DeCock

Decock: Will Maurice's usual 90 points be enough?

Staff WriterOctober 7, 2010 

— Ninety points. Mark it down.

Plus or minus a few points, that's where the Carolina Hurricanes will sit when the season ends. Will that be good enough to make the playoffs? It wasn't in 2008-09 but it was in 2009-10.

Whether 90 points is enough for a playoff spot is a total unknown. The Hurricanes' likely performance under Paul Maurice is not.

Toss out the two Maurice-coached teams that crashed and burned after going beyond the first round of the playoffs due to circumstances not entirely within his control - 61 points in 2002-03 and 80 points in 2009-10 - and his teams follow a reasonably predictable pattern.

Starting with 1998-99, the first legitimately decent team Maurice coached, these are the regular-season point totals of the teams Maurice has coached for a full season with the Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs, minus the two exceptions: 86, 84, 88, 91, 91, 83.

Adjusted for inflation via the addition of points for overtime losses and shootouts to post-lockout equivalents, those numbers look like this: 100, 89, 93, 99, 91, 83. (That 1998-99 team, which played 18 ties, would have been in position to benefit massively from a shootout win or nine.)

Here's another measure, standings position within the conference, without the bump for winning the division: 8th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 9th, 12th.

Rich payroll or tiny payroll, biggest market or small market, roster full of future Hall of Famers or roster full of glorified AHLers, his teams perform with a surprising level of predictability, landing somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 points, a piece of real estate that often falls squarely on the playoff bubble.

This would argue that Maurice is the kind of coach who can get a less-talented bunch to play well beyond its assembled talent but has trouble getting a better team to reach its additional potential. He excels in bringing structure and defensive discipline to a team, which cuts back on the number of goals allowed, at the occasional expense of individual creativity and tactical flexibility.

This year, expectations are lower for the Hurricanes amid the departure of an entire generation of players, starting in the middle of last season and continuing over the summer. In their place, partially due to financial constraints but largely by design, is a younger roster, with maturing players cast in new roles and younger players moving up to fill the vacancies.

That typically bodes well for a Maurice team. Some of his best work came with young rosters in 2001 and 2002, getting the most out of mid-career players like Jeff O'Neill and Bates Battaglia while breaking in youngsters like David Tanabe and Josef Vasicek.

While it's hard to sit here right now and say this team is 10 points better than last year's team, particularly given what appears to be an extremely shallow defensive corps, 90 points is not an unreasonable target given the relative talent on the roster - if Cam Ward can stay healthy throughout the entire season - and Maurice's track record as a coach.

That should put the Hurricanes somewhere between eighth and 12th in the standings, better than the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Atlanta Thrashers, and in the mix with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers.

A down season from one of last year's playoff teams - the guess here is the Ottawa Senators - would open the door to the playoffs. Last season, 90 points would have been good enough for seventh in the conference.

At the beginning of a new season, anything is possible. No one thought the Hurricanes would win the division in 2006 or miss the playoffs in 2003 and 2007. And no one knows if the Hurricanes will end up around 90 points, but it's a pretty good bet.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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