Carolina Hurricanes 2023-24 NHL Season Preview
The Carolina Hurricanes still feel a bit like an up-and-coming team. But the truth is they’ve been one of the NHL’s model franchises for half a decade now. Once they freed themselves of the crushing weight that was a decade-long playoff drought in 2018-19, the Hurricanes have consistently been one of the last teams opponents have wanted to face. They grind even the strongest opposition down with a relentless forecheck and tenacious playstyle. They have plenty of high-quality players and arguably the league’s best coach. Carolina has become the standard.
At least in the regular season. The playoffs have been a different story. The Hurricanes have reached the second round four of the last five seasons. Yet their last Eastern Conference Final win came all the way back in 2006, with 12 consecutive round-three losses in between. Call it whatever you want — a lack of killer instinct, not enough star power, just plain bad luck — but the results are what matter at the end of day. No longer is this a team full of kids — the vast majority of Carolina’s core is its prime or older. This is supposed to be their time — will 2023-24 be the season they’ve been waiting for?
|Michael Bunting||Sebastian Aho||Seth Jarvis|
|Andrei Svechnikov||Jesperi Kotkaniemi||Martin Nečas|
|Jordan Martinook||Jordan Staal||Jesper Fast|
|Teuvo Teräväinen||Jack Drury||Stefan Noesen|
I’m not sure if any team had a cleaner, better off-season than the Hurricanes. Not only did Carolina add two potential impact players and a depth piece they’re familiar with, but they did so without making the long-term commitments that usually come around to bite teams. That did come at a cost; Dmitry Orlov was very good last year, though probably not worth $7.75 million. However, that’s a fine concession to keep the term down, as Orlov’s arrival gives Carolina one of the league’s deepest defensive cores. Being able to properly utilize Tony DeAngelo, something the Flyers did and could not do with their thin blue line, helps as well.
Michael Bunting is a solid addition as well. He brings a platonic skillset of scoring and snarl to the table, although his playoff efforts in Toronto certainly left a lot to be desired. Overall, he’s an excellent support piece who should slide nicely into Carolina’s forward group.
3 Players to Watch
- Brent Burns — The 38-year-old certainly looked like he had plenty left in the tank last year. Returning to a contender revitalized Burns, who cleaned up his defensive game while delivering his highest point total since 2018-19. Fall-offs can happen very quickly at his age, however, and Burns would certainly like to delay his until after getting the Cup ring he’s been chasing for 20 years.
- Stefan Noesen — A career journeyman who spent all of 2021-22 in the AHL, Noesen delivered a breakout season last year. He drove play very well at both ends of the ice and chipped in a career-high 36 points. There have been plenty of AAAA players to deliver one-hit-wonder seasons like this. But some, like Bunting, are truly late bloomers. Noesen will try to prove he fits in the latter camp this year.
- Pytor Kotchetkov — He might not even be on the opening night roster, but Kotchetkov will almost certainly play a role in Carolina’s plans this season. Even though a four-year, $8 million extension kicks in this season, Kotchetkov is actually still waivers exempt. Last season, he ranked 27th in the NHL with 4.9 goals saved above expected. For reference, Antti Raanta was 44th and Frederik Andersen was 78th. Kotchetkov is still the goalie of Carolina’s future, which could become the present quickly if one of the incumbent veterans falters or their dicey injury history flares up.
Riser & Faller
Riser: Martin Nečas stagnated a bit in 2021-22, failing to take a step forward in his first truly full NHL season. His second, however, offered quite a surge. The 2017 12th overall pick isn’t as big of a name as some of the others in Carolina’s top six, but he quietly put up 71 points with quality underlying numbers. Carolina is betting that its lack of a truly game-changing scorer can be overcome by a plethora of very good ones, and Nečas’ emergence helps their case.
Faller: Teuvo Teräväinen used to be a staple in Carolina’s top-six, a partner in crime of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. But his offensive game, both by advanced metrics and basic counting stats, took a step back last year. I doubt he’s going to be a fourth-liner as he’s listed here, but Teräväinen’s in need of a bounce-back season heading into free agency in 2024. His future in Carolina is definitely in question.
The Big Question
How much of an all-year is this for GM Don Waddell? Carolina isn’t an old team on the whole, but they certainly have some aging players like Burns, Jordan Staal and their goalie tandem. Half of their defense, including the dynamite second pair of Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce, are UFAs at the end of the season. Nečas and Seth Jarvis are in line for raises. Sebastian Aho is getting one next season, although only by about $1.25 million.
We all know what Carolina’s top talents are — and aren’t — capable of. The Hurricanes’ biggest in-season trade acquisition over the last five seasons has probably been Skjei, who was a bit of a buy-low candidate at the time (even if he did cost a first-round pick). Aho, Andrei Svechnikov (who was notably absent last playoffs) and Jaccob Slavin are an elite group. But a little help couldn’t hurt, right? We know they were already looking into Erik Karlsson, so there’s already a bit of precedent here, too.
It would be a massive surprise if Carolina didn’t earn a divisional playoff spot this year, even with the continued growth in New Jersey, Pittsburgh’s big splurge and the general presence of the Rangers. They’ve steadily finished between second and ninth the last four seasons and will probably place in that range again. The President’s Trophy certainly isn’t out of the question. And more importantly, neither is the Cup.
Yes, Carolina didn’t really do anything to improve the lack of finishing touch that haunted them against Florida (apologies to Bunting, who’s a good but not dominant goal-scorer). Svechnikov’s return should certainly help, though. And after years of line-drive doubles to the gap, maybe this time the Hurricanes decide to swing for the fences — they’ve certainly got what it takes to hit a home run.