The Carolina Hurricanes are coming off their best season since 2008-2009, when they made it all the way to the conference finals.
This past season, the Canes once again made it to the conference finals, but were not able to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The team that beat the Canes, the Boston Bruins, lost to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Canes’ success was largely due to contributions across the board. Four guys (Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Justin Williams) scored at least 20 goals, with Aho leading the way with 30 of his own. Aho, Teravainen, Williams, and winger Michael Ferland all recorded at least 40 points. The Canes stayed healthy this year, as nine guys played in all 82 games during the regular season. The goaltending, a big question mark headed into last season, was stellar due to the play of Petr Mrazek and Curtis
In the playoffs, the Canes continued to perform. Warren Foegele, who only scored 10 goals during the regular season, scored five during the playoffs. Four Canes (Aho, Slavin, Teravainen and Staal) recorded at least 10 points during the playoff run. Mrazek performed stellar until his injury, when McElhinney came in and helped the Canes advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Canes will surely look to continue their dominance in the 2019-2020 season.
The big question is, however: will these be the same Canes?
Mrazek and McElhinney are both currently free agents, so there is no guarantee that either of them will return to Carolina. Both players have stated their desire to stay in Raleigh, however, Mrazek appears to have the inside track on re-signing. Mrazek is significantly younger, and he has been a starter throughout his career. The Canes traded defenseman Calvin De Haan, who scored the only goal for the Canes in their 2-1 Game 3 ECF loss to the Bruins, to the Chicago Blackhawks for goalie Anton Forsberg, who is expected to stay in Carolina. I foresee Forsberg backing up whoever the Canes decide to re-sign.
Sebastian Aho is a free agent as well, but the Canes will likely re-sign him, as he is the face of their franchise. Last season, Aho recorded 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists), his best season in his young three-year NHL career. Last season was the first time that a Hurricane had recorded an 80-point season since Eric Staal back in 2007-2008, when Staal registered 82 points.
Fan favorite Michael Ferland, who had a great first half of the season, saw his production drop off mightily, and he is not expected to re-sign. If Ferland departs, the Canes will either promote someone from a lower line, bring up a promising young winger from the 2019 Calder Cup Champion Charlotte Checkers, or pursue a winger in free agency (whether via a signing or a trade).
The Captain, Justin Williams, is mulling retirement. Williams recorded 53 points last season (third-most on team), his highest point total since the 2011-2012 season, when he was still a member of the Los Angeles Kings. Williams is 38 years old, but showed last year that he can still produce at a high level.
These are the biggest question marks the Canes face heading into free agency. If Williams, Aho, Mrazek, and McElhinney somehow do not end up in Carolina next year, the Canes are well-suited, as they have a great farm system, combined with excellent skaters under contract.
It remains to be seen what the Canes do, but whatever route they choose, I know it will be the correct one.
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