The playoffs are finally here, and in the lead up the Hurricanes took care of a partnership announcement, put in two days of practice and kept things murky on the goaltender situation.
1. The players had a day off Friday, but coach Rod Brind’Amour and GM Don Waddell were both at Wake Competition Center to introduce the team’s Morrisville practice facility as Invisalign Arena.
This isn’t a surprise to anyone who has a kid playing hockey in the area as the two-sheet facility has been branded with the Invisalign logo for a while now, but Friday made it official.
“I think it’s been a huge asset for our group,” Brind’Amour said of the facility. “Just take a look at it — it has anything we need, and there’s no excuses left.”
On top of the two ice surfaces, the Hurricanes have access to a state-of-the-art gym and training room along with a locker room that is similar to the one the team uses at PNC Arena. If you have ever been to the old Raleigh Center Ice, the team’s former practice facility, let me just say this is a biiiiig upgrade.
Waddell also said the Hurricanes will host the NHL Prospect Showcase in September, a four-team tournament held annually between the Hurricanes, Panthers, Lightning and Predators. Games will be held both at Invisalign and PNC arenas, but hosting the event doesn’t happen without the new practice facility.
“It’ll be another great showcase for us here to represent this Triangle region,” Waddell said.
Speaking of PNC Arena, naming rights on the nearly 23-year-old building are up in August and the team is in negotiation with PNC Bank and others on what Waddell suspects will be a seven-year agreement.
“We’re in dialogue with not only PNC but other companies right now,” Waddell said, “and not only in the Triangle area but nationally. … We have several — four or five — that are looking at it hard.”
Waddell said things should become clearer “in the next couple months.”
The previous 20-year agreement was worth $20 million per year.
2. The mystery man heading into this postseason is Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen, who was injured April 16 and hasn’t been on the ice since.
Brind’Amour said Andersen “touched the ice” the day before Game 1, and Andersen agreed that was the right way to describe the next step in his rehab.
“I’m progressing a little bit in terms of some of the movements that I’m trying to do,” he said. “Nothing really close to what I would like to do out there yet. But another day in the books and trying to get better and try to get back.”
Getting back on the ice is usually the first concrete step toward a player returning. Usually, an injured player will skate apart from the team for a while, return to practice and then get the green light to come back as long as there are no setbacks.
Andersen said the requirements for a goalie are a little different.
“I still have some work to do to get back because it’s not as straightforward for me as most positions. … Given my position, I have to be in a lot of different positions with my body,” he said.
3. Teams are generally tight-lipped about injuries, and players who are hurt are usually not made available to the media.
But Andersen was nice enough to speak to members of the Carolina chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association after we voted him the Hurricanes’ MVP for the 2021-22 season.
There was pretty of grumbling after Alex Nedeljkovic, a Calder Trophy finalist last year, was traded and Andersen was brought in as the lead dog of Carolina’s new two-headed goalie tandem.
Andersen had come off a rough time in Toronto, losing his starting job to Jack Campbell while battling injury and navigating the pandemic.
“It’s been a couple of tough years up there,” Andersen said. “I think, me personally, it was tough going through the whole pandemic up there. … It’s been nice to come down here and kind of get back on track and play well.”
The move has proven wise: Andersen is a Vezina Trophy contender, while Nedeljkovic hovered near a .900 save percentage most of the season. Part of that is the team playing in front of the two goalies, but Andersen came into the season having received Vezina votes before (2017-18 and 2018-19). That’s something none of the other four goalies — Antti Raanta, Petr Mrazek, James Reimer and Nedeljkovic — can claim.
He teamed with Raanta this season to win the William M. Jennings Trophy given to the goaltenders (minimum of 25 games) on the team that allows the fewest goals during the regular season.
Andersen already has the team MVP award and Jennings in his back pocket. He’s a good bet to be a finalist for the Vezina too.
4. Monday’s Game 1 starter will be making his first career playoff start. For both teams.
Boston’s Jeremy Swayman and Carolina’s Pyotr Kochetkov, as rookies, would have been unlikely to have started a playoff game before now, though that’s not impossible — Nedeljkovic made nine starts for the Hurricanes last year in the postseason and was still a considered a rookie this season.
Either way, neither have.
Normally, two goalies who have a combined 384 NHL games would have started a playoff game. Linus Ullmark — who was named the Bruins’ starter for Monday’s game — spent six playoff-free years in Buffalo before coming to Boston.
Raanta has played in the playoffs — five games, actually — but all his appearances were in relief. Three came in 2016 when he was with the Rangers in New York’s first round exit against Pittsburgh, and the other two were in Arizona in 2020 when he twice relieved Darcy Kuemper in another opening round loss, this time against Colorado.
Brind’Amour said he prefers it this way.
“I actually think it’s positive in a lot of ways because of the excitement level,” Brind’Amour said. “I think for Rants, he’s been around a long time and I’m sure he’s been really hungry to have this opportunity.”
Brind’Amour is right — Raanta has been waiting.
“That’s pretty much the goal when you play hockey, you want to play these games,” Raanta said, “and it’s gonna be exciting.”
The Hurricanes could also throw the Bruins a curveball and go with Kochetkov.
“I think if we go the other way, we got a kid that doesn’t know any better,” Brind’Amour said. “So he’s just happy to be playing, and I don’t even think he would be fazed.”
We’ll know soon if he gets the call in Game 1.
5. Andrei Svechnikov received the other award handed out by the Carolina PHWA, the Josef Vasicek Award. The annual award is given to the player who exhibits outstanding cooperation with the local media.
Svechnikov’s work ethic is already legendary, but what most don’t know is he worked just as hard to become a fluent English speaker.
In his first two seasons, back when media were in the locker room, Svechnikov would often pull aside media members to get clarification on questions he was asked so he could better understand.
Svechnikov always greets the media with a smile and answers questions, even the tough ones, honestly.
Other players — ones who would also be worthy of the award — might talk longer, give better sound bites or be more eloquent, but no one tries harder to make our jobs a little easier.
He even offered to be our translator for Kochetkov, whose English is still a work in progress.
“It’s kind of fun,” Svechnikov said of helping Kochetkov adapt by being his de facto translator. “It reminds me of those years when I couldn’t really speak English. It’s kind of hard for him, but I try my best to help him and I’m going to keep doing that.”