The trade deadline is rapidly approaching and for the NHL it becomes a busy time of year. The Carolina Hurricanes certainly have trade deadline needs like most others. Teams have their sights set on fine-tuning their squads for a playoff run or recouping assets in an attempt to build for the future. The ones in the murky middle find themselves in the trickiest spot. But the Carolina Hurricanes are fortunate enough to have another year where they are looking to make the playoffs (even though nothing is guaranteed) and should be in the buyer category. How much of a buyer they will be is another question.
Fans and analysts like to theorize about what they need and should do, but what they actually will do is up to management. At this trade deadline, there are a few pieces Carolina could look to add, but there is one that many argue is a top priority that has been that way for what feels like the last few years. This is a true goal-scoring, difference-making forward. But is that actually the case compared to years prior?
The Carolina Hurricanes Trade Deadline Outlook
Raise your hand if you have heard this one before. The Hurricanes over the last few years play a system that favours a heavy forecheck, a man-to-man defence, limiting the opposition’s shots, and peppering the opposing goalie with shot after shot after shot, many times coming from defencemen at the point. Over that span, they usually sit at the top of the league in advanced analytics like Corsi, Fenwick and expected goals while also in shots and shot differential.
The flip side to this quantity-over-quality approach has been their low actual goals scored compared to expected. The easy remark is to say “Well they don’t score goals.” That hasn’t exactly been true. It’s just that they haven’t scored enough in relation to expected. This brings up a big question over time of whether it is a product of the system or if it is a product of the players. It might be some of both, but as the deadline approaches, most focus on the player side. But first, let’s look at some of these metrics this year to see what’s going on.
Expected vs Actual Results
Since this “we don’t score enough goals” mantra rang last year and has some rumblings still this year, albeit slightly quieter, let’s compare last year with this.
2022-23 Regular Season
Last year, the Hurricanes finished the regular season with a league-high 58.32% expected goals percentage, 59.87% Corsi, and 59.11% Fenwick. In addition, their 34.8 shots per game was third in the league while their 298.51 expected goals was fifth. They were first in low-danger shots with 3079 and third in high-danger shots with 334. However, they finished third worst in goals for above expected with -36.51 and sixth worst with a 9.19% shooting percentage on shots on goal. All of the teams that finished below Carolina in shooting percentage failed to make the playoffs. In actual goals scored they were middle of the pack with 262, but as mentioned above, in comparison to shots and expected finishes, they were low.
In the playoffs last year, they finished second of the 16 playoff teams in expected goals percentage with 54.83% and first in Corsi and Fenwick with 55.45% and 55.52% respectively. In addition, they had the highest shots per game with 36. However, their goals for above expected was second worst at -6.84 while their shooting percentage on shots on goal was third worst at 8.5%. Their goals for per 60 minutes was middle of the pack at 2.76.
2023-24 Regular Season
Now fast forward to the present. As of the end of the Hurricanes game against the Colorado Avalanche, Carolina sits third in expected goals percentage with 55.74%. They are first in Corsi and Fenwick with 59.94% and 58.67% respectively. In shots per game, they sit at seventh with 33. Interestingly, in goals, they also sit at seventh with 169 and in goals for per game they sit at tenth with 3.38. They are 14th in high-danger shots with 184 but first in low-danger shots with 1874. Their goals for above expected is much better this year but is still a -1.44. Their shooting percentage on shots on goal is tied with the Edmonton Oilers at 10.25% for 11th in the league. What has held them back the most really appears to be save percentage but that’s a different side to the coin and a discussion for another day.
The Hurricanes Finishing Ability
Ok, so what do all of these numbers mean? The point we are focusing on is only slightly if they score enough. It is more do they score enough in relation to expected. The first question typically would be: are they generating enough? This is the quantity side and Carolina really has no problem in that category.
But this season they are actually showing that the quality side has improved. Having a goals for above expected hovering close to zero means that generally, they are producing as expected. Their Corsi and Fenwick remain high meaning they are getting tons of shots in comparison to those against. Having a top ten goals for and goals for per game helps support the case that they are actually finishing fairly well this season. Even if the eye test doesn’t always feel like it.
Some of this increased goal-scoring conversion is due to the Hurricanes effective power play. At 28% they sit in second in the league in this category and it is certainly a bright spot for the team this year. The power play appears to be working both because of solid power play design and the Hurricanes most skilled players showing that skill.
Sharing the Wealth
Statistically, the thing about Carolina is that their goal scoring is widely distributed. Sebastian Aho leads the way with 18 but Seth Jarvis, Teuvo Teravainen and Martin Necas are right behind with 16. Then Michael Bunting, Stefan Noesen and Andrei Svechnikov are next with 11 each. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is right behind them with nine. There are no players that have played more than one game that don’t have a goal. The defence remains a solid contributor as well. The seven players with ten or more goals account for 99 of Carolina’s 169 goals this year. So, none of these individual goal-scoring stats honestly jump off the page when compared to some of the individual performances we have seen across the league. But when you zoom out, what does the whole picture look like?
What Does it Look Like in Oil Country?
Let’s look at the Oilers for comparison since they share the same shooting percentage and have superstar goal scorers in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They actually have ten fewer goals than Carolina but a higher goals per game. Zach Hyman sits at the top with 30 goals. He is followed by Draisaitl with 23 then McDavid with 21. Each of Evander Kane (15), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (12), Evan Bouchard (11) and Warren Foegele (10) have ten or more. These seven players with ten or more goals account for 122 of their 159 goals.
Comparing Apples and Oranges
This shows somewhat what was expected. That a team like Edmonton is more top-heavy than Carolina. There could be a multitude of reasons for that. Having two of the best players in the game, team systems, and bottom six and defensive production all could have a place. For Carolina, it is clear that their top guys are in fact leading the way. But it is not as lopsided as other teams such as Edmonton. Colorado is an example of another team that is very top-heavy.
This is good because it means more players are a threat every time they are on the ice and offsets for players getting cold should be better. But where it hurts is that sometimes you need “that guy” to take a game over and win it. We all know McDavid can and has done it over and over. For Carolina, Aho, Svechnikov, Teravainen, Jarvis, and, most recently, Necas have all shown glimpses of doing that.
Martin Necas puts home three straight goals in the first period for the first hat trick of his career! ?
— NHL (@NHL) February 9, 2024
But does this mean Carolina should sit put at the trade deadline and feel comfortable with what they have?
Needing the “Right” Goal Scorer
When Herb Brooks coached the United States to the Olympic Gold medal in 1980, he told assistant Craig Patrick that he wasn’t looking for the best players, just the right ones. With Carolina’s system and scheme, this statement at least partially holds true. I say partially because let’s not negate that many times the best and the right could be the same.
But what we are seeing as explained above is a few things. One, Carolina has done much better at finishing this year while still maintaining heavy pressure and chance generation. Two, they still spread the wealth when it comes to goal-scoring but the top guys are the top guys. Three, they could still benefit from someone who could put the puck in the net when it matters most….but he has to be a fit. Yes, he needs to score. But he also needs to be a hard worker, a good skater and at least not a complete defensive liability for this system. Ideally, he would be an impact guy.
A player like this is especially beneficial when the playoffs come around and taking advantage of opportunities can be the difference between a championship and an early tee time. Hurricanes fans still have nightmares of Matthew Tkachuk from last year who played this role for the Florida Panthers. With players like Aho and Necas really developing into their primes, Carolina has some guys who might could play this part at times. But as seen last year with the injury to Svechnikov, adding another weapon to the arsenal is a wise move. Even if the new player doesn’t take over the game, if he is a real scoring threat that could open up room for someone like Aho at times.
Tipping the Odds
Now this also doesn’t necessarily mean they have to get the big fish like Jake Guentzel (if available). But it does mean it is worth focusing on this need as a priority for the team. Another name to keep an eye on is Frank Vatrano. He likely would cost a fair amount but still should pay dividends on that investment.
You can see the difference of the team without Svechnikov in the lineup. Yes, they still pull out wins. But there is no doubting how much more threatening they are with him on the ice. So why not add another impactful piece that can put the puck in the net to take the game over and make an impact when needed? It is in fact goals that win games. And the playoffs don’t allow as much time to fix cold spells and issues. They need to turn the odds in their favour.
Main Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports