In their fifth season under head coach Rod Brind’Amour, the Carolina Hurricanes found themselves four games away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals and winning the Eastern Conference.
They secured their third straight division title, winning the Metropolitan by one point over the New Jersey Devils, and earned the No. 2 seed in the East, all good metrics of a successful season.
But, as quickly as they advanced, they were eliminated, losing four-straight one goal games to the Florida Panthers.
Dating back to 2009, the Hurricanes have been swept in their last three straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances, posing the question, ‘How do they get over the hump?’
There is no doubt that Carolina has an even stronger roster heading into the 2023-2024 campaign after signing forward Michael Bunting and defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Tony DeAngelo. However, there is uncertainty surrounding Andrei Svechnikov as he returns from ACL surgery and there are a few questions marks across the ice.
Add a Goal Scoring Forward
If you have read any Carolina Hockey Now or National Hockey Now news, one of the missing pieces for Carolina is very clear: a goal scoring forward.
The Hurricanes netted 266 goals in the regular season, ranking eighth in the Eastern Conference and 15th in the NHL and while their style of play allows them to win low-scoring contests, it was their Achilles’ Heel in the postseason.
Scoring just six goals in four games against the Panthers, Carolina could not find the back of the net when they needed it most despite the high volume of shots.
Although Michael Bunting, who recorded 23 goals with Toronto last season, does provide scoring depth, only three Hurricanes tallied 20 or more goals during the 2022-2023 campaign. One of which was Andrei Svechnikov, who last appeared in March and missed the final 18 games of the regular season and the entire postseason.
With his status and ability to produce in doubt, the need for more scoring is even more important.
Carolina struggled to finish and find the back of the net, ranking 30th in the NHL with -31.15 Goals For Above Expected.
Whether it be adding a player like Patrick Kane when he recovers from hip surgery in November or December or trading for a center like Elias Lindholm, who already is familiar with the Hurricanes’ culture, a goal-scoring forward should be the number one priority for Don Waddell and company.
Improve the Power Play
It may come as no surprise that a team that finished in the middle of the pack in scoring also struggled on the power play. Carolina ranked 20th in the NHL on the man advantage, converting just 19.76 percent of their opportunities.
These issues continued in the postseason, where that number dipped to 17 percent, ranking 12th out of 16 teams. Their nine goals over 51 power plays was the lowest among the four teams to reach the conference finals.
Seattle was the lone playoff team to finish below Carolina on the power play in the regular season, signaling the true need for improvement to get over the hump.
Bringing back Tony DeAngelo may be a step in the right direction to increased success on the power play. DeAngelo has the ability to find the back of the net, produce on the blue line, and guide the power play unit.
During his time in Raleigh in the 2021-2022 campaign, his presence helped the Hurricanes convert at a 22 percent clip on the man advantage. That number would have put Carolina at 13th in the NHL this past season, a noticeable increase and likely difference maker.
Carolina is certainly set up to be successful and challenge for a third straight Metropolitan Division title during the 2023-2024 season with their current roster, but adding another goal scoring forward and improving on the power play is the key to raising the Stanley Cup again in Raleigh.