Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes are looking to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in ’21-’22. (image from Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Carolina Hurricanes are no Longer a Dark Horse

The Carolina Hurricanes have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, and as they return to the Metropolitan division for the ’21-’22 season, they have expectations to be playing in the postseason for a fourth straight. This team is good, so good that they finished first in the most competitive division (63.625 average points per team) in the NHL last season with a fantastic record of 36-12-8. Unfortunately, they fell to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because of salary cap threats, this season’s team has experienced some roster turnover, however, including the loss of key contributors to their recent success.

The Hurricanes have been one of the more fun teams to watch in the past few seasons. They are fast, aggressive, and young. They also love to have fun, something that NHL traditionalists like Don Cherry cannot stand. Cherry’s 2019 “bunch of jerks” comment about Carolina’s Storm Surge has only fueled them to become one of the toughest teams to play night in and night out. After mediocrity for most of the 2010s, it has brought fans back into PNC Arena, creating one of the rowdiest atmospheres in all of sports. Now, they are no longer a dark horse and are expected to play like one of the best teams in the league again.

Offseason Moves

The Carolina Hurricanes made a little bit of history this offseason by signing 21-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet. Kotkaniemi’s former team, the Montreal Canadiens, decided not to match the very healthy $6.1 million offer from Carolina for the restricted free agent. Montreal received a first-round and third-round pick in the next NHL entry draft as compensation. The deal is for just one season and Kotkaniemi will be a restricted free agent for ’22-’23. It is the first successful offer sheet in the NHL since Dustin Penner in 2007 when he went from the Anaheim Ducks to the Edmonton Oilers. Carolina loves Kotkaniemi as a player but couldn’t pass on the opportunity to troll Montreal after tried to offer sheet to Carolina’s star player, Sebastian Aho back in 2019.

Carolina will experience a completely new goaltending situation this season. Last year’s three-headed monster of Alex Nedeljkovic, Petr Mrazek, and James Reimer will all play for new teams in ’21-’22. Former Toronto Maple Leaf Frederik Andersen and former Arizona Coyote Antti Raanta will be the new tandem for the Hurricanes. Both are coming off shaky, injury-riddled seasons. Hurricanes fans had the impression that Alex Nedeljkovic, 25, would be the long-term answer in the crease. Nedeljkovic, who posted a 15-5-3 record with league-bests .932 save percentage and 1.90 GAA in his first full NHL season last year, was surprisingly traded for a 2021 third-round pick and goalie Jonathan Bernier from the Detroit Red Wings just before the expansion draft. Bernier was let go in free agency as his contract expired and signed with the New Jersey Devils. Mrazek and Reimer both walked in free agency.

Defensemen that were brought to Carolina in free agency include Tony DeAngelo (one-year, $1 million), Brendan Smith (one-year, $800k), and Ian Cole (one-year, $2.9 million). The Hurricanes also made a trade for Ethan Bear, 24, formerly of the Oilers. Carolina sent forward Warren Foegele to Edmonton in a one-for-one deal in late July. Notable forwards that signed in free agency include Josh Leivo (one-year, $750k) and Derek Stepan (one-year, $1.35 million).

Lineup Projection

Here are my projected lines for the’21-’22 Carolina Hurricanes:

Andrei SvechnikovSebastian AhoMartin Necas
Nino NiederreiterVincent TrocheckTeuvo Teravainen
Jesperi KotkaniemiJordan Staal (C)Jesper Fast
Jordan Martinook (A)Derek StepanJosh Leivo
Forwards

The Carolina Hurricanes have a lethal first line. Svechnikov, Aho, and Necas combined 140 points last season, and they should be playing side-by-side for years to come as they are all under the age of 25. Trocheck was a menace for the team last year, posting 17 goals and 26 assists in just 47 games. Montreal felt content moving on from Kotkaniemi because of his lack of production in 171 NHL games. The 2018 third overall pick has just 62 career points and is coming off a 20-point season in ’20-‘21. I would expect his offensive numbers to jump playing with veterans like captain Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast. He will get time on the second powerplay unit.

Jaccob Slavin (A)Brett Pesce
Brady SkjeiEthan Bear
Ian ColeTony DeAngelo
Defensemen

The Carolina Hurricanes departed with star defenseman Dougie Hamilton this offseason, and he joined the Devils on a huge seven-year, $63 million deal. He quarterbacked the top powerplay unit last year – one that converted on 25.6% of their man advantages, which was second in the entire NHL. Who will take over Hamilton’s spot? I would want to see what Tony DeAngelo could do now that he is away from the drama surrounding him in New York with the Rangers. Jake Gardiner will miss the season after undergoing hip and back surgery in the offseason, which makes the Ian Cole signing and Ethan Bear trade look even better.

Frederik AndersenAntti Raanta
Goaltenders

A pair of 32-year-olds are taking over the crease for the Carolina Hurricanes. Andersen and Raanta will need to prove that the front office was correct in moving on from the three goalies of last year. Statistically, Andersen is coming off his worst season as an NHL goaltender. He went 13-8-3 in Toronto with a .895 save percentage and 2.96 GAA. Raanta has proved he is reliable when healthy, but his health has been unreliable for two of the past three seasons. He played in 12 games in both ’18-’19 and ’20-’21. For his career, his boasts a .919 save percentage and 2.46 GAA, but he, too, is coming off arguably his worst season. Expect this duo to evenly split starts given one doesn’t severely outperform the other.

Where Will They Finish?

The Carolina Hurricanes have a system that works, and that system is head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s. I would expect Carolina to finish within the top two of the Metropolitan this year, as well as in the top 10 for both offense and defense. Despite the big roster changes, the offensive power is still there. Hamilton won’t be there to make Slavin and Pesce look elite in the defensive end. They will have to pick up his load to make it easier on the new goaltenders, because this team will only get as far as Andersen and Raanta can take it. If those two play well, this team should be right there in the race for the Stanley Cup.

The Carolina Hurricanes open the ’21-’22 season at +1400 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

Check out Vendetta Sports Media on YoutubeTwitchTwitter, and Instagram!