Luke DeCock

Playoff lesson learned, already: Hurricanes need to bulk up

Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour talks injuries and game 3 against the Islanders

Brind'Amour addresses injured goalie Petr Mrazek, Andrei Svechnikov's possible return, and the matchup against the New York Islanders for Game 3
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Brind'Amour addresses injured goalie Petr Mrazek, Andrei Svechnikov's possible return, and the matchup against the New York Islanders for Game 3

If the Carolina Hurricanes have learned anything from these playoffs, no matter how far they get, even if they end up winning the Stanley Cup, it’s that they have to get stronger this offseason.

Not necessarily bigger, although that would help. Not necessarily tougher, since they have plenty of heart. And we’re certainly not talking about fighting, as pointless an act as that has become in the NHL.

But stronger for certain.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen (86) takes a hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) in the second period during Game 6 of their first round Stanley Cup series on Monday, April 22, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett

The Hurricanes have to be able to hold their own in the physical cauldron of a playoff series, and they’ve been on their back foot in that respect even when fully healthy, although they have been missing some key contributors in that respect lately.

With Micheal Ferland all but certain to depart as a free agent in July, that’s a void that need filling, but just replacing him won’t be enough. The roster as currently constructed leans too heavily toward smallish skill players who thrive in the regular season but find less space to maneuver in the postseason.

if this team is serious about being in the playoffs on a regular basis, which it should be now, having broken the drought and advanced to the brink of the conference finals, that’s an area that has to be addressed.

It’s clear to even the most casual observer watching the Hurricanes win six of nine games in this postseason despite taking the majority of the big hits instead of delivering them.

The Hurricanes have long had a need for another big, workhorse center to buttress Jordan Staal, but those guys don’t exactly fall off trees. More reasonably addressed, there’s a need for a few more strong, heavy wingers who can throw their bodies around and do some damage.

The game has long been trending toward speed and skill, but it’s not an either/or. Especially in the postseason.

The Hurricanes have some guys who can exert a physical effect like Jordan Martinook and Brock McGinn but aren’t necessarily equipped with the bodies to do it. Saku Maenalanen has potential, but the Hurricanes need more like him, and there aren’t many in their system. It doesn’t help that one player they drafted in the first round who should be getting ready to fill that role with some skill as well – muscular winger Julien Gauthier – is trending toward a bust, while other top draft picks like Martin Necas are entirely finesse players.

Even if the Hurricanes get past the New York Islanders in the second round – which they should, up 2-0 going into Game 3 at home Wednesday night – the next series is going to make the first-round series against Tom Wilson and the Washington Capitals look like a tea party. The Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets are big, heavy teams built to hit and grind.

The Islanders’ fourth line is like that, and Cal Clutterbuck’s hit that busted Trevor van Riemsdyk’s shoulder wasn’t a hit intended to hurt, but it was a hit intended to make something happen. The Hurricanes haven’t had much of that since Ferland’s first half of the season. And even if he were healthy now, he hasn’t played like that since the trade deadline.

Carolina Hurricanes rookie Andrei Svechnikov says "I feel good, great" after a practice at PNC Arena and hopes to play Game 3 of the playoff series against the Islanders. Svechnikov has been out with a concussion since Game 3 of the Capitals series.

Getting Martinook and Andrei Svechnikov back as early as Wednesday night, and maybe Maenalanen down the road, and even Ferland at some point (if he can be more effective than he was in the first round), would all help in this round and if the Hurricanes advance.

Regardless, it’s something that needs to be addressed in the offseason, no matter how short it ends up being. The Hurricanes have an elite defensive group and a healthy helping of team skill; it’s clear from this postseason, as successful as it has been already, they still need a little help at center and a lot of muscle to make sure they can get back to this point, or beyond, next year.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.