Are the Carolina Hurricanes any good?
That's the question that popped into my head as I was watching their comeback win over the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday night. It was an up-and-down game, one in which the Hurricanes were up 3-2 after two periods, blew that lead and trailed midway through the third, then stormed back with two late goals for a regulation win. And that's a fitting outcome for an up-and-down team that has had its moments despite the fact that it's probably not very good. Unless it is. Which it's not. We think.
On the surface, it seems like an easy question, one that can be answered with one glance at the standings. So let's start there: The Hurricanes' win over the Coyotes vaulted them from a share of dead-last in the league all the way up to 25th overall. And while it's no doubt a source of pride to pass teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, that still leaves them far closer to the first overall pick than the playoff race.
So, yeah, they're bad. End of post, and sorry for wasting your time.
When you dig a little bit deeper, the Hurricanes don't seem to be all that bad at all. A look at some of their underlying numbers paints the picture of a decent team suffering through some rotten luck. For example, they've been an excellent possession team, boasting the league's third best Corsi percentage at even strength with an impressive 54.2. Granted, there's going to be some score effects in play for a team that loses this much, but even on a score-adjusted basis, the Hurricanes drop to just 52.9 percent, still good for seventh overall and trailing only the mighty Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference.
Given the discrepancy between their possession numbers and their record, you might suspect that we'd see an outlier PDO, and sure enough, we do: Their 95.7 mark is the worst in the league by far. So, they're a strong possession team with terrible percentages. That suggests they're actually decent, or at least far better than simple wins and losses would indicate. The Hurricanes rank just 28th overall with a (probably) unsustainably low team shooting percentage of 7.2 across all situations, and they're near the top of the league for most times hitting the post or crossbar. It's just hard to look at game reports like this and this and see a team that deserves to be losing this much.
But wait. Low shooting percentage and hitting posts may be largely due to bad luck, but that's not all that goes into PDO. Especially this early in a season, it's largely a measure of goaltending. And the Hurricanes' goaltending is terrible.
Their team save percentage sits at a putrid .885, which ranks 29th in the league, ahead of only the Calgary Flames. Cam Ward has been below average, which is what about we should expect given his career body of work outside of one playoff run in 2006. The team thought they'd added depth to the position when they traded for Eddie Lack in the offseason, but he's been even worse; among goalies with at least five games played, his .865 save percentage ranks 56th out of 57.
Goaltending may be two guys out of roster of 20 or more, but it's still crucial, and if it's bad then your team is bad. So there you go. The Hurricanes are indeed bad.
But let's take a look at the rest of that roster, because there's some decent talent here. Justin Faulk has developed into a legitimate top-pairing defenseman, and leads the team in scoring. Victor Rask is having a mini-breakout at the age of 22, and Noah Hanifin has been solid as a rookie. And then there's some of the bigger names, like Eric Staal and Jordan Staal, or former 30-goal man Jeff Skinner. None of those three are enjoying strong seasons, but they've all put up numbers in the past, and they could do it again. That doesn't mean they're good right now, but it's not like this is a roster full of no-names. So, maybe at least kind of good?
On the other hand, the rumor mill says they could be getting ready to trade everyone, so maybe it will be a roster of no-names by deadline day. If your own GM thinks it's time to break up the band, then maybe we're just overthinking things here. They're bad.
But they also just beat the Canadiens over the weekend, and you have to be pretty good to beat the first place team in the conference, right? And it's not like that was a one-off fluke. The Hurricanes also own wins against the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings (twice). Then again, they've also lost to the Buffalo Sabres, Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers (twice), so back to square one we go.
In the end, the real answer is that it probably doesn't matter whether the Hurricanes really are what their record says they are. The NHL may be the only league in pro sports that gives out points for losing, but they've yet to figure out a way to do the same for moral victories. The Hurricanes are seven points out of a playoff spot with six teams to leapfrog, which is an all-but-impossible climb to make in today's NHL. And with the rumor mill firing up, it could be just a matter of time before the veteran talent starts being shipped out, and the race to the bottom (and a shot at Auston Matthews) is on.
But if that happens, just remember that they deserved a better fate. Maybe. Probably. Unless they didn't.