Areas Where the Carolina Hurricanes Must Improve in 2014
The 2013 calendar year will go down in history as one of the more disappointing and forgettable 12-month spans in Carolina Hurricanes history.
The 'Canes won just 34 of 88 games (38.6 percent) in 2013, between the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and the first half of the 2013-14 campaign. After a 15-9-1 start to the year (and last season), the 'Canes sputtered to a 19-32-12 over the final nine months.
Despite the lack of victories on the ice, 2013 taught the team valuable lessons and pointed out crucial weaknesses to keep in mind in 2014.
From stronger, more confident play under pressure situations to higher efficiency from star players, a breakdown of four costly areas where the 'Canes must improve in the coming 2014 calendar year lies on the coming slides.
Despite drawing consistently plentiful power-play opportunities—only six NHL teams drew more man-advantages than the Hurricanes' 312 in 2013—the 'Canes converted on just 45.
Their 14.4 percent conversion rate ranked 28th in the league.
Such prolific squandering of power plays has set Carolina far apart from the league's elite—seven of the eight current Eastern Conference playoff teams have man-advantage units ranked in the NHL's upper half in 2013-14.
With three excellent power-play quarterback defensemen (Andrej Sekera, Ryan Murphy and new addition John-Michael Liles) now on the roster and such shooting weapons as Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin and Eric Staal (who has just one power-play goal this campaign), it's inexcusable for the Hurricanes' power play not to progress in 2014.
The 'Canes close-game woes have been well documented for a half-decade now.
Since the 2009-10 season, the 'Canes have a 66-89 record in matches decided by one goal. Since 2011-12, the 'Canes have a 9-29 record in overtime and shootouts.
2013 was no trend-breaking year, as Carolina posted 16-19 and 5-13 records in those two categories, respectively.
Two blown third-period leads in two of their final three home games of the year underlined the 'Canes struggles under pressure and perhaps marked a low point in the 2013-14 season.
Will a miraculous comeback and seemingly heaven-sent overtime win in the final hours before New Year's Day be the first step towards restoring confidence in tight finishes? Only 2014 will tell.
Production of Top-Paid Players
In spite of drastically increased spending over the past 12 to 18 months, the Hurricanes' on-ice success (as has been discussed already) has not improved.
Unsurprisingly, that disparity between investment and production seems to stem from a lack of efficiency from the club's biggest earners. As I calculated in a recent column of mine, only one other NHL team has paid more money per goal in 2013-14 than Carolina has.
Underperforming forwards such as Tuomo Ruutu (who has theoretically been paid $239,000 per point) and Semin ($171,000 per point) are major reasons why. Jiri Tlusty, farther down the list at just $72,000 per point, has also regressed significantly after an explosive spring.
In fact, Carolina's payroll is almost $2 million higher than Anaheim's, yet the 'Canes boast barely half as many wins as the league-leading Ducks in 2013-14.
Time will soon prove to the franchise's management that spending at this level in a small, southern hockey market is simply unsustainable if not followed by success. 2014 could well be the make-or-break year in Carolina's experimentation as a cap-ceiling team.
Home Ice Advantage
Hockey attendance at PNC Arena has steadily risen in the years since the Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup title.
That fact becomes simply astounding—and a terrific testament to the sport's growing popularity in the Triangle—when considering just how perennially mediocre the 'Canes have been over that time span.
The 'Canes average attendance stood at 88.7 percent of capacity in 2013. While not as consistently packed as traditional markets like Toronto, Vancouver and Chicago, it's not hard to argue that PNC Arena is regularly louder more than any of those aforementioned rinks.
In 2014, the Hurricanes must learn how to take advantage of that hometown support. Their 17 home wins (in 45 games) in 2013 were the fourth fewest in the league, ahead of only the Oilers, Panthers and Islanders.
That lack of success in a familiar setting simply will not do for a team seeking to qualify for the playoffs.