Because of how volatile the standings are in the Eastern Conference with each passing game, the Hurricanes can't afford to coast into the last few weeks of the season.
Is there some breathing room? Considering the team's point pace and the likely playoff cut line, yes, the team has earned itself some leeway in the final 13 games.
But they can't take that approach. They haven't. And they won't.
The mindset of the Hurricanes really hasn't changed much all season. It's the old cliché of one game at a time. Do they peek at the standings? Of course. It's human nature to be curious, to look, to see how you stack up against the competition. But is it a talking point with the team? Not exactly. It's a laser-focused mindset of one 60-minute segment and then the next, and so on.
Head coach Rod Brind'Amour offered this great soundbite after the team moved into a playoff spot following a win over Dallas on Feb. 16, and it holds true even a month later when the team has essentially held onto that spot: "At what point does it matter? It matters by the end of the year. That's when it matters. We've got a long way to go, and we're certainly not going to be satisfied because we're in now."
Without a doubt: Naming Rod Brind'Amour head coach of the Hurricanes.
From the moment it was made official on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, the culture of the Hurricanes shifted, just as it did on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2005, the day Brind'Amour was tabbed captain of the team.
That move in early May set the tone for everything that has followed.
Speaking of …
At the very least, Brind'Amour should be one of the three finalists for the Jack Adams award.
This crux of this answer will depend on where his team ultimately ends up in just over three weeks, but right now, there's a convincing, yet largely ignored argument to be made.
Brind'Amour, in overseeing a team that owns the lowest payroll and one of the youngest rosters, needed just 68 games behind the bench to surpass 80 points, becoming the fastest coach in franchise history to do so (Peter Laviolette, the previous franchise leader, accomplished it in 74 games). It's a team that continues to set franchise-bests or near-franchise-bests, such as the mark of 83 points in 69 games, the second-best record through 69 games in franchise history.
Through the culture he's bred in the organization, the message he's set forth in the room and the leadership he's displayed behind the bench, Brind'Amour guided a team from being two points from the basement on the morning of New Year's Eve to a 10th place rank in the league and the mathematical likelihood of qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009.
That's a Jack Adams conversation starter in my eyes.
There was some confusion, to say the least, late in regulation in Nashville on Saturday.
TV's Mike Maniscalco and I dove head first into it on this week's episode of CanesCast, but here's a rundown of what happened. The bottom line: It was all correct, the gray area of goaltender interference notwithstanding.
When the initial whistle blew following the play in question, there was no call on the ice. The official was on the other side of the play and could not see that the puck had gone into the net. The initial review determined that the puck indeed did cross the line, which was plainly visible on the overhead view. The official then informed the Situation Room in Toronto that he had no goal on the ice due to what he deemed to be goaltender interference. He then announced that, "after review," there was goaltender interference and no goal.
The thing is, the initial review wasn't looking for goaltender interference - that's why the coach's challenge exists - but rather if the puck went in the net, and it did, indeed.
Nashville then challenged the call of goaltender interference, which they are entitled to do per Rule 78.7 (ii) (b), and the opinion of the ensuing review was that there is no interference.
Whether there was goaltender interference can be debated ad nauseum, but the process to arrive at the call that was made was indeed correct, if not confusing and somewhat convoluted.
This is an interesting question, one I'll ponder in the paragraphs below and one we also considered on this week's episode of CanesCast.
Currently, the Canes have three players on their roster who have scored 20 goals this season: Sebastian Aho (30), Justin Williams (20) and Nino Niederreiter (20: 11 with the Canes, 9 with the Wild).
Knocking on the door are Teuvo Teravainen (18), Micheal Ferland (17) and Andrei Svechnikov (17).
It's certainly conceivable that the Hurricanes end the season with six players who score at least 20 goals. If that happens, it will be the first time since 2007-08, when Williams, Ray Whitney, Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Brind'Amour and Scott Walker each did so.
In the years since, the Canes haven't had more than four players on their roster score at least 20 goals, a number that seems likely to be eclipsed this season.
Teravainen should get to 20 for the second straight season. If Ferland's health improves and he returns to the lineup, there's a good chance he'll also get to 20 for the second straight season. And Svechnikov? I don't see why not. Maybe he can keep finding those empty nets - so far, he's got four empty-netters on the season, bested only by Zach Hyman (5) and his teammate Aho (5).
Four players with 20 goals is practically a lock. Five still seems somewhat safe. Six seems doable.
Assumptions can be bad, but we'll allow it for the sake of this question. So, assuming Adam Fox signs with the Hurricanes at the conclusion of his season with Harvard, there are two options.
One is that he joins the Hurricanes and burns the first year of his three-year, entry-level contract, regardless of whether he plays a game. (And, that's something entirely different to consider, especially with how tight the playoff race is currently in the Eastern Conference.)
The second option is that he signs his three-year, entry-level contract (which, in this instance, wouldn't kick in until the 2019-20 season), along with an American League try-out contract so that he can play with the Charlotte Checkers down the stretch of their regular season and into the Calder Cup Playoffs. This was the case with Justin Faulk in April 2011, as he inked his three-year, entry-level deal with the Canes (which kicked in during the 2011-12 season) and reported to Charlotte after winning the national title with the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The situation with Fox will be one to watch, for sure, in the coming weeks.
Join me next week for more questions and more answers!
If you have a question you'd like answered or you know what goaltender interference is, you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes, or you can drop me an email.