After a busy day, my start writing for Thursday’s Daily Cup of Joe was too late to do anything substantive on the draft. I will get to that in the days ahead. If anyone has comments or wants to discuss anything about the draft, feel free to also do that in the comments today.
Well-timed with news from the deadline to qualify restricted free agents on Wednesday, today’s Daily Cup of Joe works on building out the bottom of the Hurricanes forward group including depth.
I am on record as saying that the single biggest difference-maker that the Hurricanes could add would be an offensive catalyst in the form of a second line center. Such a player would be in place of Vincent Trocheck. Second to that, the Hurricanes could use another finisher at wing though must be careful with salary cap budget for that slot.
But as of right now, I group the Hurricanes forwards as follows:
Bona fide first or second line — Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov
Whether playing together on a top-heavy first line or split among the top two lines, this trio is a great starting point of young, capable offensive players.
Need to play and importantly produce at second line level to fit — Vincent Trocheck, Ryan Dzingel, Nino Niederreiter, Martin Necas
Below the big three are three players who ideally need to be a big part of the solution to being two lines deep offensively.
In his defense, Vincent Trocheck had an odd start as a Hurricane with two short stints separated by a four-month layoff. He had only a goal and an assist for two points in seven games during the regular season and then zero goals and two assists in eight games during the playoffs. Needless to say, a 22-point pace over 82 games does not cut it. On the positive side, the sample size is small and was under odd circumstances, so giving Trocheck more time to settle in and not making rash decisions makes perfect sense. On the other hand, actual results are worth considering even if not statistically complete. Given his salary, where he slots and the fact that the third line centered by Staal is almost certain to be scoring-lite, I have Vincent Trocheck pegged as the single most important forward on the Hurricanes given the current roster.
Nino Niederreiter is another player who needs to produce more given his salary and role. He is a bit one-dimensional such that he is either scoring or otherwise underperforming. He played at a peak level as a finishing power forward around the crease with Aho and Teravainen for a brief period after arriving and has mostly been wandering since. I would be surprised to see the Hurricanes buy anyone out this off-season, but when the salary cap situation gets even tighter next summer with Svechnikov’s new contract, Niederreiter could figure to be a buyout candidate if he does not re-find his scoring touch in 2020-21.
Also in the category of needing to do more offensively is Ryan Dzingel. A bit like Niederreiter, Dzingel really needs to produce on the score sheet to be a plus player. He did show flashes of playmaking with the puck on his stick, but his ability to make a difference comes from putting the puck in the net. He did that pretty consistently prior to joining the Hurricanes, so the upside is there.
Finally, there is Martin Necas. His situation is a bit different in that as a young player, there is reason to have a bit more patience with his development. But specifically looking at the 2020-21 season, Necas is a bit like Niederreiter and Dzingel in that his upside is scoring and offense and that he will be pressed to be a difference-maker otherwise.
The Holy Grail for the Carolina Hurricanes for the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes is if Trocheck can click with two out of three from Dzingel, Niederreiter and Necas to form a potent scoring second line. Whichever of Dzingel and/or Niederreiter is not producing has the potential to fall all the way out of the lineup as happened in the playoffs since their skill sets are not a great fit for more purpose-built lower lines.
Checking, grinding and complementary play — Jordan Staal, Brock McGinn, Warren Foegele
The next group is a trio of players who can bring a bit more rugged and have the potential to be a great defensive line but can at least chip in offensively. The Holy Grail here is if Jordan Staal can regain the level he played at on a checking-focused line with Joaquim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil. Paired with two players who were bottom half of the roster caliber players, Staal was so incredibly good that this line could play heavy minutes against other teams’ top lines and generally hold their own despite not scoring a ton. The problem at the time was that the Hurricanes did not have a legitimate scoring line to balance things out. That has changed. The question is whether Staal can re-find that gear via some combination of reaching a higher level of play himself and/or finding chemistry with a couple line mates. In my opinion, Staal was not at that level in 2019-20, so the question is whether that was just ups and downs or if he has lost a step or two now in the back half of his career.
Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele can slide up and down the lineup. They are best suited for playing on a physical checking line like the theoretical one build around Staal. Each player has enough scoring ability to be a short-term spark on a higher scoring line for short stretches, but I think at the point where either McGinn or Foegele becomes a regular on a top scoring line, it says something about the Hurricanes offense and scoring depth just like overslotted Hurricanes of years past like Chad LaRose, Patrick Dwyer, Nathan Gerbe and many more. McGinn and Foegele also play the type of game that fits well on a fourth line if they get bumped down.
Ideally, McGinn and Foegele are pushed down to the third or fourth line by players who can bring a bit more on the score sheet.
Good fourth-liners — Morgan Geekie, Jordan Martinook
Having only played a handful of games (VERY successfully) in the regular season and then the playoffs, Morgan Geekie‘s ceiling is not yet known. He was competent or better defensively as a center and better than good enough offensively. That is enough to earn more ice time in a fourth line role with a chance to be considered for promotion if things go well. Putting the longer-term future to the side, Geekie figures to have first try at being the fourth line center.
Jordan Martinook is another Chad LaRose-like bellwether in terms of Hurricanes forward depth. His consistent engine, leadership and high emotional IQ for what the team/bench needs is a great fit for the fourth line. Further, he scores at a good clip for this role. But maybe even more so than McGinn and Foegele, he is probably overslotted on a higher line for anything more than a short burst as a spark plug.
Geekie and Martinook had good chemistry in their time together on the fourth line in 2019-20. Ideally, they are reunited in that same role in 2020-21 and can continue to play a strong cycling game that minimizes chances against and generates above average fourth line scoring to boot.
The wild card — Justin Williams
I was on record as thinking the Hurricanes would have been significantly better off with one more year of Justin Williams’ leadership as the team tried to transition from being a bit of an underdog with no pressure and minimal expectations to a team with much higher expectations. With another playoff berth and at least modest success in the qualifying series win, I think the Hurricanes are ready to move on. There could still be a place for Williams, but I think he fulfilled his very important mission in terms of providing leadership and changing the culture. As such, I view a possible Williams’ return as much more of a mixed bag with pros and cons.
Netting out the current roster/lineup
When I net it out, I feel very good about the very top of the Canes forward group, and I feel very confident in team’s ability to stock a fourth line that has a role and a purpose. The big question marks are the middle six. Can Trocheck and company find a higher gear and chemistry and finally make the Canes two lines deep scoring-wise? Can Jordan Staal re-find his elite checking line center gear from a couple years back and be the core of an top-end match up line?
Looking outside for help — Dreams=> Hopes=> Cheap depth
I already voted no on Patrik Laine because of the financial challenges that he could bring, but I do think the Hurricanes could benefit from adding one more impact scoring forward. I wrote about the dream version of that in Steven Stamkos earlier this week. And I also wrote about the maybe somewhat more attainable options in players like Nikolaj Ehlers or Kyle Palmieri.
Today’s deadline for qualification of restricted free agents offers another interesting option. After acquiring him in the Vincent Trocheck trade, the Florida Panthers did not qualify Lucas Wallmark today. As an aside, I think the dirty little secret that most probably are not seeing is that the Trocheck trade was really a salary cap dump for the Panthers. They received temporary help in Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark to backfill Trocheck’s slot for the 2019-20 season but did not really intend to keep either. Combined with a couple mid-tier prospects, more so I think the Panthers were happy to get out of Trocheck’s contract. Here is hoping that Florida’s evaluation of Trocheck’s worth at least relative to his salary is off base. But looking forward not backward, Wallmark could be an interesting depth pickup for the Hurricanes. Though their skill sets are a bit different and Geekie’s upside might be a bit higher, the two are similar in their ability to do a few different things and fill a depth center slot with the potential to provide at least some scoring. Just as I think Canes fans overvalued Wallmark, I think many are overestimating Geekie as a sure thing as a regular NHLer. The early returns are clearly favorable, but adding inexpensive center depth could be a wise use of a fairly small amount of salary if the Hurricanes are unable to make a bigger addition. Minus Williams, the Hurricanes only have 12 forwards, so Wallmark could slot at #13 to begin with.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How do you feel about the possibility of the Hurricanes entering the 2020-21 season with the current forward group?
2) Of Trocheck’s scoring line and Staal’s checking line for the middle six forwards, which one do you feel more confident in? Does either concern you?
3) Assuming the Hurricanes cannot land a bigger fish in the form of a top 6 scoring forward, what are your thoughts on bringing back Lucas Wallmark for inexpensive depth?