With crunch time for the 2017-18 season officially here and the Carolina Hurricanes flailing a bit right now, opinions abound here, there and everywhere about what the team should do to right the ship.
The absolute best thing about this is the measure it provides for how many people are still deeply engaged despite the long run of playoff misses and the current duress.
The second best thing is reading or hearing and considering an incredibly wide range of possibilities spanning the full continuum from be patient and good times will arrive to blow the entire thing up and start over.
Not because my opinion is necessarily any more correct but rather in the spirit of healthy debate, today’s Daily Cup of Joe identifies five fairly common opinions I am hearing these days that I think are off base.
1) That calling up AHL players could not make a difference
There are obviously no guarantees that any AHL call up would make a significant difference or even be a positive at all, but I think the notion that this impossible ignores the reality of today’s NHL. The NHL is very much a young man’s game and one in which young players do regularly parachute into the NHL and make an immediate difference.
One need look no farther than the Hurricanes current roster for perfect examples. With only a handful of AHL games under his belt, Brett Pesce stepped directly into a top half of a roster role and performed admirably. The 2015-16 Hurricanes were bad enough that the difference was not enough to pull playoffs into range, but if anyone thinks that Pesce did not significantly boost the fortunes of the team over trying to make Ryan Murphy or Michal Jordan work as a top 4, then they either have a short memory or did not follow the Hurricanes that season. Sebastian Aho is a somewhat different story since he did not even make a stop in the AHL, but the general idea of young players rising up and being difference-makers before their time is not an uncommon one in today’s NHL.
The Boston Bruins rapid rise is being fueled at least in part by depth scoring from rookies Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk and rookie Charlie McAvoy stepping into a top 4 role and excelling. Arguably the biggest surprise in the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Devils, have three first year players among their top four scorers (Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher).
While there are no guarantees that AHL call ups could produce to say it is not possible ignores a reasonably common reality in today’s NHL.
And aside from the potential that it actually improves the team, I think one should not underestimate the effect that call ups often have on the current roster. Again, staying close to home, sputtering Hurricanes teams in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 were jolted into a higher gear by batches of AHL call ups that both provided reinforcements but also seemed to spark the veterans.
2) That Bill Peters should be fired
I am on record dating back to last March as saying the Bill Peters’ honeymoon period had ended and that he was officially on the clock and subject to post-grace period evaluation just like any other coach. And especially if the Hurricanes again miss the playoff, I think coaching is something that the team should look at closely. But at the same time, I just do not see how one could let Peters go after investing three years in him during a rebuilding phase and before he has truly failed in 2017-18 which I mark as the first year during which it was truly fair to evaluate him based on making or not making the playoffs.
Despite the recent losing streak, I stand by my comments in my Daily Cup of Joe on January 25 that said at a minimum he deserved to have the 2017-18 season to show what he could do.
3) That Max Pacioretty is too expensive
There are two angles to this. The first angle is that any sizable cost is just too much for a player who is only signed for 1.5 seasons and could walk as a free agent after the 2018-19 season. If nothing else has become clear from the Hurricanes February struggles in consecutive seasons that seemed to have the playoffs within reach, the fact that rebuilding somehow automatically results in a playoff berth after some period of time. It simply does not work like that. There is no guarantee that the Hurricanes will make the playoffs this year (obviously at this point) or that next year or the year after even will be any different. Climbing over the cut line and into the playoffs can be just as hard as advancing once you get there.
So in that regard, if the Hurricanes pay significantly in trade assets and even overpay within reason, I think it will be justified if that player plays a key role in pushing the team over the hump and into the playoffs even just once in the next two years.
I also think people react too much to published reports about what a general manager wants to receive for a player. Trades are two-way negotiations, so whatever a general manager says is just setting the high bar from where negotiations start. The rumored asking price is a first round pick, a second round pick, a lesser roster player and a prospect. So that is a lot obviously, but if I am Ron Francis, I call Bergevin and it hopefully goes like this:
Francis: Hi Marc. I see your asking price for Pacioretty and am willing to offer pretty close to that. I will give you Julien Gauthier (recent 1st round pick), a third round draft pick (downgrades 2nd slightly), Joakim Nordstrom (roster player) and your choice of the following prospects (list to include a set of players who do not rank among the Hurricanes’ best).
Bergevin: No way! We want Jake Bean not Gauthier and that third really does need to be a second and we want a different mid-grade prospect.
Francis: (calmly puts the phone down, counts to 20, musters up agitated tone and responds with) Jeez Marc. You must know that I am being pressured by the new owner and also that I fear for my job if we don’t make the playoffs. I realize that you are taking advantage of me and making me overpay with those upgrades, but I really have no choice. I will fax over the paperwork.
Francis: Hangs up phone and raises fist into the air realizing that he just added a bona fide top 6 forward with scoring acumen without giving up more than futures and replaceable depth.
For me Martin Necas is untouchable, but he is the only one in the prospect pool. To be clear, I am NOT in a hurry to trade Jake Bean, but that is a deal I would do. I would do any prospect at the AHL level and below not named Martin Necas plus a second round pick plus another piece or two as long as they do not dip into the higher-end of prospect pool or key parts of the NHL roster.
I imagine most have read it, but I originally made my case for Pacioretty both for 2017-18 and 2018-19 in my Daily Cup of Joe on January 25.
4) That the season is officially over
To be clear, I am not predicting a rebound. I am on record as saying that the 25 days (and 12 games) from January 30 through February 23 would decide the fate of the 2017-18 season and the Hurricanes are off to a sluggish 2-2-1 record for that stretch. I also pegged the team’s playoff hopes at 35-40 percent before the overtime loss to the Flyers. I stand by both of those assessments as mostly likely outcomes.
But at the same time, really what it takes for the Hurricanes to push into the playoffs is a single extended winning streak (something like 7-8 in a row or maybe 10 wins in 12 games). Though the team is burning through the best stretch of schedule to make that happen, that does not mean it is impossible for them to catch fire later as long as they can stay within striking distance. The current gap of only one or two points definitely qualifies.
So while the odds are decreasing with every home game that passes without progress, the season is not dead yet.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Of these four points, which do you think is most off base?
2) What else are you hearing/reading right now that you think is off base?