The postmortem after the Carolina Hurricanes’ elimination by the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning some 10½ months in the past was stark and unsparing. The Hurricanes had been examined and located wanting on a number of fronts. Their inadequacies had been all too uncovered, the hole between themselves and the NHL elite all too obvious.
There had been occasions, even, through the first-round collection in opposition to the Nashville Predators that the Hurricanes appeared like they had been on the verge of coming undone. Jaccob Slavin’s damage — not that he’s ever replaceable — uncovered a near-fatal lack of defensive depth. Fans cheered Alex Nedeljkovic in objective, however gamers and coaches clenched their enamel at occasions, particularly the utterly unacceptable game-winner in Game 1 of the Tampa collection that left the Hurricanes taking part in from behind.
Over the following three months, the Hurricanes underwent important, and generally unpopular, adjustments that noticed favorites like Nedeljkovic, Peter Mrazek, Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele moved out, Dougie Hamilton allowed to depart and a normal turning-over of practically each nook of the roster.
After 82 video games and one of the best season in franchise historical past, it’s protected to say the plan got here collectively. This is a special workforce than it was at this level a yr in the past: deeper, extra assured, not with out its flaws however possessed of unusual resilience and explosiveness — its strengths strengthened, its weaknesses largely addressed.
“Where we really excelled, in my opinion, was the depth part of it,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour stated. “When we had injuries, when we had holes to fill, we didn’t miss a beat.”
All of the adjustments the Hurricanes made final summer season had been designed to get them to simply this level: Not merely into the playoffs, however much better geared up to deal with the trials and challenges forward, on practically each entrance.
Goaltending? Not solely did Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta ship a considerable enchancment on their predecessors, they received the Jennings Trophy for the fewest workforce targets allowed for the primary time in franchise historical past. And even with Andersen’s standing for the first-round doubtful, there’s full confidence in Raanta to deal with the load, with late-season rookie phenom Pyotr Kochetkov already battle-tested and ready within the wings.
“I was probably the most unpopular guy in the community when we got rid of our goalies,” Hurricanes normal supervisor Don Waddell stated. “We obviously had talked about it. We knew there were four or five guys available in free agency and a couple more through trades. Our goalies two years ago, not last year, two years ago were good but when we got into the playoffs we just felt that we needed to be better. That’s why we rolled the dice.”
Defensive depth? The Hurricanes aren’t going to must depend on a gimpy Jake Gardiner or a man making his NHL debut within the warmth of a playoff collection like Max LaJoie final season. Tony DeAngelo and Ethan Bear could have gotten a lot of the consideration on the time, however the addition of Brendan Smith and Ian Cole gave the Hurricanes a pair of veteran warhorses who’ve seen the whole lot and received’t be awed by the circumstances. And even when there’s some tidal wave of blue-line accidents, the unheralded Jalen Chatfield got here up from Chicago (AHL) and earned his teammates’ respect in 16 video games of labor.
And on what’s primarily a younger workforce that’s rapidly gaining postseason expertise, the addition of seasoned gamers like Derek Stepan, Smith and Cole can solely be a stabilizing pressure in a room that’s relied closely on Jordan Staal and Jordan Martinook for vitality and counsel in previous playoff runs — in all probability the following smartest thing to a different Justin Williams cameo comeback. And he could also be younger, however nobody on the roster went deeper into the playoffs than Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who went to the Stanley Cup remaining with the Montreal Canadiens final yr.
If the Hurricanes didn’t do a lot on the commerce deadline, once more — including solely a depth ahead in Max Domi amid tight salary-cap constraints — it’s partly as a result of they did their work not in March, however in July and August. The workforce’s success this winter and its promise this spring had been each born final summer season, the results of introspection within the wake of frustration, an sincere appraisal of who wanted to go and what wanted to enhance to not solely get again to that time, however past.
And then they went out and did it.
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