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31 in 31

Inside look at Carolina Hurricanes

GM Francis hopes active offseason results in first playoff berth since 2009

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Carolina Hurricanes set the tone for their offseason on April 28 when they acquired goaltender Scott Darling in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Darling, 28, was to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but after failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, the Hurricanes weren't willing to wait until then to start making moves. Having targeted Darling as their potential No. 1 goaltender, the Hurricanes traded a third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft for him and signed him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract one week later.

 

[HURRICANES 31 in 31: Top prospects | 3 Questions | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

That began of a flurry of activity that included the acquisitions of defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and center Marcus Kruger in trades with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 22 and July 4, and the signing of right wing Justin Williams as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

The Hurricanes are entering the fourth season of their rebuilding plan under general manager Ron Francis, and it's time to make the next step.

"We're comfortable with the changes we made and think it gives us a better chance to accomplish what we want to do, and that's get in the playoffs," Francis said.

Video: 31 in 31: Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 season preview

Last season, the Hurricanes (36-31-15) finished in 12th place in the Eastern Conference. After a late-season surge when they earned at least one point in 13 consecutive games (9-0-4), they were within four points of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference before going 1-4-1 in their last six and finishing eight points out.

Getting that small taste of the playoff race could be a helpful experience for a young core that includes forwards Sebastian Aho, 20; Elias Lindholm, 22; Teuvo Teravainen, 22; and Victor Rask, 24, and defensemen Noah Hanifin, 20; Brett Pesce, 22; Jaccob Slavin, 23; and Justin Faulk, 25. But getting close to the playoffs won't be good enough this season.

Video: CAR@PHI: Aho blisters a PPG to even the game

"You need to do it over an 82-game schedule, not a 13-game stretch," Francis said.

The return of Williams, who won the Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006, should help in the locker room and on the ice. The 35-year-old, who also won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, had 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 80 games last season with the Washington Capitals. Darling, Kruger and van Riemsdyk also bring Stanley Cup rings with them from their time with the Blackhawks. (Before being acquired by Carolina, Kruger was traded to Vegas and van Riemsdyk was selected by the Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft.)

In addition to gaining experience, the Hurricanes believe they have addressed two of their biggest needs by adding Darling and van Riemsdyk.

Carolina was tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for 26th in the NHL with a .901 save percentage. Darling, who went 18-5-5 with a 2.38 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and two shutouts in 32 games last season, has never been a No. 1 goalie, but the Hurricanes believe he'll be able to handle a larger workload and share the duties with Cam Ward (26-22-12, 2.69 GAA, .905 save percentage, two shutouts).

Video: CHI@COL: Darling lays out to deny Landeskog

And with van Riemsdyk likely playing alongside Klas Dahlbeck on their third defense pair, the Hurricanes expect to be more efficient in moving the puck out of their end, which will help them spend more time in the offensive zone.

Offense remains a concern after Jeff Skinner (37 goals) and Aho (24) were the only Hurricanes to score more than 20 last season. The hope is that Aho will continue to develop along with Rask (16 goals), Teravainen (15) and Lindholm (11), but the Hurricanes probably will need to acquire a center who can play on their top two lines.

Francis isn't ruling out doing that before the season but sounded content with this offseason, which included contract extensions for Slavin (seven years, $37.1 million) and Pesce (six years, $24.15 million).

"We're still kicking tires and talking to teams on things," Francis said. "But if there's nothing we feel makes sense at this point we're comfortable with what we've done and starting the season with what we have."

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