Elimination Eval: Carolina Hurricanes

Kicking off Round 2 of Elimination Evals with our first second round exit of the 2024 postseason, another casualty of the New York Rangers, the Carolina Hurricanes. As a Rangers fan, it’s impossible not to be a little overly excited to talk about this one but you have to give credit where credit is due, Carolina put up a heck of a fight. Practically every game, aside from the Rangers collapse in Game 5 was a one-goal game (excluding Goodrow’s empty netter), two of which required overtime. It was clear that this series involved two of the best teams in the Conference but from a Carolina perspective, it can’t be played off as such. Let’s recap how we got here. 

The Hurricanes took care of business in Round 1 with their gentleman’s sweep against the New York Islanders. Similarly to the Rangers series with Washington, it essentially came down to the fact that the overall quality of the two hockey teams involved were on completely different calibers. The Hurricanes were the definition of a contender while the Islanders were an older team that just squeezed into the playoff picture thanks to a hot stretch to end the season. A little extra fire from the late season hiring of Patrick Roy always helps too but nevertheless, the Hurricanes were the clear favorite in that first series. Round 2, would prove to be far more challenging despite the fact that many people were still favoring Carolina. 

Twenty minutes into Game 1 of Round 2, the Hurricanes were trailing 3-1 to the Rangers who had an outstanding start with the help of two power play goals. Special teams would without question become one of the largest difference makers in this series as the Hurricanes went on to go 0-16 on the power play throughout the majority of Round 2. No matter how you slice that, that just isn’t a recipe for success at all. Carolina hung around enough to bring themselves within one thanks to a late third period goal from Seth Jarvis but nevertheless, the Rangers held on and took Game 1. 

Obviously you never want to drop the first game of a series but these were two strong teams and there was plenty of hockey left. The Hurricanes stepped it up heading back into the Garden for Game 2 and actually took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. After both sides exchanged goals in the second, they kept the lead heading into the final period. Once again, it was special teams that would lead to Carolina’s demise here in Game 2. A Chris Kreider power play goal early in the third sent this one to overtime, and then double overtime which eventually came to an end thanks to yet another power play goal, this time from Vincent Trocheck. 

The Canes were down two in the series but were headed home for the next two games in the series, making Game 3 a “can’t lose.” Up to this point, there weren’t really any questions in their net and perhaps it had more to do with how late Game 2 ran but at any rate, Rod Brind‘Amour turned to his number two goaltender in Pyotr Kochetkov for Game 3. With a new face in net, Carolina understood the assignment and got off on the right foot with Jake Guentzel getting them on the board halfway through the first period. It cannot be emphasized enough how detrimental special teams became for this group. It was bad enough they couldn’t get their power play going for the life of them but now, they were giving up goals on the man advantage. A shorthanded goal from Kreider tied the game up in the second and after another third period exchange, it would be another night decided in overtime. 

Regardless of the outcome, this was set to be a game changing moment of the series. Had Carolina won, it would’ve been a whole new series while a Rangers win would threaten the sweep. For what it’s worth, Carolina had all the momentum at the end of regulation as Andrei Svechnikov’s goal to tie it came just a minute and half out from the final buzzer with their net empty. Perhaps that was a wake up call for the Rangers as Artemiy Panarin put an end to the night with a beautiful redirect just under two minutes into overtime. Carolina’s season was now in jeopardy, one loss away from a sweep. 

Mind you, Carolina was swept by the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final last season therefore a second sweep in two consecutive years could have resulted in some serious questions for this franchise. This made Game 4 a must win and with their backs against the wall, the Hurricanes pulled it off. A pair of unanswered goals within the first seven minutes of the first gave Carolina a 3-1 lead heading into the second. While the Rangers ended up tying the game early in the third, the Hurricanes power play finally broke through. Former friend Brady Skjei let a perfect slap shot go from the point that found the back of the net, forcing the series back to New York. 

Couple of quick notes there to circle back on goaltending for this team. The Hurricanes turned back to Freddie Anderson in Game 4, a decision that even now was likely the safe bet. Kochetkov very well may become the new number one goaltender in Carolina but with what was at stake here and considering what we’ve seen from Anderson up to this point, it was the right call. Granted you know what they say about hindsight because that goal Carolina gave up in the third period where Alexis Lafrenière banked it off the back of Anderson was a brutal one to give up. Perhaps some foreshadowing to Game 6. 

Nevertheless, there was a Game 5 to be played which would become the high point for the Hurricanes. The Rangers played an absolute stinker and Carolina proved to be the better team through those sixty minutes. Despite giving up the first goal of the game, Jordan Staal got the comeback started early in the third which sparked four unanswered goals to completely stun the World’s Most Famous Arena. Back to Raleigh we went. 

After a whole lot of nothing through the first 18 minutes of play, Martin Necas snuck a quick shot past Shesterkin to give Carolina a late 1-0 lead. A Seth Jarvis power play goal extended that lead but the Rangers quickly answered with a deflection from Trocheck. Approaching the midway point of play, Sebastian Aho tucked one top shelf past Shesterkin, making it a 3-1 game and the feeling of a Game 7 all more possible. All Carolina had to do was hold on for another twenty minutes but you can’t stop magic and frankly, that’s all that comes to mind when trying to describe what Chris Kreider and the New York Rangers pulled off. A comeback for the ages, the Rangers pulled off a 5-3 win and put an end to the Hurricanes season. Where do they go now? 

Well there’s no doubt about it, the Hurricanes have to look at this season as an underachievement and a failure. This is a team that has more than half of their roster on expiring contracts, most of which are set to become unrestricted free agents. Since 2019, this group has lost in the Conference Finals twice, the Semifinals three times and the first round once. Their window for contention isn’t opening any wider and with all the off-season business they have to take care of, there are a lot of question marks. In terms of the biggest question for them, you have to think it surrounds all the pending UFA’s given how many of them have spent the majority of their careers in Carolina. 

The long list of players on expiring contracts includes UFA’s Jake Guentzel, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Martinook, Brett Pesce, Stefan Noesen, Brady Skjei, Jalen Chatfield, Brady Skjei, Jalen Chatfield, Tony DeAngelo, Antti Raanta as well as RFA’s Seth Jarvis, Martin Necas, Jack Drury and Dylan Coghlan. As such, the Hurricanes are projected to have roughly $27 million dollars in cap space which may sound like a lot, but is a thin budget to replace the quality of some of those names. Jarvis, Necas and Drury alone could eat up close to $15 million of that available space. Realistically, if Carolina could manage to re-sign Guentzel they’ll be in a fine spot to run it back but you have to wonder if that’s something they'll even be able to take care of. At the moment, assuming only their RFA’s return, this is what they’re looking at heading into the summer: 

? - Aho - Svechnikov

? - Staal - Jarvis

Kotkaniemi - Drury - Necas

Lemieux/Comtois - Kuznetsov - Fast

Slavin - Burns

Orlov - ?

? - Coghlan 

Again, a Guentzel extension should be their main order of business but in addition to that, you’re going to need some help in your middle-six on top of potentially having to completely revamp your core of defense. If Brett Pesce hits the open market, you're left with Jaccob Slavin, a 39-year old Brent Burns and Dmitry Orlov. Not to mention, all three of them will be entering the final year of their contracts next season. Carolina only has three players signed past 2027 (Aho, Svechnikov and Kotkaniemi.) This off-season could be groundbreaking for the long term outlook of this franchise. 

After Guentzel, you have to think a long-term extension for Seth Jarvis should be up there in terms of priorities. If I wasn’t a Rangers fan and had to deal with this team through several playoff battles now, he would be one of my favorite players in the league. On top of his skill set, his tenacity is what helps him stand out which was made quite evident in the Hurricanes “break-up day” interviews. Jarvis revealed he spent most of the season dealing with a torn labrum and rotator cuff. To make matters worse, he broke a finger during the playoffs but still managed to be a top contributor in the postseason after a 33 goal regular season. Whatever he might cost, he’s a guy you should want to lock up long term. 

Jack Drury is another RFA that likely deserves a raise attached to a new contract. From what we’ve seen from him in the playoffs, it certainly looks like he has the potential to be a valuable center for this team both now and down the road. As far as Martin Necas goes, there’s been some rumors floating around that the Hurricanes may not look to re-sign him. I would be surprised if Carolina let him walk for nothing considering he’s also a RFA. His qualifying offer is only $3.5 million which isn’t much more than his current cap hit. At the very least, they could give him a qualifying offer to either buy time to negotiate or find a team interested in trading for him. General Manager Don Waddell mentioned in his availability one of the big priorities will be finding a right handed center so perhaps Necas could be involved in a trade for one of those. 

Outside that, I’m not sure it makes sense for Waddell to worry too much about any of Carolina’s UFA’s. Guentzel, Pesce, DeAngelo and Skjei all expressed their love for Carolina and alluded to some interest in staying but it certainly won’t be easy. The thought of Brett Pesce, Teuvo Teravainen and Jordan Martinook putting on a sweater next season that isn’t red and white with a Hurricane in the middle is definitely a strange concept. Unless they’re more interested in staying in Raleigh than they are making money, you have to think they’ll hit the open market as some of the most sought after available players. 

As a right handed defenseman still in his prime, Pesce has a really good chance of signing one of the biggest contracts somewhere else this summer. The Hurricanes already began easing Scott Morrow into the NHL towards the end of regular season which could indicate he’s ready to take that next step. Between Morrow and Dylan Coghlan, they could technically fill out their right side without breaking the bank and that’s not to mention Jalen Chatfield potentially sticking around as well. You also can’t rule out Carolina bringing DeAngelo back, seeing as they’re one of the few teams in the league willing to put up with his off-ice headaches and other attitude problems. 

Brady Skjei and Teuvo Teravainen could easily make some really good money elsewhere. Martinook and Noesen are the exact types of bottom-six grit guys that benefit from the open market. The chances of the Hurricanes icing a very different group next season are starting to look rather high and perhaps that’s not too much of a problem. So much of this team’s identity comes from their coaching staff, specifically Rod Brind‘Amour. There were some questions regarding his future with the organization given his contract status but it didn’t take long for those to be addressed. 

I was curious if how the Hurricanes season ended would raise some greater concerns but at the end of the day, you have to think they made the right call by signing him to a multi-year extension. Brind‘Amour is without a doubt one of, if not the best coaches in the league. At the same time, another year came and went without this team accomplishing their goal of getting back to the Stanley Cup. That could have been enough of a reason to do some serious re-evaluating from top to bottom. Not to mention, Brind‘Amour has a close connection with Ron Francis in Seattle who is also looking for a new head coach. Nevertheless, Rod and his team will be back and will continue to ice a competitive team in Carolina. 

It will be interesting to see what happens in net as Freddie Anderson is in the final year of his contract. You have to think barring anything drastic he and Kochetkov will split time next season and they’ll take it from there. On top of still being in a good spot to remain competitive, the Hurricanes have a strong prospect pool. On top of Scott Morrow, they have Alexander Nikishin, Bradley Nadeau, Vasili Ponomaryov, Cruz Lucius, Simon Forsmark, as well as Jackson Blake who was a standout in this year's NCAA tournament. With a couple bits of good business this summer, Carolina could set themselves up quite nicely for another lengthy stretch of being an Eastern Conference Contender year in and year out.