More than the end of a promising but ultimately frustrating era, Jeff Skinner’s departure also appears to mark the conclusion of the Carolina Hurricanes’ summer business, with owner Tom Dundon saying in the wake of Thursday’s trade the team is not actively trying to trade Justin Faulk or make any other major moves in the month left before training camp.
That leaves two major questions that still need answers after a summer of retooling: What does it mean for Faulk, and how will the Hurricanes replace Skinner’s goals?
The Faulk situation is curious, since the Hurricanes will be paying him $6 million with a salary-cap hit of $4.83 million to play third-pairing minutes on the right side behind Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. Faulk will almost certainly lose the co-captaincy in Rod Brind’Amour’s restructuring of his leadership group, and probably the letter off his jersey entirely.
But the Hurricanes feel no financial imperative to move his contract, they have plenty of cap space and they’ll have as talented a third pairing as anyone in the NHL with Faulk there.
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This may not be the worst thing in the world for Faulk, either: He’ll be a dangerous threat against the opposition’s third and fourth lines, with more room to attack on offense and margin for error on defense, and he’ll still anchor the second power-play unit. He could end up being this team’s Matt Cullen, only on the blue line: the matchup nightmare who slices through the opposition’s soft underbelly.
A lot of that will depend on Faulk, what kind of shape he’s in and how he handles this essential demotion, but there are tangible gains there for both him and the team if things work out.
While Faulk’s return raises those issues, the major concern after the Skinner trade was the loss of his goal-scoring ability – 24 goals last season, 37 the year before, and so on – from a team that finished in the bottom third of the NHL that department last season. It’s a fair point and an open question considering the Hurricanes received no immediate help from the Buffalo Sabres in the deal.
With the obvious caveat that looking at last year’s goals is the simplest and least predictive way of looking at things, the Hurricanes lost a total of 75 of last season’s goals through the departures of Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, Derek Ryan, Lee Stempniak, Joakim Nordstrom, Josh Jooris, Martin Kruger and Klas Dahlbeck.
The four players they acquired – Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, Calvin de Haan and Jordan Martinook – scored 46.
So the question really is, how many goals will talented rookies Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov score, along with whichever prospect wins the open forward spot in training camp?
It’s probably not unrealistic to expect Necas to score 15 goals and Svechnikov 20 and, let’s say, Valentin Zykov 10, or to expect that trio of players to combine for at least 45. (Svechnikov in particular could score more, but if they don’t score at least that many, the Hurricanes would be in trouble even if they still had Skinner.)
That would put the Hurricanes, even in this very simplistic and shallow accounting, 16 goals ahead of last season, when they were -28 in goal differential.
Using last season’s point shares, an advanced metric which tries to measure each players’ contribution to the team’s overall point total, the four players the Hurricanes brought in almost exactly balance the nine players the Hurricanes lost, and that’s with de Haan playing only a third of a season and before accounting for Necas and Svechnikov, leaving considerable runway for improvement in the standings.
The subtext to this entire discussion is that none of it may matter, since the Hurricanes’ problem isn’t so much putting the puck in the net as it is keeping it out. Even NHL-average goaltending would have bumped their goal differential to +13 last season.
Assuming Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek can get halfway back toward average, and the rookies can contribute at a reasonable level, all of that becomes the very rudimentary calculus of how the Hurricanes could go from -28 to +8 in goal differential, which was good enough to squeak into the playoffs last season.
Not that they’d win anything once they’re there with slightly-below-average goaltending, but, you know, baby steps.
All of that is based on the most simplistic assumptions possible, so it should be taken with considerable skepticism. Players regress, rookies struggle, injuries wreak havoc, goalies implode – and, on that note, Darling is still the ultimate wild card. The Hurricanes could have made a case like this last summer, or the summer before, or the summer before, and look where they ended up.
But if this is the team they’re going to have, without Skinner and with Faulk, and it looks like it is, that’s how the math could work out in their favor.