Carolina Hurricanes: Remembering the All American Blueline

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 8: John-Michael Liles #26 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates with the puck during a NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on October 8, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/NHL/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 8: John-Michael Liles #26 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates with the puck during a NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on October 8, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/NHL/Getty Images) /

The Carolina Hurricanes once had the most American defense.

In honor of the 4th of July, let us throw it back to a time where the Carolina Hurricanes iced an “All American” defense for a handful of games back in the 2015-16 season.

Back in the 2015-16 NHL season, there was a time in which all six defensemen playing on the Carolina Hurricanes were born in the USA. At the time this was a bit unusual to see but spoke volumes about the growth of the game in the States.

Justin Faulk (St. Paul, Minnesota) was then the biggest name on the Hurricanes blueline, playing on the top pair with veteran Ron Hainsey (Bolton, Connecticut). John-Michael Liles (Indianapolis, Indiana) was the only other experienced defender with a trio of rookies rounding out the unit.

Recently drafted 5th overall, Noah Hanifin (Boston, Massachusetts) had the promise of growing into a top guy for the Canes. At the same time, Brett Pesce (Tarrytown, New York) and Jaccob Slavin (Denver Colorado) seemingly came out of nowhere to make the roster. While the latter didn’t start the year with the big club, his arrival completely changed the look of the backend.

Each of the players opted to go the college route before starting their professional hockey careers. Faulk went to Minnesota Duluth, Hainsey UMass Lowell,  Hanifin Boston College, Liles Michigan State, Pesce the University of New Hampshire and Slavin Colorado College.

This “All American” defense was first formed November 20th, 2015 in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In what was Slavin’s first NHL appearance, the team was looking to rebound from their mediocre 6-10-2 start.  Although they ended up dropping the contest in a shootout, Carolina was beginning to show some promise.

Staying intact for six games, the Hurricanes went an even 2-2-2 overall. Not gaining much ground in the standings, they opted to send Slavin back down to the Charlotte Checkers to get more playing time and slotted Ryan Murphy into the lineup in his place.

This only lasted for one single game against the New Jersey Devils before the coaching staff realized they made a huge mistake in letting Slavin go. From that point on, Jaccob hasn’t looked back and has become one of the better D-man in the entire league.

The six American defenseman would play together for 20 straight games following Slavin’s return to the Hurricanes, spanning December 5th, 2015 to Jan 14th, 2016. Over those 20 games the Canes began to gain some ground in the standings and were looking to make a run towards the postseason with a 12-5-3 record.

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The streak was ended when Brett Pesce missed two games with an injury. In his place entered Czech defenseman Michal Jordan. The Hurricanes ended up dropping both of those contest, one in OT and one in regulation, to Vancouver and Pittsburgh.

After this point, the unit would only play four more times together (Jan. 21st, 22nd, 26th and Feb. 23rd) do to various injuries to both Pesce and Faulk as well as the trade deadline deal of Liles to Boston on February 29th.

Looking back the “All American” defense really performed better than expected. When they were together the Canes posted a 17-8-5 record. Should they have been able to keep that pace up, they would have finished the season with 106 points which was good enough for second in the Metro Division that year.

When they were separated the story was completely different. Going 18-23-11 over the remaining 52 games they were only on pace to finish the season with 65 points. That total would have had them finish dead last by a good margin, putting them with the best overall odds to land the 1st overall pick Auston Matthews.

If you combine the two records, they ended up finishing the 2015-16 season 35-31-16 (86 pts) and 6th in the division. Faulk would end up leading the team in points from the back end with 37 with rookies Hanifin and Slavin right behind him at 22 and 20 respectively.

Over the 30 games played together, they all combined for a +30 rating. While that is a stat some people like to disregard, it is very telling seeing that they were -88 when at least one of them was out of the lineup for any reason. A 118 goal differential between the two numbers, it is visually clear that the six clicked with one another.

A neat little moment in Hurricanes’ history, it is actually possible that we could see it happen again in the future. With Brady Skjei and Jake Gardiner both born in the U.S., the Hurricanes have four NHL defenders under contract from the states next year and beyond.

Trevor van Riemsdyk is also American but would have to be extended this offseason, as he’s set to become a UFA. In Charlotte, Joey Keane is a top D prospect who happens to be have been born in Chicago. In another year or two, he could possibly find himself competing for a roster spot.

For this to work this season, Pesce would need to return for injury and Keane would need to earn his way into the lineup when play resumes. In addition, three Canadians; Dougie Hamilton, Haydn Fleury, and Joel Edmundson and a Fin, Sami Vatanen, would all need to be held out of the lineup. With that being said I don’t see this happening, barring a lot of injuries.

I’d never say never, however, as it wasn’t expected to have happened back in 2015-16 either. Either way, it was one of the few positives from a time where Canes were stuck in between being too good for getting a top 3 pick and not good enough to make the postseason.

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Question for CC Readers: What are some of the things you remember most about watching the Carolina Hurricanes’ “All American” defense?