The Carolina Hurricanes' 2013-14 season has taken a sudden turn toward disaster.
The 'Canes haven't won a game in almost two weeks, losing three games in a four-day stretch entering the holiday break despite having plenty of opportunities to pull out three victories.
At this point in the season, confidence and quality of play is more important than position in the standings, but the latter doesn't look too good at the moment. Carolina has slipped from third to seventh in the struggling Metropolitan Division in a hurry.
If this isn't the low point in the Hurricanes' campaign, then a rough winter apparently awaits around the corner. The 'Canes need to treat it as such, though; a new mentality and perhaps a few new players will be desperately needed entering 2014.
For the second consecutive season, I have outlined a four-step plan to revive Carolina's season. Last spring's checklist didn't exactly work out as planned. This year, the 'Canes must follow this recipe—or one of their own—if they hope to rally back into a playoff berth.
Graph: Shot attempt totals of Hurricanes (red) and Opponent (blue) in last nine games.
Contradictory to their losing trend, the Hurricanes have had their most offensively productive stretch of the season in their last nine games.
Their total shot attempts have been equal or better than their opponents' in eight of those nine contests, with the one exception occurring last Saturday in Tampa Bay. An average 65.0-53.8 advantage underlines such scoring-chance dominance.
However, Carolina's finishing has cost them. They rattled off 16 consecutive attempts in the final seven minutes of the Capitals game to no avail, then conceded the loss-sealing empty-netter. They then accumulated 22 unanswered attempts during the third period of the Columbus game, only to allow the Jackets to tie the game on their first attempt in over eight minutes and then tally the winner 1:28 later.
The strong performance of the 'Canes has made each of these crushing defeats all the more disappointing, but it's nonetheless fortunate that the team will be able to learn from such letdowns in December rather than March or April.
Closing ability in both overtime (where the 'Canes are 1-5 this season) and the final minutes of regulation should be a heavy focus in the coming weeks.
Ryan Murphy and Elias Lindholm, the two recent first-round picks with spots on the Hurricanes' 2013-14 roster, have struggled mightily despite receiving highly favorable playing time.
Among the 23 'Canes skaters with double-digit appearances this season, Lindholm ranks 15th and Murphy ranks 16th in the Corsi Relative, according to Extra Skater.
These subpar rankings become even uglier when considering that 63.8 and 65.5 percent, respectively, of their shifts start in the offensive zone, per Behind the Net, the fourth- and third-highest rates on the team. The duo are racking up a significant deficit in productivity even while Coach Muller hands them some of the team's "easiest" shifts.
The box score numbers aren't much better. Murphy is tied for 27th among all NHL rookies with nine points; Lindholm is 37th with seven. Only seven of the 26 rookies scoring more than both of them are also former top-12 draft selections.
For the 'Canes to improve and progress beyond their mediocrity of years past, they need the franchise's future generation to make an impact now. Neither Murphy, who has been a healthy scratch in two of the past three games, nor Lindholm, currently away with Team Sweden in the World Junior Championships, have not met those expectations so far.
Whether the jump-start in Murphy and Lindholm's play derives from an AHL demotion, a few games in the press box or simply a different set of linemates, Muller must elevate the ineffectiveness of his youngsters to his highest priority.
After the informal holiday trade freeze lifts in a few days, Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford could be one of the more active callers. The 'Canes would seemingly love a proven goal scorer with experience playing under pressure.
Morrow, while not the subject of any major trade rumors this autumn, fits the bill in a number of ways. The 205-pound 35-year-old is third among active NHL players in career shooting percentage, according to Hockey Reference—he's excellent at converting on his chances.
Morrow also boasts experience from eight previous postseason berths, where he has scored 46 points in 92 appearances. With a respectable six goals, 14 points and plus-two rating in 30 games for St. Louis this season, Morrow would be a relatively inexpensive bottom-six veteran addition.
Since then, he's tallied eight points and a plus-eight rating in 13 games to improve his season total to 15 points and a plus-one rating. He ranks second on the Flames in Corsi Relative in 2013-14, as well. Calgary's current lack of a GM might hinder negotiations somewhat, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rutherford didn't at least give Brian Burke a call or two.
Maple Leafs Forward
The Tim Gleason-for-John-Michael Liles trade rumor just won't go away, with Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun writing on Sunday that the Leafs are looking to sweeten the deal a bit. Rutherford might add a player like Drayson Bowman, Michal Jordan or a mid-round draft pick onto his side of the deal to get someone such as Mason Raymond or Nikolai Kulemin tacked onto the Leafs' end.
Raymond, a training camp signing of Toronto GM Dave Nonis, exploded out of the gate but has just one goal in his last 11 games, cooling off his trade value significantly. Still sporting 25 points in 39 appearances on the year, the shifty winger could work well alongside a player like Nathan Gerbe or Patrick Dwyer in Carolina.
Kulemin set enormously unrealistic expectations for himself with a 30-goal campaign in 2010-11 and has potted just seven, seven and four goals in the three seasons since, respectively. The 225-pound 27-year-old has offensive skill and checking-line size, though, and might be had at a bargain price.
There's no denying that the Hurricanes are traditionally much better in the second half of seasons. Prior to last spring's lockout-shortened and decidedly odd campaign, spring improvement was the norm in Raleigh.
|Season||First-Half Points||Second-Half Points|
The 'Canes are three games short of the midway point in 2013-14 and have 36 points beside their name. Two wins in the next trio of games would get them to a flat 40, just above their average from the last four full seasons. If they were to duplicate the same pattern in the second half—and earn 50 points—a grand total of 90 points might well be enough to squeak into the playoffs in the weaker Eastern Conference.
But such math also assumes that the Hurricanes will improve in the second half, and that's far from a guarantee. The 'Canes must repeat their historical trend and also perhaps get some more luck on their side to weasel into the top eight.
Optimism is always welcome, however, and the 'Canes probably need it at this time of year. With experienced gained from December's frustration, more input from the team's youngest assets and an influx of out-of-town talent all added together, the Hurricanes might be in for a campaign revitalization.