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 will try to prove that reaching the Eastern Conference Final last season wasn't a fluke.
The Hurricanes surprised many -- if not themselves -- by qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009, eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in the Eastern Conference First Round and sweeping the New York Islanders in the second round before getting swept by the Boston Bruins in the conference final. Proud but unsatisfied, they quickly began looking ahead to what they had to do to get back to that point, and beyond, this season.
"For sure, we don't want to be a one-and-done team," Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said.
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Carolina's history shows how difficult that challenge can be: It has qualified for the playoffs in consecutive seasons once in its 21 seasons since moving from Hartford (2000-01 and 2001-02). After the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, they missed the playoffs the following season.
Carolina also has seen how teams have taken a step back after returning to the postseason following a long drought. The New Jersey Devils qualified for the playoffs in 2017-18 after missing for five consecutive seasons but didn't return last season.
"That's why we felt like we couldn't just bring the same group back," Waddell said. "We had to make some changes. I look at our roster right now and I think we're a better team at the start of this year than we were at the start of last year."
Video: Sebastian Aho checks in at No. 14 on the list
The Hurricanes improved their depth at forward by acquiring Erik Haula in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on June 26 for forward prospect Nicolas Roy and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, and by signing unrestricted free agent forward Ryan Dzingel to a two-year contract July 12.
Haula, who was limited to 15 games last season because of a knee injury, had NHL career highs with 29 goals, 26 assists and 55 points in 2017-18 when he helped Vegas reach the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season. The 28-year-old, who can play wing, is expected to center the third line, giving Carolina a strong top three down the middle with Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal.
Haula played on a line with Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter with the Minnesota Wild, so a reunion on Carolina's third line is possible.
Video: Can Hurricanes duplicate 2018-19 success next season?
Dzingel, who set NHL career highs with 26 goals, 30 assists and 56 points in 78 games with the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets last season, could play on the second line, and the 27-year-old's speed will enhance the attacking game the Hurricanes play under coach Rod Brind'Amour.
"We want to be a high-tempo offense, and watching them last season I thought it was a perfect fit for the way I play," Dzingel said. "Obviously, [I] want to go somewhere where I fit with their style and that's obviously one of the biggest reasons I think I'd fit right in."
Carolina's top four defensemen remains its strength with Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk. Defenseman Calvin de Haan was traded with forward prospect Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks on June 25 for goalie Anton Forsberg and defenseman Gustav Forsling. That opened a spot on the third defense pair that Forsling and Haydn Fleury will compete for during training camp.
There also will be a competition for the backup to goalie Petr Mrazek (re-signed for two seasons July 1) among Forsberg, James Reimer, who was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers on June 30, and rookie Alex Nedeljkovic.
Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Mrazek
Other than unrestricted free agent forward Justin Williams, the Hurricanes captain who will turn 38 on Oct. 4 and has yet to decide whether to retire or return for a 19th NHL season, Carolina's core remains intact. Matching the Montreal Canadiens' five-year, $42.27 million restricted free agent offer sheet to Aho (average annual value $8.454 million) locked up their most important player and prevented a possible prolonged contract negotiation that could have carried into training camp.
That puts the Hurricanes in good position to build off last season's surprising run.
"I can't say that anyone I talked to believed in what they did," Haula said. "It was kind of similar to what we did with Vegas, and that's one thing that I'm excited about is there's a bunch of talent on this team and it looks like the team is well rounded and get along well, and I think those are very important in a successful team organization."
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