choices. Gaining an extra round five selection two years ago, the franchise agreed to trade forward Nicolas Roy to the Vegas Golden Knights for defenseman Erik Haula. Furthermore, the Hurricanes added an extra final round selection in the Justin Faulk trade to the St Louis Blues.
Currently holding the 26th pick, look for Wadell and the team’s front office to add forward depth in the bottom part of the roster. Struggling to get production in the playoffs behind Aho and young winger Andrei Svechnikov, both Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook will become unrestricted free agents in July. On the verge of elite contender status in the Metropolitan Division next season, look for a revitalized bottom-six forward group to help the team get over the hump.
Off-Season Wishlist/Checklist & Prognosis for 201-2022
Carolina will have their work cut out for them in the offseason if they hope to retain key free agents. Fresh off a 42 point year in the league’s shortened season, defenseman Dougie Hamilton will be one of the hottest names on the market. Known for his high offensive upside, the 28-year-old has finished inside the top 15 in Norris Trophy voting in each of his previous four seasons.
Along with this, both netminders James Reimer and Mrazek remain without contracts after platooning in net for the team last year. In 22 games, Reimer finished second behind star rookie Alex Nedeljkovic with a .906 save percentage and a 2.66 goals-against average. Finally, after recording the second-highest point total of his young career in 2021, Svechnikov will be a restricted free agent. Poised to sign a bridge deal, look for the 21-year-old to earn close to $7 million annually, with Patrik Laine and Mathew Barzal‘s deals used as similar figures.
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