CBS 17 sports anchor Todd “Gibby” Gibson weighs in on the home team’s prospects for the season.
It’s hard to believe the Carolina Hurricanes franchise has never been able to put together back- to-back playoff appearances. But if there ever was a time to end that stretch of futility, the upcoming season would seem to be a good bet.
Well, let’s start with a productive off-season. Priority number one was to sign forward Sebastian Aho, which the Canes did, inking the 21-year-old Finnish star to a five-year deal worth more than $42 million. Aho led the Canes in scoring last season, tallying 30 goals while piling up 83 points during the regular season. Many feel Aho is on the cusp of greatness.
And while the Canes can count on Aho to put the puck in the net, someone has to be able to stop the puck. That’s Petr Mrazek’s job. Mrazek flirted with free agency in the off-season but ultimately decided to come back to Carolina, where he enjoyed the best year of his career last season. Mrazek recently signed a two-year contract that will pay him $6.25 million.
Like Aho and Mrazek, Canes president and general manager Don Waddell is also back in the fold. Waddell, who had been working on a year-to-year contract with Carolina, received a three-year deal after the Minnesota Wild made a surprise pitch for his services. At one time just an afterthought, Waddell has been a key factor in the Hurricanes’ recent success. His return gives the franchise a sense of stability.
Waddell has done a nice job of stockpiling young talent, with a bit of luck as well. The Canes hit the jackpot with future superstar Andrei Svechnikov. The 19-year-old Russian fell into the Hurricanes’ lap when the team miraculously received the number two pick in the 2018 NHL draft.
Along with Aho, Svechnikov is expected to be the face of the franchise. The power forward scored 20 goals in his rookie season while showing flashes of brilliance at times. The sky is the limit for Svechnikov; he has the potential to be one of the game’s best players in the years to come.
Meanwhile, the Canes’ defense will once again be counted on to carry the load. Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Dougie Hamilton and Justin Faulk give Carolina two blue lines as good as any in the NHL. It’s a relatively young group, sure to get even better.
The only question mark: Will captain Justin Williams return for his 19th season in the NHL? Williams will turn 38 in October and has not indicated whether or not he will retire. His return, along with an added year of experience from second head coach Rod Brind’Amour, could be just what the doctor ordered for a franchise aching to become a yearly playoff contender.