It's a shame that this season ended as poorly as it did for the Hurricanes because things are going to get much more difficult next season. While I do believe that the Hurricanes will be a better team, they will no longer be in the cozy confides of the Southeast Division and will be moving to "Division D" as part of the NHL's new realignment plan. The only team from the Southeast joining them will be the Washington Capitals, who have been the division champs for five out of the last six years, and their other new divisional foes will include the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Also with realignment comes a new playoff format where the top three teams from each of the four divisions will automatically qualify for the playoffs along with the next two highest ranked teams from each conference based on points. Four teams in Carolina's new division made the playoffs this past season and at least half of them are perennial playoff contenders, so the Hurricanes have their work cut out for them if they want to find their way back to the post-season.
The general consensus seems to be that the Hurricanes will likely be the "doormat" of this division since they were one of the worst teams in the league this year while most of their new divisional foes are either on the rise, or already playoff contenders. I'm a little more optimistic, though. I agree that the Hurricanes have their work cut out for them, but my hope is that this causes the Hurricanes management to up their game a little bit so that they can be competitive with the likes of New York, New Jersey and possibly Pittsburgh. They opened up their wallets last off-season so that they could be in a more "win-now" mode and while it didn't bring the results everyone was hoping for, there is reason to believe that this team improved in a lot of ways compared to last season.
There are a lot of fans worried about Carolina never making the playoffs again because of how difficult this new division is, but I see is as an exciting opportunity. If the Hurricanes can build a good team and be competitive in this new division, it's going to lead some very exciting hockey in the later months of the season. That will no doubt help attendance and overall revenue for the team. However, should the Hurricanes continue to struggle and end up being the "punching bag" of this new division, then it's going to be bad for both fan morale and the team's overall funds.
The Hurricanes haven't been awful in most of their recent seasons, but there still hasn't been a lot to brag about since the team's last playoff appearance going by overall win percentage.
Carolina has been in the bottom fifth of the league in overall winning percentage over the last four seasons and could be in for some more painful seasons if they can not be competitive in this new division. This chart is a tad misleading though because a few of these teams are in a different state now compared to how they were over the last four years. Take the Islanders for example, they have been perennial losers for awhile but made the playoffs this year and have a nice young nucleus to build around. Same goes for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have been a mess for most of the last four years and are now rebuilding under new GM Jarmo Kekalainen and president John Davidson. The Hurricanes themselves should also be on the upswing even if last season didn't go as planned, so we could be in for some exciting times in this new division.
After the jump, we'll take a look at each of Carolina's new divisional bretherin, where they are now and how the Canes can stay competitive with them.no comments