Well, they did it again. In a league where over half the teams make the playoffs — the Carolina Hurricanes managed to miss the postseason for the eighth year in a row. It’s actually quite impressive. With the Edmonton Oilers making the playoffs for the first time since George Bush was president, Carolina now holds the longest streak in the NHL without an appearance.
Coming into the season, many had high hopes for the team. Sebastian Aho was making his NHL debut. Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin were expected to build upon their amazing rookie years. Fans hoped that Jeff Skinner would bounce back from his “down” year where he only potted 28 goals. All of those things happened. So what went wrong?
Cam Ward and the Lack of viable goaltending.
There will be no mincing of words here: Carolina’s situation in net is horrid and it has been for years. Cameron Kenneth Ward finished the season with a paltry .905 save-percentage (SV%); which puts him at 45th in the league among goaltenders playing at least 20 games. On most teams, Ward is not good enough to back up the starting keeper. Sadly, he started 61 games for the Hurricanes.
On the flip side, it is hard to judge Eddie Lack’s performance. Posting a sub-.860 in the months of October and November, his play to start the season was abysmal. Lack would go on to miss almost three months due to lingering concussion issues. After returning, he outplayed Ward by a wide margin and showed flashes of the goaltender fans thought they were getting from Vancouver.
The Corsica graph below compares Ward and Lack’s even-strength SV% from February to April. There is no debate on which played NHL caliber hockey down the stretch. However, even with Eddie’s late surge, Carolina still ranked 29th in the league in regards to 5-on-5 save percentage. That’s not exactly a recipe for sustained success.
Powerless Power Play
After the dust settled on the 2016-2017 season, the Carolina power play ranked 21st in the league. The Canes scored only 41 goals in 231 attempts on the man advantage — resulting in a 17.7% conversion rate. Carolina also gave up their fair share of short-handed goals; as Rod Brind’Amour’s unit gave up six over the course of the season.
Power play percentage is not a great way to measure success. This is evident when you realize the Buffalo Sabres lead the league with almost a 25% conversion rate. However, it’s an area that Carolina will look to tweak and improve before next October.
Slow Starts and the State Fair.
Every year it seems the Hurricanes are already out of the playoff picture before playing their home opener. This season was no different. The team was dead last in the Metro before even stepping foot in PNC Arena on October 28th. Entering November, Carolina had only accumulated six points in 8 games. It was a hole they almost dug out of.
Fried turkey legs, tractors, livestock shows, and an early Carolina Hurricanes’ road trip is a passage of autumn in Raleigh. Like most know, PNC arena sits in the parking lot of the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Over one million people attended the State Fair in 2016; so one could imagine the headache hosting a home game would cause. However, a compromise must be made. The damage done by the opening road trip, both in the standings and attendance numbers, is almost always insurmountable.