Bryan Bickell and his family
At the tail end of a busy day full of Hurricanes hockey transactions today, the Carolina Hurricanes announced that Bryan Bickell had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The announcement was a stark reminder that hockey is just a game and hockey fandom is just a hobby and that there are significantly more important things in the world. I wish Bryan Bickell and his family all of the best as they face a significant life change.
On December 3, 2015, the Carolina Hurricanes lost at home to the New Jersey Devils by a score of 5-1. The loss was the team’s third in a row and arguably the low point of the 2015-16. The loss to start December followed a 3-6-4 November. Following the loss to the Devils the Hurricanes were 8-13-4 and were in last place in the entire NHL and the 4 remaining months of the NHL season looked dismal.
On December 4, 2015, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis shook things up by recalling Jaccob Slavin, Phil Di Giuseppe and Brock McGinn from the AHL. Di Giuseppe became a fixture on a scoring line with Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask, and Jaccob Slavin worked his way up step-wise from third pairing to top 4 to being the team’s best defensman down the stretch when Justin Faulk was out with an injury.
And the team responded. The team won its next 2 games, 4 of its next 5 and finished December with an 8-4-1. The team went on to play at a 105-point pace for a full 3 months before a combination of injuries to Faulk and Nestrasil and trade deadline deals of Staal, Liles and Versteeg greatly reduced the NHL content in the roster.
The 3-month surge showed that the Canes could be better than their week start, but it also clearly demonstrated that it is possible for a team to create an insurmountable deficit if it plays poorly enough in October and November.
A flurry of Carolina Hurricanes roster moves on Friday
Today after 13 games and a slow 3-6-4 start, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis has again reached to Charlotte to shake things up.
Friday’s flurry of moves included:
* Placing Justin Faulk on injured reserve.
* Placing Jakub Nakladal on waivers (presumably to go to the AHL if he clears).
* Sending Phil Di Giuseppe to the AHL Checkers (he does not need to clear waivers).
* Announcing that Bryan Bickell had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (and without saying it directly) and would be out of the lineup longer-term.
* Recalling Derek Ryan from the AHL.
* Recalling Brock McGinn from the AHL.
The lineup and the message
More than anything, I think Ron Francis is using the tools most immediately at his disposal to send a message an see if he can jump start things. He knows from 2015-16 that this team is dangerously close to spiraling down in November possible at the expense of the entire season.
In addition to the hoped for spark psychologically with the shake up, there is also hope that the changes can also spark the suddenly sluggish offense. Both McGinn and Ryan have been on fire at the AHL level. Ryan leads the Checkers with 13 points in only 9 games, and McGinn leaves Charlotte with a 7-game point streak and has 10 points. Arguably, the only player hotter in Charlotte right now is Michael Leighton who is a perfect 6-0-0 to start the season with a scintillating .945 save percentage and 1.35 goals against average. I wrote the Michael Leighton story at the beginning of the month and stand by it.
We will not know where the reinforcements slot into the lineup until Saturday’s morning skate, but my hope is that Coach Bill Peters keeps the high-scoring AHL duo together.
Thoughts on Hurricanes transactions today
I like the idea of trying to spark the team from below especially with a few players at the AHL level playing incredibly well right now. But if I were GM, I would do 2 things differently. First is that the longer Michael Leighton plays lights out, the more I think Ron Francis could be missing a chance to catch lightning in a bottle with a hot goalie. Hot beats good at the goalie position, and Leighton is exactly that right now. Second is that my preference would be to try abandoning the fourth/pure checking line centered by Jay McClement and build 2 bottom lines capable of skating and scoring. That said, I do like the idea of trying to do something to spark the team.
With the high-powered Capitals in town tomorrow, here is hoping that Ron Francis’ shake up has the same impact as last season and provide an energy boost and a return to winning ways.