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NHL Futures: Best Bets for Eastern Conference Winner (21-22)

by August 26, 2021
Frederik Andersen

As summer begins to wind down and training camps around the corner, we can shift our focus towards the 2021-22 regular season. Both the Seattle Kraken and free agents league-wide have settled in, so we have an idea of each team’s makeup. With the return of regular divisional structures, let’s analyze our best bet to win the Eastern Conference Championship.

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For the second straight season, the Carolina Hurricanes fell short in the second round of postseason play. Expectations remained high entering the 2020-21 season, yet they fell victim to the more experienced and skilled Tampa Bay Lightning – the eventual repeat Stanley Cup Champion. Can’t get too down about that.

The early playoff exit was disheartening, yet they showed flashes of their bright future by winning the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Lightning and Florida Panthers.

Let’s look at the Hurricanes’ offseason moves:

Key additions: G Frederik Andersen, G Antti Raanta, D Tony DeAngelo, D Ethan Bear, D Ian Cole

Key Losses: D Dougie Hamilton, F Warren Foegele, F Mogan Geekie, G Alex Nedeljkovic, G Petr Mrazek

Losing Dougie Hamilton to free agency stings, as he was easily their best defenseman and consistently in the Norris Trophy conversation. ‘Canes fans were quite upset after the team traded Nedeljkovic, a promising young goaltender with whom they couldn’t come to terms. However, that’s an overreaction for a player with less than 40 games of NHL experience and one who let in some shaky goals in the postseason.

Bringing in two new goalies is something we don’t often see. However, the Hurricanes did just that. Though there are health and performance issues associated with Andersen and Raanta, both players possess strong career numbers and recently played for shaky defensive teams.

Andersen Career Numbers:

  • GAA: 2.96
  • SV%: .914
  • GSAA: 36.5

Raanta Career Numbers:

  • GAA: 2.46
  • SV%: .919
  • GSAA: 39.8

Recency bias has many down on this tandem, but they have tremendous upside. Not to mention it hasn’t worked out in the Carolina crease the past few seasons anyway.

To replace the offensive production left by Hamilton, Carolina took a chance on DeAngelo – a polarizing figure due to a history of poor off-ice behavior. Though horrific defensively, Tony D does have a 53-point season under his belt and can run the power play.

The addition of Cole brings a cup-winning pedigree and strong veteran presence. Analytically, he had a down year in 2020-21, but in the Hurricanes’ strong defensive system, he should regain form.

Acquiring Ethan Bear was a potential boon for this franchise. An RFA after this season, Bear is an analytics darling.

According to Natural Stat Trick, last season with the Edmonton Oilers, Bear had the second-highest CF% (50.53) and highest xGF% (55.36) of any defensive regulars. Against elite competition, he owned a 53.6 CF% as his smooth skating ability allows him to keep pace.

While he does struggle against physical teams due to his diminutive stature, he is a strong third-pair defenseman who only adds further depth to the blue line.

Offensively, this team is loaded. Wingers Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov are lethal, and center Martin Necas looks like a future star.

While these players certainly stuff the score sheet, the team analytics are even more promising.

Let’s analyze the advanced statistics from the 2020-21 regular season and league rank below:

GA/60: 1.78 – #1
CF%: 54.96 – #2
xGF/60: 2.76 – #2
GF%: 56.43 – #4
xGF%: 53.93 – #6

Offensively, this team ranked exceptionally high. Though finishing was an issue at times, their youthful core has only gained more experience these past two seasons and will surely be better for it going forward.

Additionally, the defensive style implemented by head coach Rod Brind’Amour is suffocating – reflected by their league-leading GA/60. This will only help their new goaltending tandem and allow the offense to run and gun more as they mature.

The Eastern Conference is tough, but at +1200, there’s value to be had in this potentially dominant Carolina Hurricanes team.

Pick: Carolina Hurricanes (+1200) 

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Jordan Anderson is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Jordan, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @Jordan_A03.

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