Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Carolina Hurricanes
Last season: The Canes may have progressed to the second round and only lost to the eventual Cup champions, but it was a disappointing result considering their third-place finish during the regular season and winning their first division banner since 2006. Team MVP Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov drove the engine on offense, but both fell short of moving into a higher tier; instead, it was their impressive depth – including Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Necas and Vincent Trocheck – that made the difference. The Canes had eight players who scored double-digit goals, trailing only the Avalanche, who had nine. Goaltending was a big question mark, but rookie Alex Nedeljkovic became the unlikely hero with a 15-5-3 record, 1.90 GAA and .932 Sv%, including five wins and just one regulation loss against key divisional foes in the Panthers and Lightning.
Best options: Sebastian Aho, C and Andrei Svechnikov, LW/RW.
Both options are excellent, and crafty fantasy managers would be wise to get both, especially if they snake picks in the first couple rounds of a 10-team league. They’re often paired together so you reap the benefits if the Canes score a lot of goals (they ranked 11th in GF/GP last season), and they’re just scratching the surface of their potential. Not having Dougie Hamilton to quarterback the league’s second-best power play will definitely hurt, but Aho and Svechnikov are presumably going to be better this season, offsetting any losses created by Hamilton’s departure. Strangely, the Canes don’t draw a lot of penalties, ranking 17th in the league under Rod Brind’Amour with the fifth-worst differential at minus-33, so it’s a good power play but not one that gets a lot of use. Regardless, over the past two seasons, Svechnikov (0.84, 36th) and Aho (0.99, 15th) have both ranked in the top 50 in points per game (min. 100 GP).
Hidden gem: Martin Necas, C/RW.
Necas was one of five Hurricanes to score at least 40 points, and while he’s down the pecking order, the Canes don’t normally rely on just one line. There’s a ton of flexibility in the Canes lineup and Necas could play center though he’ll most likely be pushed to the wing with Aho, Staal and Trocheck, and he’s not playing on the fourth line. The Canes’ quick, up-tempo style is well-suited for Necas, who is also excellent in transition, and a popular pick among breakout candidates for the upcoming season. His shooting percentage – usually a good indicator of ability and predictor of goals – is 14.9 percent, which is in line with some of the best goal scorers in the league and tied for 39th among players who have scored at least 30 goals over the past two seasons.
Goalies: Moving on from one of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer was not surprising. Moving on from both was somewhat surprising. But moving on from Nedeljkovic was the equivalent of a blindside hit. He had saved their season and outperformed Mrazek in the playoffs, but was shipped to the Red Wings because the Canes didn’t think he was worth $3 million per season. They opted for a more veteran tandem in Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, which would be fine if only either of them could stay healthy. Andersen has gone from being an above-average starter to a borderline 1B with a .895 Sv% in 24 appearances last season, while Raanta has averaged 19 appearances over the past three seasons. This tandem has “timeshare” written all over it, perhaps with Andersen getting the edge, but the upside is that there are roughly 45 wins to be split between them, so fantasy managers might want to roster both goalies.
Outlook: It’s a tough division but the Canes have the deepest offense, and they will simply outscore their opponents if Andersen or Raanta aren’t sharp. Aho and Svechnikov should be at the top of everyone’s list, but don’t forget about Teuvo Teravainen (missed 35 games last season) and Tony DeAngelo, who will take over a lot of the power-play minutes vacated by Hamilton and Jake Gardiner (season-ending surgery). Trocheck and Staal are roto beasts because they win a lot of faceoffs, and Trocheck is a high-volume shooter, averaging 2.65 per game and ranks 42nd (min. 1,000 shots) among forwards over the past seven seasons. The Canes should be well-represented in any league and in any format.