Throughout August, The Hockey Writers will be releasing a series of bold predictions. Team by team, this series will take shape as we look at some of the more questionable possibilities that could come into fruition during the 2017-18 season.
We start in Raleigh and the Metropolitan Division. They were part of the powerhouse division in the NHL last season, but only missed the playoffs by eight points. In fact, they had just one win less than the Toronto Maple Leafs who finished in the second wildcard position in the Eastern Conference. Still, the Carolina Hurricanes finished the year with 88 points and didn’t see any postseason action.
Led by seven-year veteran Jeff Skinner, the Canes didn’t have that disappointing of a season. In fact, Skinner led the team with a career-high 37 goals and 63 points in 79 games.
Their rookie standout, Sebastian Aho, also had a good individual year finishing second in team scoring with 24 goals and 49 points. He topped all Hurricanes with 17 power play points to go along with a team-leading four game-winning goals.
Add to that the impressive seasons of Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin and it’s almost surprising the Canes couldn’t find their way into the playoffs.
In net, the majority of the time was handled by Cam Ward who play 61 games and finished with 26 wins. His 2.69 goals against average (GAA) and .905 save percentage (SV%) were subpar, but enough to give his team a fighting chance.
Backing him up, Eddie Lack saw action in 20 games and finished with a record of 8-7-3. His numbers weren’t far off from Ward’s clocking in at 2.64 to go along with a .902 save percentage.
But without the taste of playoffs, there’s a need for change. And while the Hurricanes didn’t change much, they did bring in some new faces in the hopes of taking the next step.
A Change in the Carolina Crease
The Canes added a little blue line depth already this offseason trading a 2017 second-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights for Trevor van Riemsdyk and a 2018 seventh-round pick. In 158 career regular season games, the 26-year-old defenceman has eight goals and 31 points.
On top of that, they shipped out Lack and defenceman Ryan Murphy at the end of June (along with a 2019 seventh-round pick) to Calgary for prospect Keegan Kanzig and a sixth-round pick in 2019.
On the free-agent market, they signed 35-year-old Justin Williams and Scott Darling (after trading a third-round pick to the Blackhawks back in April to acquire his rights). Williams is coming off a year that saw him notch 24 goals and 48 points with the Capitals, while Darling had a record of 18-5-5 in 32 games during the regular season posting a 2.38 goals against average and .924 save percentage.
2017-18 Bold Prediction: A Darling of a Starter
With the Hurricanes having missed the playoffs for the past eight seasons, and actually taking a step back this year compared to 2015-16, the Hurricanes won’t be able to deal with the same kind of failure for too much longer.
With Ward’s numbers in 2016-17 being at their worst since 2013-14 when he only suited up for 30 games, chances are he’ll have a short leash in 2017-18. That, coinciding with the acquisition of Darling, and the Hurricanes might have the perfect storm brewing in their crease.
With that in mind, expect Darling to take over as the Hurricanes starter in 2017-18. While he only has 75 games of NHL experience, his numbers are quite impressive over his short career so far.
He holds a 39-17-9 record during the regular season with a 2.37 career goals against average and .923 save percentage to go along with four shutouts. When it comes to the postseason, he has a 3-1 record in five games – posting a 2.22 goals against and .936 save percentage. While his experience isn’t even close to matching that of Ward’s career, his number speak for themselves and it wasn’t long ago that Cam Talbot took over as the starter in Edmonton with less than 60 games of NHL experience. It happens.