Expectations are sky-high in Raleigh as the Hurricanes look armed and ready for a deep run thanks to urgency of ‘now’ from GM Thomas Gidlow.
There’s an old saying that goes, “do the best you can with what you got”. For the Carolina Hurricanes as they head into the 2022-23 BEARD Hockey season, they seem to have ‘got’ everything they need to make a run deep into the spring of next year.
The onus now is on the 'do the best’ part.
GM Thomas Gidlow has stepped in from the Dispersal Draft up to the preseason with the goal of bringing the Stanley Cup back to the Triangle area. It’s obvious in their approach – despite taking 19 players in the 2022 Entry Draft, Carolina has nearly emptied their future pick cupboards with only two selections in stock for the next two years (a third round pick next year and a second-round pick in 2024).
It took some salary cap gymnastics, but the Canes managed to fit everyone under the Cap with about $600,000 to spare. This despite some massive salaries in the form of Austin Matthews ($11.6 million), Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million), and Patrice Bergeron ($8.9 million) on the books. Carolina will spend over $54 million on their 13 pro roster forwards this year, which is almost the entire salary output of the 23-man roster of the Florida Panthers ($61.4 million).
That aggression in acquiring additional key assets to augment their Dispersal selections has put the Hurricanes in prime position to contend. The only question is…how far can they go?
PROJECTED FORWARD LINEUP
Andrei Svechnikov – Austin Matthews – Mikael Granlund Barclay Goodrow – Patrice Bergeron – Teuvo Teravainen Michael Rasmussen – Cole Sillinger – Kyle Palmieri Trent Frederic – Nick Bjugstad – Derek Grant
Healthy scratch: Justin Danforth
At least on paper, the Hurricanes boast impressive depth at forward. A true first-line power trio of Matthews flanked by Svechnikov and Granlund could produce video game-like numbers in Raleigh this season. They’ll be counted on to provide the punch, while the two-way combination of Bergeron centering Goodrow and Teravainen will provide the stability on both ends of the ice.
The bottom six features some interesting pieces, as Sillinger at just 19 years old will be centering Carolina’s third line with Rasmussen and the veteran Palmieri on his wings. If Sillinger continues his quick upward trajectory, that’s icing on the cake and should ease the loss of Bergeron if this is indeed his final season.
Bjugstad will center the “fourth” line, with “Mean Trent Frederic” and the versatile Grant flanking him. Grant can play almost anywhere up or down the lineup and provides depth, while Bjugstad and Frederic should provide plenty of grit and nastiness when warranted.
Again, on paper, this group is easily one of the best in BEARD Hockey. If everyone plays according to their projections, the Caniacs at PNC Arena should be in for a real treat this season.
PROJECTED DEFENSIVE LINEUP
Jaccob Slavin – Erik Karlsson Mackenzie Weegar – Kris Letang Dylan DeMelo – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Healthy scratches: None
Despite the Carolina offense getting a majority of the buzz around the team lately, their backend should be equally as proficient in providing responsible play mixed with plenty of offense – particularly on the power play. There are no less than four potential PP quarterbacks here, so expect special teams to be a big source of the Carolina offensive output this season.
Weegar and Letang are a top-pairing duo on any team in the league, and they’ll slot behind Slavin and Karlsson as head coach Don Granato announced after the end of preseason. Karlsson should flourish in this system with Slavin, who can cover for any defensive foibles from number 65. There aren’t too many top four units that have this much firepower, so it’ll be key to the Canes success that everyone plays to their abilities here.
Oh, and DeMelo and van Riemsdyk fill out the third pairing – two rock solid defense-first minded rearguards. Don’t sleep on these two; most teams would highly covet that solid a final pair at under $2.5 million total after salary retention (Carolina will have DeMelo for the next two seasons at just $1.5 million per year).
It’s a broken record, but again, it’s all about the depth here. There are no obvious holes and, knock on wood, as long as everyone stays relatively healthy, the Hurricanes can’t look much better heading into a regular season.
Anton Forsberg – Thomas Greiss
If there are any potential weak areas for Carolina, one could look at their netminding situation.
The Canes drafted Darcy Kuemper in the Dispersal Draft and would have loved to keep him in place. But with other needs coming first, he was an unfortunate casualty of a lack of cap space. Forsberg is coming off of his best year to date (easily), but goaltenders are a fickle bunch. Until he can show that ability consistently, he may remain a bit of a question mark.
But you couldn’t ask for a better team in front of him. Forsberg shouldn’t be relied upon to stand on his head to win games for the Hurricanes. As long as he stays at least around league average in performance, it’ll make Gidlow feel justified in using the net as a means to save cap space for other areas.
Thomas Greiss should be adequate as a backup when needed, but likely won’t be relied upon for heavy minutes. It’s Forsberg’s crease, and he very well may end up playing in around 60 games this year if all goes according to plan.
The Canes start hot, as Matthews and Co. lights BEARD Hockey on fire. Slavin and Karlsson prove to be a disgusting mixture of scoring and defense, while Forsberg does what he needs to. Carolina starts off to a 15-3-2 record at the quarter mark.
Things slow down as teams begin to figure out the Canes attack. While the club endures a four-game losing streak during this period, Carolina still sits atop the Metro Division at the halfway point with a solid 25-13-3 record.
The boys in black (and red, and green once a year) get back to their dominant ways and peel off an eight-game winning streak. Svechnikov registers 11 goals in this period, while Sillinger provides depth scoring with five tallies and ten assists. Hitting the stretch drive, the Hurricanes plow into the final quarter with a 39-17-5 record.
The question for Gidlow stares him right in the face. With the Trade Deadline looming, does he dare mess with what’s working? Can he even maneuver a trade being so tight against the cap? Will he go bonkers and make a plethora of moves despite the success of the regular season???
Amazingly, Carolina stands pat at the Deadline, and the team responds with six straight wins on route to a final record of 52-24-6 record. Their 110 points easily claims the Metro Division title, putting the Hurricanes on a collision course with destiny.
(We don’t dare try to predict beyond that point – hey, why jinx it?)