The Carolina Hurricanes have emerged as one of the NHL's better teams in recent years. And they've come rather close to the Stanley Cup Final, as well. In fact, they've made the Eastern Conference Finals twice since 2019. However, they were swept both times.
Their failures in the Eastern Conference Finals are, unfortunately, nothing new. Carolina last won a game in the Eastern Conference Finals back in 2006. That year, they went on to defeat the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final for their first and only championship to date.
The Hurricanes kick off their preseason slate on September 26 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. On October 12, Carolina plays host to the Ottawa Senators to begin their 2023-24 regular season schedule. But before the Hurricanes begin their quest to hockey's holy grail, let's preview the season ahead.
Metro domination in trouble?
The Hurricanes have held the Metropolitan Division in a vice grip over the last two seasons. Carolina faced some challenges this season from the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. They were able to keep their hold atop the division despite that. But their claim to the top could be disrupted this season.
The Devils got better this offseason, adding Tyler Toffoli to the mix. New York mostly added veteran leadership in Blake Wheeler and Jonathan Quick, but their core is still intact. However, these aren't the only improved teams in this division.
The Washington Capitals are hungry after retooling this summer. Don't forget about the defensively-minded New York Islanders. And we have to mention the Pittsburgh Penguins, who added Erik Karlsson on top of their flurry of offseason activity.
The Hurricanes enter the season as the team to beat in the Metro. However, their division title defense certainly won't be a cakewalk. And if they aren't careful, they could find themselves chasing other teams down this season.
Michael Bunting breakout season?
One of Carolina's more interesting signings in NHL Free Agency was former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting. Bunting played rather well for the Maple Leafs and emerged as a legitimate NHL contributor there. However, one has to wonder what's in store for him outside of Toronto.
Bunting entered the open market in a great place. He's coming off two consecutive seasons of 23 goals and the market around him was rather thin. There weren't many major contributors available this summer in NHL Free Agency. He cashed in, as you'd expect, signing with Carolina for three years.
Now, the question remains whether Bunting can thrive outside of Toronto. Four Maple Leafs players outscored Martin Necas, Carolina's top points-getter, last season. There's certainly potential with this Hurricanes group. Andrei Svechnikov is coming back, Necas looks ready to truly breakout, and you can't forget about Sebastian Aho. But can Bunting be the guy that helps drive this offense? That remains to be seen.
One area of interest is the team's goaltending. It looked as if the Hurricanes were going to have a different look in goal next season. Both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta hit the open market this summer. And the team has 24-year-old Pytor Kochetkov knocking on the door of a full-time NHL opportunity.
And yet, general manager Don Waddell kept the status quo intact. Andersen returned on a two-year, $6.8 million contract which includes a modified no-trade clause. Raanta, meanwhile, inked a one-year, $1.5 million pact to stick around for a little while longer.
This begs two questions. First, how will Andersen play this year? His regular season performances were fine last year, though not necessarily great. In the playoffs, however, the Danish netminder thrived, posting a .927 save percentage. Can he carry this postseason momentum into the new season?
Next, does Kochetkov play in the NHL this year? At some point, the Hurricanes have to decide whether he's their guy for the future. And at some point, AHL time is just not going to be the right move for his development. Either way, Carolina's goaltending is rather interesting as the new season approaches.
Potential odd men out
Ultimately, Kochetkov is probably the odd man out in goal. He can go down to the minors without passing through waivers, which is rather valuable. And unless Raanta has an incredibly poor preseason, the 34-year-old veteran certainly wouldn't make it through waivers if he went down. Carolina may just bite the bullet and let Kochetkov develop elsewhere.
One other player worth mentioning is forward Jack Drury. While I do believe he makes the roster as of now, it's worth noting that he has asked for a trade in the past. If a team needs depth down the middle, or wants to take a chance on his potential, Drury could be traded. And Carolina has options in the event that happens.
Final roster projection
Forwards: Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, Michael Bunting, Seth Jarvis, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Martin Necas, Jordan Martinook, Jordan Staal, Jesper Fast, Teuvo Teravainen, Jack Drury, Stefan Noesen
Defenseman: Jaccob Slavin, Brent Burns, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo
Goalies: Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta