Maybe. Maybe is the answer. The question? Do I think the Carolina Hurricanes will make the playoffs this season?
Maybe might be the most certain answer in a season with more maybes than yeses and no’s and certainly more questions than answers. If you really forced me to answer the question, the answer would be no. However, there is a chance that if things click and a few things fall into place the Canes will be playing after the April 9 closer against Tampa Bay.
Here is a list of 10 things that need to happen to turn that maybe into a yes and make the Hurricanes’ season longer than 82 games. If seven of these don’t happen, mark my word, we will be waving good bye to hockey in Raleigh for a few months come April 9.
1. Ward at the Awards. What awards? The NHL awards. Cam Ward has to be a Vezina type goalie this year posting numbers that put him in the top five goalies in the league. Do I think he will win the Vezina? Of course not. But he has to be in the conversation.
2. An A for the C. Eric Staal has to be our best player. When you think about his season come April and you were a teacher assigning report cards, you have to give our C an A. And for Staal, an A, based on his expectations, is at worst a point per game with at least 40 goals. He doesn’t have to be, and won’t be for that matter, in the Hart conversation, but he needs to be on that next tier.
3. Young Veterans. Clearly one of the largest transitions this organization has made in its history has been this off season going to a much younger team; a move for the future if you will. Guys like Chad LaRose, Erik Cole and Tim Gleason are now some of the most experienced guys in the locker room. These guys need to be leaders both on and off the ice.
4. Youth Movement. Speaking of youngsters, someone out of the group of Zac Dalpe, Jeff Skinner, Drayson Bowman and Jamie McBain has to have a dynamite year. This isn’t a situation like Boston has with Tyler Seguin where they can afford for him to have an up and down year because of their depth. These youngsters will be put into larger roles and have to produce. Not all of them, but at least one has to give us a wow factor this year.
5. Stay on the Ice. When you look at the opening day roster, the Canes look like a competitive team. They have scoring, they have role players, they have some veterans and they have a great net minder. However, depth is truly the issue. If the Canes suffer major injuries, especially on the blue line, it’s going to be a long season in Carolina.
6. Giving us the Blues. The blue liners have to step up. When you look at the three major parts of a team (forwards, defense, goalies), clearly the weakness (and it’s not even close I might add) is the defense. There is offense there with Pitkanen, Corvo, Babchuk and McBain, but there are a lot of goals given up there as well. Gleason will be Gleason and we know that, but these four offensive minded guys, mainly Pitkanen and Corvo, have to almost think defense first this season, something they don’t normally do.
7. Flukes? The two big shocks last year were Jussi Jokinen going from essentially a glue type roll player to a 30 goal scorer and Brandon Sutter going from Albany to a 20 goal scorer. While I don’t think this duo will score 51 again, players like this need to compliment Staal and need to get 40 between them.
8. Be Nice and Compliment Someone. This team lost some goal scoring last season and we need to have guys compliment Staal. Out of the rest of the forwards, four other guys need to score 20 goals. With a defense likely to give up a lot of goals, scoring will be a big factor this year. Five 20 goal scorers is a big request, but it the core guys stay healthy, it’s certainly not unrealistic.
9. Face Off With the Competition. While Rod Brind’Amour didn’t do much after the puck dropped the last two seasons, he still was in there for important face offs. This team’s offensive weakness this preseason was in the face off circle. Whoever ends up being the other two centers not named Staal and Sutter will likely be taking draws on the penalty kill. Wins in the defensive end are crucial and someone has to do this.
10. A Weak Part of the Country. The Southeast Division is the worst division in hockey. Hands down. Washington is clearly the best team in the division but after that it’s nothing but question marks. Tampa looks like they have scoring but no defense. Atlanta looks like they have defense but no scoring. Florida appears to have neither. The Canes will have 18 games against these three teams. If they squeeze out 25 – 30 points in those games, that’s 35% of the points needed to make the playoffs.