2021 Metropolitan Division Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

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Are the Hurricanes the team to beat in the Metro? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

2021 record and finish: 36-12-8, 1st place in the Central Division, lost in the second round of the playoffs 4-1 to Tampa Bay

Coach: Rod Brind'Amour

Notable additions: G Frederik Andersen, D Ethan Bear, D Ian Cole, D Tony DeAngelo, F Jesperi Kotkaniemi, F Josh Leivo, G Petr Mrazek, G Antti Raanta, D Brendan Smith, F Derek Stepan

Notable departures: D Jake Bean, F Warren Foegele, F Morgan Geekie, D Dougie Hamilton, D Jani Hakanpaa, F Brock McGinn, G Alex Nedeljkovic, F Cedric Paquette, G James Reimer

Schedule against the Capitals

At Carolina 1 p.m., Sun. Nov. 28

At Washington 7 p.m., Thurs. March 3

At Carolina 7 p.m., Fri. March 18

At Washington 7 p.m., Mon. March 28

Outlook: The Hurricanes have been trending upwards for a few years now, but have remained just a notch under the major Cup contenders. They will look to take the next step this season.

There is a lot more turnover than you would expect for a team that won its division and has been as good as the Hurricanes have been of late. In terms of depth, Carolina looks even better with additions like Kotkaniemi, Stepan and Bear. DeAngelo is a definite gamble but he is a very good player on the ice.

While the team's depth improved, however, they also lost two of their most significant players. Hamilton is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. There's no way to really make up for that loss. Nedeljkovic is also gone after a breakout year and that leads to questions in net.

Biggest question: Is the goaltending good enough?

The biggest weakness for Carolina for years has been its goaltending. A Mrazek, Reimer tandem just was not good enough for a team with Cup aspirations. The ascendancy of the 25-year-old prospect Nedeljkovic seemingly came at just the right time and he registered a .932 save percentage and 1.90 GAA in 23 games in 2021.

Stunningly, however, Carolina elected to trade Nedeljkovic away and will rely on an Andersen, Raanta tandem in net. Rather than pay a budding starter who addressed the team's biggest weakness, now the Hurricanes will use a tandem that again does not look good enough to make them legitimate contenders.

Expectations: The Nedeljkovic trade will remain forever baffling and will be one the team will ultimately regret, but his departure affects the team's long-term trajectory more than the short-term. Without a true No. 1 goalie, I don't see them as Cup contenders, but they have shown they are certainly good enough in the regular season to get by with average to above-average goaltending.

The loss of Hamilton hurts and bringing in a player like DeAngelo has the potential to blow up in their faces, but this remains a very good, and very deep team. They lost two of their better players, but they got deeper overall and Sebastian Aho is a legitimate superstar.

Carolina is going to be one of the top contenders for the Metro this season and is my pick to win the division. Their goaltending makes them vulnerable in the playoffs, but they will enter the postseason as one of the teams to beat.