Grading and Evaluating Each Carolina Hurricanes Player in 2013-14 NHL Season
New arrivals and first-year players kept the Carolina Hurricanes afloat for much of 2013-14, but disappointing campaigns from several franchise cornerstones doomed the club to its fifth straight season without a playoff berth.
Finishing below the NHL average in goals for, goals against, power-play percentage and penalty-killing percentage, general mediocrity and an apathetic spring could lead to a summer of drastic roster changes in Raleigh.
For the moment, though, each player's campaign must be assessed retrospectively to determine offseason negotiation plans and outline a rough vision for 2014-15.
Evaluations and grades for each 'Canes player this past season, sorted alphabetically by position, lie on the coming slides. Grades reflect overall worth and impact compared with expected role and salary.
F Drayson Bowman
Box Score Stats: 70 GP, 4 G, 8 A, minus-2, 10:21 TOI
Advanced Stats: 45.5% Corsi rating (shot-attempt differential), +12.8 ZSD (offensive zone shift start differential), -0:21 TOIDiff (TOI in wins vs. TOI in losses)
Drayson Bowman is as unremarkable as bottom-six wingers come, and his 2013-14 campaign was equally mediocre.
Bowman's 70 appearances were nearly double his previous career high, but he still failed to reach the 13-point plateau set by his 37-game 2011-12 season.
The blame might rest partially on the coaching staff, which slaughtered his offensive opportunities with a minuscule 34.5 offensive zone start percentage—a strange trend, considering the 195-pound forward's lack of a physical presence. Bowman naturally suffered in Corsi rating.
Bowman is an RFA this summer; his future in the NHL could rest on expected incoming general manager Ron Francis' decision whether or not to issue a qualifying offer.
F Radek Dvorak
Box Score Stats: 60 GP, 4 G, 5 A, plus-3, 10:38 TOI
Advanced Stats: 42.7% Corsi rating, +17.5 ZSD , +0:46 TOIDiff
Radek Dvorak's possible final NHL season was highlighted by oddities in an otherwise forgettable season in Carolina.
The 37-year-old scored the team's first and last home goals of 2013-14. In between, he buried only two more goals in 57 games—but both were game-winners.
Like much of the lower lines, Dvorak was sentenced to a brutal 32.6 offensive zone start percentage, which his therefore naturally negative Corsi and naturally positive ZSD reflect. Even in transitional and offensive settings, however, Dvorak struggled with puck possession.
No. 18 should join a long list of past-prime veterans who came to Carolina (see Yelle, Stephane) for one entirely unmemorable final season.
F Patrick Dwyer
Box Score Stats: 75 GP, 8 G, 14 A, minus-2, 14:39 TOI
Advanced Stats: 48.4% Corsi rating, +4.2 ZSD , +0:49 TOIDiff
Every NHL team seems to need a speedy defensive winger on its third line, and the Hurricanes have found theirs in Patrick Dwyer.
Dwyer has exactly eight goals in three of the last four seasons (his accuracy is on the low end, though, as evidenced by his 6.9 career shooting percentage), but his skating ability is useful in icing and short-handed situations.
The 30-year-old led all 'Canes forwards in short-handed ice time (1:49) and short-handed goals (two).
The problems with Dwyer arise when the coaching staff attempts to elevate him to the second line. Time and time again, No. 39 has shown that endurance and sustained offensive possession are not his strengths, yet he is frequently promoted anyway during injury-laden periods.
F Nathan Gerbe
Box Score Stats: 81 GP, 16 G, 15 A, minus-6, 16:24 TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.8% Corsi rating, +4.4 ZSD, -0:42 TOIDiff
Nathan Gerbe won over hearts of fans with his unusual size (5'5"), nightly hustle and bargain-basement salary (league minimum $550,000).
But was he really that good? Actually, according to the numbers, yes.
Gerbe missed just one game and tied a career high with 31 points. He was on the plus side in on-ice shot differential despite a 46.6 offensive zone start percentage. His uncanny ability to muscle past much bigger defensemen and emerge from scraps with the puck are both much-needed in Carolina.
But size will always be an issue for the 26-year-old, and he is a pending free agent this summer. If Francis focuses a particular interest in toughening up the bottom six, Gerbe's future with the 'Canes may not be entirely certain.
F Elias Lindholm
Box Score Stats: 58 GP, 9 G, 12 A, minus-14, 14:31 TOI
Advanced Stats: 49.6% Corsi rating, -7.3 ZSD , -0:11 TOIDiff
It's no slam on him as a person or character, but Elias Lindholm's rookie campaign fell farther short of expectations than the 'Canes team did—and considering the pessimism echoing around the Triangle today, that was quite a feat.
Jeff Skinner was selected seventh in 2010; Lindholm was drafted fifth in 2013 (in a draft class touted, moreover, as the best in a decade). Skinner racked up 31 goals and 63 points in his ensuing rookie season; Lindholm scraped out a measly nine goals and 21 points.
More than 60 percent of the young Swede's shifts began in the offensive end, but even such artificial help failed to translate to game-changing offense or a positive shots for-against differential (aka. Corsi). Flashes of playmaking expertise and passing acumen were largely overshadowed by a general lack of engagement.
The 19-year-old did improve moderately down the stretch and remains an unquestionable untouchable in any offseason changes, but a vastly better 2014-15 is desperately needed from No. 16.
F Andrei Loktionov
Box Score Stats (with 'Canes): 20 GP, 3 G, 7 A, minus-4, 14:35 TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.3% Corsi rating, -14.4 ZSD*, -0:44 TOIDiff*
*Cumulative stats; Loktionov played 48 of 68 total games with New Jersey.
The 23-year-old Russian tallied all 10 of his points with the 'Canes in his last 14 games and finished the season on a two-game point streak. Loktionov won over coaches and fans alike with his tenacity and quickness.
Even better, the 5'11" center proved the most effective jump-start of all for the club's woeful power play. The 'Canes scored while a man up in eight of their last 11 contests, converting on 26.2 percent (11 of 42) of their opportunities over that time span—a stark contrast with their 14.6 season-long average.
Loktionov earned a serious chance to be re-signed this summer with his strong spring.
F Manny Malhotra
Box Score Stats: 69 GP, 7 G, 6 A, plus-0, 11:35 TOI
Advanced Stats: 41.4% Corsi rating, +22.5 ZSD , +2:41 TOIDiff
Manny Malhotra received a lot of praise for his stunning faceoff performance in 2013-14, and justifiably so.
The 33-year-old center won a whopping 566 of his 952 draws; his 59.4 winning percentage ranked second in the NHL. He won 61.1 percent of his faceoffs at PNC Arena and 57.3 percent of his faceoffs while short-handed (often facing the opponent's No. 1 center), too.
But Malhotra also escaped much attention for his total inadequacy at almost every other facet of play.
First and foremost, No. 22 struggled mightily to move the puck out of the defensive zone, even after winning the draw.
Offensively, he registered points in just three of his last 39 appearances. Even his grand total of seven goals was somewhat inflated: one was an empty-netter and another was when leading by two in the third period.
A good story? Yes. A faceoff freak of nature? Yes. A player worth re-signing? Probably not.
F Riley Nash
Box Score Stats: 73 GP, 10 G, 14 A, plus-0, 12:40 TOI
Advanced Stats: 50.6% Corsi rating, -8.7 ZSD , -1:05 TOIDiff
Albeit a more well-rounded bottom-six center than more publicized counterpart Malhotra, Riley Nash doesn't have the defensive ability to warrant almost 13 minutes a night.
Nash consistently loses ground territorially, starting 58.5 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone but only ending 49.8 percent there, and isn't a heavy hitter or positional stalwart either.
In fact, it might be most efficient (if not financially viable) to dress Nash only for home games. Over the past two seasons combined, the 24-year-old center has 21 points in 53 home games but just 12 points in 52 road games. He also won 54.1 percent of his home faceoffs yet only 38.4 percent of his road faceoffs this year.
Nash does have one more year left on his contract, but a full 2013-14 campaign proved that the former first-round pick is frankly an average fourth-liner at best.
F Alexander Semin
Box Score Stats: 65 GP, 22 G, 20 A, plus-1, 19:54 TOI
Advanced Stats: 55.2% Corsi rating, -4.6 ZSD , +0:20 TOIDiff
Alexander Semin cannot escape the lightning rod of blame that follows him. While his contract is undoubtedly on the overpriced side, Semin is miles better than the apathetic, underperforming puck-hog he's often portrayed as.
The now-30-year-old Russian ranked second on the 'Canes with 22 goals but still suffered from an indescribable shooting percentage. Semin has scored on just 9.7 percent of his shots since moving to N.C. (compared to his career average of 13.2 percent).
Yet, Semin did make his tallies count. Thirteen of the 22 came in the third period or overtime; 12 of the 22 came when Carolina was tied or trailing by one. His Corsi rating was the best on the team, and he ranked fifth in takeaways as well despite missing 17 games.
A much more quantifiably productive campaign seems probable in 2014-15.
F Jeff Skinner
Box Score Stats: 71 GP, 33 G, 21 A, minus-14, 17:11 TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.2% Corsi rating, -14.3 ZSD , -0:19 TOIDiff
Skinner's headline-grabbing 2013-14 season is a difficult one to objectively evaluate.
On one hand, No. 53's career-high 33 goals almost single-handedly carried Carolina's otherwise vastly underperforming offense. After entering December with just four, Skinner lit 29 red lamps in his last 56 games and finished the season 11th in the NHL in goals. He helped teammates score, too, ranking third among forwards in assists and drawing the most penalties against.
Conversely, it would be remiss not to mention just how much help Skinner got in achieving that scoring milestone. His 65.3 offensive zone start percentage was the eighth-highest mark in the league. Only slightly more than half of his shifts ended there, though—in other words, Skinner wasn't very good at creating ongoing offensive opportunities if his own shift didn't convert.
Streakiness was also a concern, as his shooting percentage fluctuated crazily over the course of the year. Between Nov. 29 and Jan. 9, Skinner scored on 23.4 percent of his 77 shots (18 goals); between Jan. 10 and Mar. 4, 2.6 percent on 78 shots (two goals); between Mar. 5 and Apr. 13, 13.2 percent of 76 shots (10 goals). The 21-year-old produced shots at a remarkably even rate, but his efficiency on such shots varied enormously from month to month.
Skinner remains a vital superstar for the franchise, but his precise value is not as clearly defined as it may seem.
F Eric Staal
Box Score Stats: 79 GP, 21 G, 40 A, minus-13, 20:17 TOI
Advanced Stats: 52.4% Corsi rating, -9.3 ZSD , -1:31 TOIDiff
A financial recipe for disaster: paying $8.25 million for 18 real goals.
That's all team captain Eric Staal managed to do with a salary 15 times that of Gerbe (and his 16 goals) and over 1,600 minutes of ice time, 15th most among all NHL forwards.
It's appalling, and everyone knows, including the man himself. Unfortunately for him, though, he has essentially no excuses to turn to.
He was spoon-fed with the most favorably positioned shifts of his career and faced relatively easy competition, and he still failed miserably.
He produced shots at the slowest pace since his rookie 2003-04 campaign; he artificially boosted his already-lacking goal total with unimportant tallies, including three empty-netters and six when trailing by multiple goals. He committed the 11th-most minor penalties in the league.
Almost every known method of evaluating hockey painted a hideous image of Staal's performance.
If Francis brings the clean slate, sans-Jim Rutherford loyalties mindset to the GM position that many 'Canes fans have dreamt of for so long, Staal could feel his seat warm at least a few degrees. On the open market, the former "untouchable" Eric Staal may now be simply undesirable.
F Jordan Staal
Box Score Stats: 82 GP, 15 G, 25 A, plus-2, 18:56 TOI
Advanced Stats: 54.0% Corsi rating, +1.1 ZSD , -0:17 TOIDiff
Debates over the controversial Jordan Staal-Brandon Sutter trade and Jordan's 10-year, $60 million contract aside, the younger Staal brother has played better than critics of that much-publicized swap like to admit.
He hasn't become the superstar power forward many anticipated after his departure from Pittsburgh, but much of that can be attributed to a lesser and less reliable rotating cast of linemates and Semin-esque poor shooting percentage luck (a 9.0 mark since joining the 'Canes vs. a 12.1 career percentage).
Also overlooked are several other key facts: Jordan Staal faced the hardest quality of competition of any player on the team and began more than half his shifts in the defensive half, yet still ranked second in shot-attempt differential (Corsi) and became one of the club's most effective special teams weapons (led Carolina with four short-handed points and added 10 more on the power play).
He was, moreover, effective both at home and on the road in the faceoff dot, winning 54.7 percent of draws at PNC Arena and 54.0 percent away from it.
Staal finished the campaign cold as an iceberg, though, registering just one point in his last 10 games and only four goals from February on. While No. 11 did clearly outperform No. 12 in 2013-14, Jordan needs to improve in 2014-15 regardless.
F Jiri Tlusty
Box Score Stats: 68 GP, 16 G, 14 A, plus-2, 15:10 TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.2% Corsi rating, -3.6 ZSD , +1:15 TOIDiff
Two seasons ago, Jiri Tlusty built his breakout season off of opportunism, of finding soft spots in coverage, crashing the net and compiling enough "can't miss" tap-in goals to prove his knack wasn't good luck but rather a unique niche.
After a variety of injuries prevented Tlusty from re-establishing that rhythm for much of 2013-14, the 26-year-old Czech finished the year hot and pumped new supporting material into his summer contract negotiations.
Tlusty recorded 12 goals and 22 points over his last 33 appearances, including six goals and 11 points over his last 12 appearances. He finished the year on a three-game point streak.
He still fell short of both his 2011-12 (36 points) and 2012-13 (38 points in 48 games) totals, however, and the coaching staff continues to struggle to find his ideal spot on the depth chart. Tlusty produces best and usually serves well as a secondary option for top-line teammates, but his contributions on lower lines rarely seem to fairly justify such a promotion.
The 12 months ahead could be pivotal in determining the long-term direction of Tlusty's career.
D Brett Bellemore
Box Score Stats: 64 GP, 2 G, 6 A, minus-1, 17:28 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 48.4% Corsi, +4.6 percent ZSD, +1:06 TOIDiff
Since his long-awaited promotion from the AHL last spring, Brett Bellemore has proved a valuable and perhaps unheralded depth rearguard for the 'Canes.
Bellemore, 25, is no offensive threat, but the reliability he demonstrated in his own zone indicates that the former sixth-round pick may be a merely late-blooming shutdown man. Once finding a nightly job in the lineup in March and April, he recorded four assists and a plus-five rating his last 11 appearances.
His 48.4 percent Corsi was highly respectable given the situation in which he is utilized—a unit-high 56.8 percent of his shifts began in the defensive zone. He also led the defense with 169 hits.
Increased playing time for Bellemore tended to correlate strikingly with increased team success: No. 73 averaged 18:06 TOI in wins and 17:00 in losses.
D Justin Faulk
Box Score Stats: 76 GP, 5 G, 27 A, minus-9, 23:24 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.8% Corsi, -0.1 percent ZSD, +1:05 TOIDiff
The importance of Justin Faulk to the Hurricanes defense in 2013-14 was not sufficiently outlined by the numbers alone.
Faulk, who turned 22 last month, suffered from an unlucky shooting percentage for most of the campaign but exploded down the stretch (partially in Andrej Sekera's absence). He recorded eight points in his final 10 games and four assists in his last three. The offensive stat line may not have fully lived up to expectations, but it should only increase in the years ahead.
No. 27 faced the toughest quality of competition of any 'Canes D-man and topped the unit with a 51.8 percent Corsi rating. Defensively, it was hard to fault anywhere in his game.
Faulk remains a crucial centerpiece for the 'Canes entering the offseason and a decidedly underrated defenseman around the league as a whole.
D Ron Hainsey
Box Score Stats: 82 GP, 4 G, 11 A, minus-9, 21:26 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.0% Corsi, +1.9 percent ZSD, +0:29 TOIDiff
After Joni Pitkanen was ruled out for the 2013-14 season in September, Carolina general manager Rutherford was forced to scramble for a replacement. Ron Hainsey, surprisingly still a free agent at the time, was the chosen man.
While Hainsey's campaign was far from extraordinary, his veteran presence still filled a valuable portion of the hole left by Pitkanen.
Outside of Faulk and Sekera, Hainsey was the only Hurricanes defenseman with a positive Corsi rating, and he did so with only a 47.7 offensive zone start percentage. He also ranked second on the team with 124 blocked shots.
Conversely, Hainsey was often slow to adjust to power moves and failed to generate much counterbalancing production of his own on the other end. He tallied just four points, all assists, after Dec. 31.
The 'Canes coaching staff tried to make a No. 3 defenseman out of a player better suited to be a No. 4 or 5 and revealing the team's lack of a legitimate second pairing.
Hainsey will be a UFA again this summer, and his chances of re-signing seem to be around 50-50.
D Jay Harrison
Box Score Stats: 68 GP, 4 G, 11 A, minus-1, 16:37 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 47.9% Corsi, -3.8 percent ZSD, -0:17 TOIDiff
2013-14 was easily Jay Harrison's worst season since joining the 'Canes in 2009.
The 31-year-old's production finished well below his pace of the past two seasons, and his defensive impact didn't pick up the slack.
If the high-profile numbers weren't pretty, advanced statistics skewered the 31-year-old veteran. Harrison ranked dead last by a significant margin among 'Canes defensemen in Corsi rating despite benefiting from a favorable 54.5 offensive zone start percentage and unit-high 1023 PDO (an indicator of luck).
The former third-round pick looked arguably sluggish on the ice, lacking the uncanny awareness of when to pinch and when to retreat that helped him contribute as a playmaker in previous seasons.
The return of Harrison next season would be a strong indicator of an ineffective offseason.
D Mike Komisarek
Box Score Stats: 32 GP, 0 G, 4 A, minus-4, 11:41 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 48.5% Corsi, -3.0 percent ZSD, +1:44 TOIDiff
Mike Komisarek signed in Carolina last summer as an experiment.
Eight months later, the good news is that the experiment never boiled over. The bad news is that it also yielded absolutely no meaningful results.
Komisarek was basically invisible in his attempt at a career revival. He failed to score a single goal, was a healthy scratch in more than half of the team's games and managed just four points and 20 shots on goal in 32 appearances.
With hardly any puck-handling ability and a rapidly decreasing defensive awareness, Komisarek will almost surely be let go when his contract expires in July.
D John-Michael Liles
Box Score Stats (with 'Canes): 35 GP, 2 G, 7 A, plus-7, 20:05 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.7% Corsi, -0.3 percent ZSD, -0:47 TOIDiff
John-Michael Liles perhaps didn't hear all the credit he deserved after coming to Carolina on New Year's Day.
He didn't receive nearly as many offensive zone starts as his 2012-13 role counterpart—fellow purported power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron—did, but he was a plus-seven nonetheless and sported the second-highest Corsi Relative on the team.
Yet, Liles barely helped the man-advantage unit (the unit didn't begin to improve until Loktionov's arrival) and had a less-than-outstanding two goals in 35 appearances. The 'Canes also lost the majority of the games in which he played more than 20 minutes.
While not as irresponsible defensively as many forewarned, Liles' tenure in the red and white was far from eye-opening. With two compliance buyouts available this summer, his $3.875 million cap hit through 2016 looks like a likely victim.
D Ryan Murphy
Box Score Stats: 48 GP, 2 G, 10 A, minus-9, 18:17 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 48.8% Corsi, -8.3 percent ZSD, -3:06 TOIDiff
For the first three months of the season, former seventh overall pick Ryan Murphy looked to be the quintessential rookie defenseman: flashes of game-breaking ability and offensive defenseman stardom marred by inconsistency in the back end.
Then Murphy crashed and burned under the pressure. He was sheltered with a 63.1 offensive zone start percentage, yet still finished well in the negatives in Corsi rating and ended only 54.6 percent of his shifts there.
The 21-year-old rearguard was also completely incapable of handling large workloads. In the 21 wins he played in, Murphy tallied nine points, a plus-10 rating and averaged a managed 16:32 TOI. In 27 losses, Murphy registered three points, a minus-19 rating and a tremendously excessive 19:38 TOI.
D Andrej Sekera
Box Score Stats: 74 GP, 11 G, 33 A, plus-4, 23:40 average TOI
Advanced Stats: 51.5% Corsi, +1.0 percent ZSD, +0:35 TOIDiff
Sekera was, without question, the MVP of the Carolina Hurricanes' 2013-14 defense.
After more than a half-decade submerged in the impotent Buffalo organization, the 27-year-old blueliner had a tremendous breakout campaign in every regard in his first season with Carolina.
Sekera ranked first among all NHL defensemen in takeaways (68) and 14th among all NHL defensemen in points (44), even while missing eight games to injury. He ranked first on the team in blocked shots (127) and average ice time. He ranked second on the team in assists and power-play points (15). And he was the 'Canes second-highest road scorer, topping even Skinner.
In advanced stats, he also led the club in Corsi Relative while facing the highest Corsi Relative quality of competition.
It was a marvelous campaign for Sekera, who seems poised to pose a true No. 1 pairing along with Faulk that, in coming seasons, will be able to compete with the league's best.
G Anton Khudobin
Box Score Stats: 19-14-1, .926 SV%, 2.30 GAA, 1 SO
Anton Khudobin set a club record in save percentage and single-handedly kept the 'Canes out of the depths of the league basement.
The 27-year-old late-blooming Kazakh goaltender established himself as a long-term starter with his first season in a No. 1 role, ranking fifth in the NHL in save percentage and more than doubling his career win total.
While his consistency declined down the stretch, regression was inevitable—and a steady long-term pace of .926 will be happily accepted by all in the Carolina organization.
No. 31 provides the 'Canes with one of their biggest sources of optimism moving forward.
G Justin Peters
Box Score Stats: 7-9-4, .919 SV%, 2.50 GAA, 1 SO
Justin Peters had his best NHL season to date in 2013-14, and he was rewarded by riding the final months of the season on the bench, paralyzed temporarily and eventually permanently by Rutherford's indecision.
After years and years of failure, Peters only received playing time last autumn because the team had absolutely no where else to turn—and he performed more than admirably with all the weight on his shoulders.
While the team's then-anemic offense cursed to another sub-.500 record, Peters' .919 save percentage in 21 appearances was a stunning improvement over his .891 a year ago. With both Khudobin and Cam Ward injured for most of November, Peters held the ship together relatively well.
He's simply not on the caliber of Khudobin nor a truly viable starter in the NHL, but Peters (whose contract expires in July) will at least exit Raleigh with some confidence.
G Cam Ward
Box Score Stats: 10-12-6, .898 SV%, 3.06 GAA, 0 SO
Another season for Ward is in the books: another season riddled by injuries, untimely goals and generally poor play.
Time is running out.
Even if Ward's outrageous $6.3 million cap hit keeps him in Carolina through the summer, there can be no doubt that the past half-decade has thoroughly destroyed his reputation and jeopardizes his role on the team moving forward.
A few bright spots in the campaign's final weeks (3-1-1 in his last five starts with a .944 or better save percentage in three) flashed a few long-missed glimpses of the Ward of old, but 2013-14 will go down as another catastrophic step down in his abrupt career self-destruction.
Note: All basic statistics courtesy of the team website. Advanced statistics courtesy of Behind the Net. Contract information courtesy of CapGeek. Some material may be similar to previous work by the same author.