Carolina hopes strong defense brings end to playoff drought
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes have assembled quite a crowd on defense.
The Hurricanes brought in two established defensemen this offseason — trading for Dougie Hamilton, and signing Calvin de Haan. That means seven players for six spots on game nights, and they hope the strength in those numbers will finally end the NHL’s longest active playoff drought.
And while No. 2 overall draft pick Andrei Svechnikov and 2017 first-rounder Martin Necas will draw much of the attention, the strength of this team could be a defensive unit that ranks among the best in the Eastern Conference.
“Being able to play with some of the talent on that back end was going to make my life a lot easier,” de Haan said Tuesday. “And hopefully they can say the same thing about me one day.”
Carolina was the only team in the league last season to allow fewer than 29 shots on goal per game, but they were just 22nd in the league in goals allowed (253).
The additions of Hamilton and de Haan strengthens a young defensive group centered around Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, both of whom last year signed long-term deals that will keep them with the Hurricanes well into the 2020s, and a series of offseason transactions left 26-year-old Justin Faulk as the group’s longest-tenured player.
“I’m the grayhair on the back end,” de Haan said, “and I’m only 27.”
Carolina picked up Hamilton from Calgary in a five-player trade at the draft that cost the Hurricanes another young defenseman — Noah Hanifin — and signed former New York Islander de Haan to a four-year free-agent contract in July. All seven of the defensemen are under contract for the 2019-20 season, too, except for former first-round pick Haydn Fleury — who will be a restricted free agent, giving Carolina the right to match any offer he receives.
“I think we’re going to have a really young group of guys,” Hamilton said, “and it’ll be fun to see where we can take it.”
Hamilton, who shared the NHL lead among defensemen with 17 goals last season and has had four straight seasons with at least 42 points, gives the Hurricanes some offensive punch from the blue line. Carolina’s top-scoring defenseman last season was Hanifin, who had 32 points. Meanwhile, de Haan looks to step right in and replace Hanifin on the left side.
Those two would appear to join Pesce and Slavin as the top four, with Faulk — whose plus-minus rating was a career-worst minus-26 and whose 31 points were his worst since 2012-13 — slipping to a lower rung along with Trevor van Riemsdyk or Fleury.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to bring an end to that pesky playoff drought.
The Hurricanes have made the playoffs just once — in 2009 — since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006. If they miss the postseason again this year, they’ll tie the NHL record for consecutive seasons without a playoff berth, a dubious mark set by Florida from 2001-11 and matched by Edmonton from 2007-17.
Carolina has “a lot of talented, young guys in the system, and the guys we brought in are great players, so that will be exciting, make everybody better and push one another,” van Riemsdyk said. “I think our D-corps looks really good, and it’s an exciting time to be in Raleigh and hopefully we can make that step and make the playoffs and make some noise this year.”
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