Chris Peters is ESPN’s NHL draft and prospects analyst. The Chicago native previously covered the NHL for CBSSports.com and founded the popular independent blog UnitedStatesofHockey.com where he covered the game at all levels since 2010.
As each NHL team is eliminated from the playoffs, we’ll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2018-19, along with three keys to its offseason, impact prospects for 2019-20 and a way-too-early prediction for what next season will hold.
A lot went right for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2018-19, and a lot went even better than planned. As GM Don Waddell told ESPN in April: “We’d all probably be telling a fib if we said we thought we’d be here at this point. Certainly we thought we’d be a playoff-bound team. We felt good about the changes we made to the roster. But to end up with 99 points is probably more than we thought. The biggest thing is gaining respect back with the community. That’s a big step we’ve taken this year. We’d always say, ‘Next year is going to be the year, next year …'”
The Hurricanes not only made the playoffs, snapping the NHL’s longest postseason drought, but they knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champions in the first round, then swept the league’s best defensive team in the second.
But once they got to the Eastern Conference final, the Boston Bruins — who have the league’s hottest goaltender this postseason and saw all four lines producing — proved to be too much. Carolina had a hard time rediscovering the game that got them to this point, and it was clear that physical and mental exhaustion had set in. They unraveled in the first two games. When the series shifted to Carolina, the Canes threw the kitchen sink at the Bruins in the first period of Game 3. They had 33 scoring chances in the first period alone. But Tuukka Rask was a wall, the Bruins mustered enough offense, and Carolina left defeated. That was too much to recover from.
Let’s go back to some bigger picture positives, because again, this season was not a failure by any means.
The Canes have identified a coach of the future in Rod Brind’Amour, who connected with his players and put together a terrific product on the ice. They established an identity. And as Waddell alluded to, they built back trust in the community. Thanks to the playoff run, by the first round the Canes were already at $2.5 million in new business for season tickets for 2019-20 after being at $400,000 at the same time a year previously. That’s a total win.