“We’re done losing. It’s time to climb the ladder and get relevant.” To fans of the Carolina Hurricanes, those words from Justin Williams are music to their ears. After eight straight seasons without a playoff appearance, things are definitely on the rise. As many NHL fans and analysts predict, I believe this is the year they finally make the jump. I’ve stated, since the end of the 2015-16 season, if they didn’t make it in 2017, 2018 would be their year.
Just like Dallas, their main weakness was goaltending. At the 2015 draft, they attempted to address the issue by acquiring Eddie Lack, but he never panned out. Their goaltending coach, David Marcoux, didn’t help the situation, and probably did more harm than good. I could be mistaken, but from the look of it, he had Lack playing a style he wasn’t comfortable with. Readdressing the goaltending this summer, they picked up Scott Darling from Chicago. He’s been very good for the Blackhawks, holding a .923 save percentage over his tenure there. People seem to have forgotten if it wasn’t for his goaltending in relief of Crawford in the 2015 playoffs, they don’t get past Nashville and win the Cup. It’s not guaranteed he’ll be similar to a Cam Talbot or Martin Jones, but if he is, that right there is an extra 5 wins for the Hurricanes.
Next, they picked up another former Blackhawk through the Vegas Golden Knights, Trevor Van Riemsdyk. The Hurricanes’ third defensive pairing needed work. Ryan Murphy never lived up to his potential as a first round pick and is just not an NHL caliber defenseman. Keeping him on the third pairing would continue to make it a liability, especially with the absence of Ron Hainsey. Van Riemsdyk fits the role perfectly, and, with Fleury expected to make the team this season, the third pairing should be solid.
This is when Justin Williams comes into the picture, signing a 2-year, $9 million deal to return to the place he won his first Stanley Cup. Williams can bring an extra 20-25 goals, which was the other weakness for Carolina, as well as a veteran presence with a winning attitude. If he brings the 20-25 goals to the Canes, and if his winning attitude rubs off on the young guys, with Darling as the starter, that could be up to an extra 10 wins to the Hurricanes from this past season. Josh Jooris was also signed on July 1st for an extra forward position.
Their final acquisition, once again a former Blackhawk, was the addition of Marcus Kruger, who will fill in for McClement on the fourth-line. His defensive abilities should be able to relieve Jordan Staal of some of the duties he’s been expected to take on, such as defending the top lines of every team. A line of Nordstrom, Kruger, and McGinn should be able to take on that task at times, which would, in turn, open up Staal’s offensive abilities, adding more to the offense.
Darling living up to expectations already can make the Carolina Hurricanes a playoff team. The acquisitions made after that just makes them better. They shored up their third defensive pairing by trading Ryan Murphy and acquiring Van Riemsdyk, which, as Ron Francis stated, will help them get the puck out of their zone more easily, limiting scoring opportunities. Williams adding those 20+ goals and a winning mentality helps them offensively and brings more leadership to the group. Marcus Kruger fills in a bottom 6 role, keeps their penalty-kill at the top of the league, and could indirectly improve the offense. It is time for the Carolina Hurricanes to take that next step into the playoffs.