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Tulsky’s Tall Task Presents Unique Opportunity in the Carolina Hurricanes Offseason

hurricanes offseason

The Carolina Hurricanes have again found themselves back at the drawing board attempting to figure out how to get to that next step. The 2023-24 season saw them have a decent regular season followed by a first-round playoff victory. However, they also saw yet another exit before making it to the Eastern Conference Finals. But now the winds of change seem to be in the air for the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason. With a new captain manning the ship in General Manager Eric Tulsky, his task is difficult. But it also presents a unique opportunity.

The Carolina Hurricanes Offseason Has, and Likely Will Have, Much Change

Almost from the top to the bottom, the Hurricanes will see change across the organization this offseason. Let’s work our way down. Don Waddell had been the General Manager of the team since 2018. But he decided to move on and take an opportunity with the Columbus Blue Jackets. This led to Eric Tulsky taking over as interim GM. Tulsky had been with the team for a decade in various rules and is known as one of the top people in advanced analytics. After a brief search for a new GM, the decision landed on the team naming Tulsky as GM without the interim tag.

Moving down the list, prior to the GM shakeup there were some questions if Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour was going to be extended. Needing a new contract after the season, rumours swirled that he could possibly go elsewhere. Nevertheless, he was signed to a new contract that reportedly had been mostly settled for some time. His assistants remained behind the bench as well.

And then there are the players. Among others, notable restricted free agents (RFAs) this offseason include Seth Jarvis, Jack Drury, and Martin Necas. While RFAs generally don’t move on due to the nature of a team’s rights to an RFA, there have been almost daily rumours about Necas’s desire and likelihood of moving on to a new team. On the UFA list, the notable names include Jake Guentzel, Brady Skjei, Jordan Martinook, Brett Pesce, Teuvo Teravainen, and Stefan Noesen. Jalen Chatfield was on the list but recently re-signed for three years. With a little over $26 million in cap space, it seems Carolina has some spending room. But when you look at this long list of free agents, that number looks a little smaller.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It This Offseason for the Carolina Hurricanes

There’s a saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And certain aspects of Carolina’s team likely fit this mantra. Carolina has been known to have a strong defensive team the last few years. Most see this as a result of both a strong defensive core and great defensive-focused coaching. In addition, the team’s penalty kill has generally been a strength over that span. Well at least in the regular season as the playoffs seem to provide a bit more challenge for the Hurricanes.

Specifically, the Dmitry Orlov and Jalen Chatfield pairing last season was particularly strong. Playing as the team’s third pairing, it is very possible to see them as the team’s second pair this upcoming year with both Pesce and Skjei potentially departing. Unfortunately, that second pairing has also been strong for years. But it seems almost impossible to see them both hanging around in Carolina.

Another consistently successful piece of Carolina’s game has been their forecheck and ability to dominate play across many advanced statistics like Corsi, Fenwick, and expected goals percentage. This is largely due to coaching and systems. But it also requires the “right” players and not just the “best” one. Players like Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho, and Seth Jarvis have been good at driving these metrics. So there are many things that Tulsky doesn’t need to fix and actually needs to make sure to keep going. But you could easily argue maintaining Brind’Amour is the biggest piece of that puzzle.

Definition of Insanity Is Trying the Same Thing Over and Over and Expecting Different Results

On the other side of the coin, there is a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Carolina has been trying to tweak what they have the last few years to some degree hoping to tighten up any leaks in their game. However, that was largely overshadowed by a message of “we like our group” over and over. The biggest break in that mindset came this past season when Carolina obtained Guentzel from the Pittsburgh Penguins. While Guentzel may end up being a pure rental, it was refreshing to see the organization make a big swing (even if they really didn’t give up any high-end prospects or picks).

So looking at the Carolina Hurricane’s offseason under this lens, one could find some optimism in all of the upcoming changes. While Tulsky would likely prefer to keep most of these free agents, he has a unique opportunity to make his impact on the team. Yeah, he’s been with the team for years and likely doesn’t have crazy plans to change the direction of the team. But with all of the potential departures, he can potentially take a look at keeping some that fit particularly well, and fit within the determined range, while also targeting additional players that might fit the system and help the team even more.

It’s hard to say with any certainty that things will be “better” right away, but maybe this will give the team an extra kick. Certain players may come in this offseason and be better than the ones that left. Even as good as they have been, the Hurricanes have not yet won a game in the Eastern Conference Finals under Brind’Amour. So maybe trying the exact same thing isn’t a foolproof plan.

Drawing a Line in the Sand

The biggest task for Tulsky in this offseason for the Carolina Hurricanes is figuring out exactly where these two concepts above need to begin and end. What needs to stay intact, even at a cost, and what needs to change. Or maybe it’s more fair to say, due to his hands being tied (i.e. cap constraints or player desires to move on), what opportunity for change might make the most impact.

While there are other areas to analyze, one area to analyze is goaltending. Carolina’s goaltending was solid in the later half of the regular season. Frederik Andersen returned and he split time with Pyotr Kochetkov successfully. But then in the playoffs, Andersen took most of the starts and ultimately goaltending became a somewhat weaker point leading to their departure in round two. This seems like an area worth considering a hard look. That could be a trade or it might be time to give Kochetkov a bigger look. Regardless, it’s an area to consider.

And then there is the Necas situation. It’s no secret that Necas has been a major offensive contributor for this team and has immense skill. But at times Necas seems a little out of sync with Carolina’s system as well. While the preference is to keep him, he reportedly wants out. The key here is getting back a player or players that provide the same value to the team as Necas. Maybe a player that contributes and fits the system a little more. Or maybe it’s a move to fill another need. Whatever it is, Tulsky should approach this as an opportunity and not a burden.

At the end of the day, Tulsky has a tall task ahead. The hardest seems to not only be figuring out how to make contracts work but actually deciding which ones are worth making work. But if there is someone who knows how to solve problems, a guy with a Ph.D. and over twenty patents probably has a good shot.

Main Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

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Aron Kiviharju

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