Carolina Hurricanes' Lack of Offensive Depth Costly Again in 2013-14

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Carolina Hurricanes' Lack of Offensive Depth Costly Again in 2013-14
Mark Jones / Freelance

Despite the presence of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and others, the Carolina Hurricanes' offense has struggled to score with consistency this NHL season.

By sheer process of elimination, the onus for such struggles would seem to naturally fall on the team's depth contributors—and the statistics support such an assumption.

The 'Canes delivered a final knockout to their playoff aspirations via 5-1 and 2-1 losses to the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers, respectively, this past weekend. The pair of one-goal performances dropped their goals-per-game average to 2.47, ranking 20th in the league.

However, the Hurricanes' scoring leaderboard displays a surprisingly strong array of statistics. Skinner ranks 18th in the NHL with 26 goals, Andrej Sekera ranks sixth among all defenseman with 11 goals, Eric Staal leads the team with 52 points and Semin has 12 goals and 19 points in his last 21 games.

Even Jordan Staal has heated up recently.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Beneath that upper tier of stars, though, lies a messy, inefficient and coattail-riding landfill of depth contributors. 

A regression in shooting percentage has cursed Jiri Tlusty, dipping to 12 goals through 59 games after tallying 23 in 48 last season.

Patrick Dwyer has converted on a pathetic six of 118 shots on goal.

Radek Dvorak has lit the lamp once in his last 49 games.

Drayson Bowman, now in his fourth season with 20-plus appearances, still has never topped the six-goal milestone in a single campaign.

Elias Lindholm, the fifth overall pick last June, has just 44 shots in 45 gamesfor comparison, Skinner has 228 shots in 57 gamesand only six goals to show for it.

I compared the the 'Canes' scoring breakdown to that of five other NHL teams—the St. Louis Blues (second-best offense), Boston Bruins (third-best), Columbus Blue Jackets (ninth-best), Vancouver Canucks (second-worst) and Buffalo Sabres (worst). A graphic of each team's rankings in goals per game (y-axis) can be seen below:

Per NHL.com Stat Database (Graphic per Mark Jones)

The 'Canes' top scorers (the leftmost data points) are among the league's better half, only slightly below those of the Blues and Bruins and well above those of the Blue Jackets.

Conversely, the 'Canes quickly taper into the regions of the Canucks and Sabres—the league's two worst offenses—when considering the scoring rates of players ranked sixth to 13th (the rightmost data points) on their respective teams.

The Blue Jackets surge miles above the 'Canes in this category and join the Blues and Bruins. Without a doubt, it is because of this strong secondary scoring that the Jackets rank ninth and the 'Canes rank 20th in offense.

Depth scoring was a critical issue in 2012-13 and one of the key factors in Carolina's collapse down the stretch—the team's top four scorers accounted for a whopping 52.8 percent of goals, and when injuries took down those top scorers, production caved in a hurry.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

General manager Jim Rutherford attempted to fix the problem last autumn, bringing in Nathan Gerbe in free agency and adding veterans Manny Malhotra and Dvorak in September and October.

However, Rutherford's patchwork, fix-it-up method proved an inadequate solution for a lack of depth embedded deeply within the franchise's organizational framework.

As he and the entire front office attempt to restructure the 'Canes' roster this coming offseason for another, hopefully more successful run in 2014-15, an absolute bottom-six makeover must be a priority. 

According to CapGeek.com, Tlusty, Bowman, Nathan Gerbe and newly acquired Andrei Loktionov are all pending RFAs. Malhotra and Dvorak are upcoming UFAs. Dwyer and Riley Nash each have only one more season left on their contracts, and for an easily moved sub-$1 million cap hit.

Rutherford should analyze the models set by other clubs who have found the key component of depth scoring—teams like the Blue Jackets, who have transformed from a basement-dweller to intimidating bubble contender almost exclusively due to depth.

He should take radical action to completely re-imagine and revamp the 'Canes' lower lines.

 

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more or follow him on Twitter.

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