The Hurricanes have now missed the playoffs 7 straight seasons. They have one playoff appearance since their Cup run in 2006. Until Francis became the GM, they were refusing to rebuild, and it hurt the franchise. However, things seem to be looking up now.
After the horrible 2015 season where they started 0-6-2 and finished 30-41-11, things started to look better. Even so, their expectations for 2016 weren’t much higher than the season before. By late November, it certainly looked like another lottery season. Then came December 5th against Montreal. They won 3-2 and began a 27-18-14 run to finish the season. Their point percentage and penalty kill were both ranked first during the stretch. By late January, after the 5-0 blowout victory against Chicago, they were just one point out of a playoff spot. Nordstrom-Jordan Staal-Nestrasil became not only a checking line, but a lethal scoring line that led the way.
With a couple losses right before the deadline, they decided to sell. Eric Staal went to the Rangers, Kris Versteeg was shipped to the Kings, and John-Michael Liles was traded to the Bruins. The Canes still were solid after the deadline in spite of missing the playoffs, however.
The first move they made was trading a 2nd and a 3rd round pick in exchange for Teuvo Teravainen and Brian Bickell. Capitalizing again on the Blackhawks cap issue, they picked up a young guy who can play in the top 6. Teravainen didn’t get much ice-time playing on the 3rd line, so he has a chance to blossom in a bigger role with Carolina. They could use the $4 million from Bickell to get to the cap floor, and it is a plus if he can revive his career. In the draft, they drafted Jake Bean for more defensive depth and Julien Gauthier, who could be a lethal scorer in the future for Carolina. Free agency came, and they picked up Viktor Stalberg and Lee Stepniak. Stalberg is a huge upgrade for their bottom 6, and Lee Stepniak tallied the same amount of points as Skinner, the leading point getter for their team last season. He will add offense to a team that will focus more on collective scoring.
The Canes also re-signed Victor Rask and Cam Ward. Rask is a vital asset, quickly becoming a second line center. The goaltending has been a weakness for Carolina. Ward is a solid goaltender and has been the backbone for Carolina, but inconsistency has been a problem. From December 5th on, however, he was near the top of the NHL in save percentage and goals against average. Eddie Lack had a bad start to the season, but improved as it went on.
Attendance will see an increase this year, as shown by the 88% renewal rate in full season tickets, 86% partial season ticket renewal rate, and an 87% increase in new season ticket packages. Ticket revenue is up 40%. Goaltending will be the biggest question for them. With the additions the Canes made, along with Sebastian Aho expected to make the leap, scoring and depth has improved greatly. As long as the Nordstrom-Staal-Nestrasil line produces, and the young defense stays very strong, with the newly acquired players, they have a good shot at the playoffs.