To be clear, I am not throwing in the towel on the 2016-17 season. Personally, I do okay with facing the reality of the actual odds but not completely chucking even the smallest morsel of hope until it is truly gone. But with the Hurricanes suddenly 6 points (adjusted for games played) out of a playoff spot, needing to catch multiple teams and trending in the wrong direction, here is a short wish list for if things must go the wrong direction.
1) A deep playoff run for Ron Hainsey
Maybe more than anything, if the Hurricanes are not going to make the playoffs, I hope that Francis trades Ron Hainsey to a team assured of making the playoffs and with a chance to go deep and contend. For me, it is unfair that Hainsey is in his 14th NHL season and will likely pass 900 games played but has yet to see a single playoff game. There are some teams that would make it challenging, but my goal, if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, is to root for Ron Hainsey making his first appearance in them at 36 years old (turns 36 in March).
2) A reasonable run of starts to figure out which end is up with Eddie Lack
If the Hurricanes fall out of the playoff hunt, 1 of the big decisions that Ron Francis will need to make this summer is what to do in net for the 2017-18 season. Healthy again, I would like to see Lack get enough starts in the final month of the season such that Francis can see if he can find some kind of rhythm and in the process a higher level of play.
3) The kids in Raleigh in March – Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown, Lucas Wallmark and more
Doing what is best for their development is the top priority, but my hope is that it includes a chance to see players like Roland McKeown, Haydn Fleury, Lucas Wallmark and others in Raleigh in March. Seeing how these players stack up at the NHL level is important for figuring out what they might/might not be capable of for 2017-18, but equally importantly, it also offers something to look forward to on the trek to PNC Arena post-playoff chase.
4) Sebastian Aho with Victor Rask
Who knows for sure until we see it, but the part of me that tries to predict what will happen with certain hockey things, has a hunch that this duo could work well. My thinking is that though the Aho/Staal/Lindholm line has been the team’s best that Aho’s playmaking ability could be better spent with a better finisher or 2. I commented in previous posts that I thought Aho’s 4G/1A week awhile back could easily have been more like 4/4 or 4/5 if not for a decent volume of near misses with Staal. I like Staal’s game, but he just is not a top-tier scorer. I would not say that Victor Rask is either, but I think 2 things could make him fit incredibly well with Aho. First, Rask is a cerebral player in terms of positioning and decision-making. I think that ability could fit really well with finding the right places to be and being on the same page with Aho who has a knack for generating offense with the puck on his stick. In addition, though I would not classify Rask as an elite finisher, I do think he is a notch higher than Staal in terms of his hands and footwork for receiving passes in scoring situations and also his shooting ability.
5) A step up for Noah Hanifin down the stretch
The Hurricanes’ record does not so much reflect it, but the 2016-17 season has seen a number of Hurricanes players take another step in their development. Ryan Murphy has missed, but Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce went from being top 4 defensemen to pairing to form a competent first pairing. That is a nice step forward. And though his scoring totals are not eye-popping, I think Elias Lindholm has taken a significant step up especially since being paired with Jordan Staal. And Sebastian Aho has made a nice transition from Europe to the NHL as a 19-year old and will likely finish the 2016-17 as 1 of the team’s best stories. While Noah Hanifin has not really taken a step backward, I do not think he has really taken a significant step forward either. With one-third of the season remaining, a strong finish by Noah Hanifin that sees him find a higher gear would top off a solid season in terms of the young players continuing to improve.
I will probably include a question like this in the Monday Coffee Shop when it goes up, but also feel free to comment here…If not the playoffs, what would you like to see down the stretch in the 2016-17 season?