RALEIGH When Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters met with the media Wednesday for their end-of-season press conference, the message was clear: there was progress in 2016-17 in certain areas, but changes that need to be made for next season.Peters pointed out that the four playoff qualifiers from Carolina’s division, the Metropolitan, finished with 100 points, and that Carolina would need to improve by more than the one point they did from last year to make the postseason in 2017-18.”There’s lots to change. There’s lots of work to be done,” Peters said.So what went right and wrong for the Hurricanes in 2016-17? Here’s a look at each side of the coin and how Carolina can maintain or improve in each area come October.GoaltendingIt was the first item Francis mentioned when asked what the team’s No. 1 offseason priority would be.”I think if we look at the team it’s not a secret,” he said. “Our goals against was 18th, our save percentage, I think, was tied for 27th in the league. So that’s certainly an area we’ve got to look at real closely and fix for next season.”Of the 59 goalies that have started at least 50 games combined the past three seasons, Cam Ward Carolina’s No. 1 goalie during Peters’ tenure and the team’s since 2006-07 ranks tied for 51st in save percentage at .908. Eddie Lack, who was brought in to push Ward two years ago, is tied for 44th with four others at .910.Carolina could target a new goalie via trade, or go after a free agent in the offseason. Ben Bishop, the probable No. 1 goalie on the market, was No. 13 in save percentage the last three years at .919. But Bishop, 31 in November, won’t come cheap and has a history of injury troubles that could scare off Carolina.A better target could be Chicago backup Scott Darling, who is No. 4 on the save percentage list at .923, a couple years younger than Bishop and will certainly come cheaper.ForwardsJeff Skinner’s 37 goals were a career-high and he matched his rookie season point total of 63. That’s all positive, but Carolina needs Skinner to bring the goals early in the year rather than at the end 17 of his 37 goals (45.9 percent) came in the season’s final 22 games.Sebastian Aho was, as Francis loves to say, the “real deal” in his first year in North America. His 24 goals trail only Skinner’s Calder-winning season for the most by a rookie in Hurricanes’ history, and he should only get better. Elias Lindholm also evolved into a near-elite playmaking winger, making good on the potential Carolina saw when picking him fifth overall in 2013.Jordan Staal continued to drive play and be in the Selke Trophy conversation as one of the NHL’s top defensive forwards, and there’s still untapped growth in Teuvo Teravainen and Victor Rask.The Hurricanes will look to add some more scoring perhaps a top-nine center to join Staal and Rask and figure out their bottom six.DefenseThere’s a lot to like in top four. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are already established players after two NHL seasons, and Noah Hanifin seized his chance following the deadline trade of Ron Hainsey to join his fellow sophomore blueliners in the top two pairings.Justin Faulk set a new Carolina mark for goals by a defenseman (17) and seemed to find his game defensively after the deadline.The bottom pairing is not as established. Klas Dahlbeck, a restricted free agent this offseason, could be a solid No. 6/7 defenseman for Carolina, but the team needs to upgrade beyond that. Ryan Murphy again failed to show he deserves to be an everyday NHLer, and Matt Tennyson was nothing more than a suitable stopgap.Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown and Trevor Carrick could all get looks next year, as could 2016 first-rounder Jake Bean, but Francis could pursue a veteran on D.CoachingPeters is still considered one of the rising stars in the coaching ranks, and Steve Smith did a fabulous job with the young defense and penalty kill. Rod Brind’Amour ran the power play and forwards, and both need to show improvement but it’s doubtful his job is in danger.Goalie coach David Marcoux, however, was told Tuesday his contract would not be renewed. Carolina could promote goalie consultant Curtis Joseph to the job, but he has no NHL coaching experience. Jim Corsi of analytics fame was released by the Blues when Ken Hitchcock was replaced as head coach, and could be an experienced option given his 15-plus years as an NHL goalie coach.
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