First, let me acknowledge that it is premature to make any kind of final declaration on the state of the Carolina Hurricanes entering the 2018-19 season. I still think there is a reasonable probability that the team is willing to trade Justin Faulk to add one more proven forward for the top half of the roster. And with a batch of promising rookies like Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Warren Foegele, Valentin Zykov and others whose ceilings are high enough to be difference-makers at the NHL level, the potential exists for a youth-led surge.
Let me also say that I like the current trajectory of the team. I believe that the team is on the path to returning to the playoffs.
But the question is when and more directly as we approach training camp what the prognosis is for the 2018-19 season.
What follows is a pre-training camp assessment of the team. I am book marking this article to revisit in early October to see if/how much it changes after training camp and preseason offers at least an initial set of meaningful on-ice assessments of many unknowns.
A complete dice roll: Neither of the teams two goalies played well enough in 2017-18 to garner a starting role for the start of the 2018-19 season. It would not be a stretch to say that based solely on 2017-18 play, neither would even win a backup job if the roles were given out only based on previous season play. That paints a picture more dire than I think many Hurricanes fans acknowledge.
But there is a flip side. Both players did in the past play at a level good enough to win a starting role and even be pretty good at it. Scott Darling has yet to succeed as a true #1, but he did show the potential to do so in filling in for Corey Crawford in Chicago. Petr Mrazek had a stretch of solid play as a #1 that vaulted him over Jimmy Howard and won him a nice contract. But he has not lived up to it since.
When I net it out, the goaltending situation does have the potential to work. But looking at it objectively, the starting point is significantly lower than arguably every other team in the league which tilts the odds toward being dice roll with mediocre odds at best. The willingness to go with two goalies who were sub-par in 2017-18 screams ‘patient rebuilding’ more so than ‘going for it now.’
The addition of Andrei Svechnikov with the #2 overall draft pick in the 2018 NHL Draft boosted a group of forward prospects that already had the potential to fill a couple top 6 forward slots fairly soon. But as relates to success in the 2018-19 season, the burning question is about timing.
The Hurricanes lineup will likely feature three rookies in the top 9 and possibly even four.
And my count of NHL-proven top 9 forwards on the current roster coming out of the 2017-18 season tallies only four – Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal and Justin Williams. We could debate whether Brock McGinn qualifies or whether Victor Rask qualifies based on his play prior to a disappointing 2017-18, but the fact that there is a debate just for finding a fifth and sixth proven top 9 forward, the point has been made.
Consider that it is reasonably likely that a rookie slots with Aho and Teravainen on what I would deem the team’s top scoring line. Consider that separating Aho and Teravainen from Jordan Staal would mean that his wings on the second line would be sub-50 point players. Consider that there is a good chance that the third line will include two teenage rookies.
The long-term ceiling for the forward group is high because of the couple good young players already in the lineup and the high ceiling for a couple prospects. But specifically looking at October of 2018 when the current NHL season kicks off, the Hurricanes forward group is incredibly light on experience, proven players and proven scoring. If Svechnikov and Necas hit the ground running at the NHL level which is entirely possible, the outlook could be wildly different in only six weeks. But as of right now, I think the fairest characterization of the forward group is to say that the team is rebuilding but with the potential for an early surprise because of the caliber of the high-end youth.
The blue line is a different story and at least on paper the strength of the roster. The defense has the potential to finally be the difference-maker for the 2018-19 season. With the addition of two veteran, proven top four defensemen in Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, the Hurricanes could suddenly actually have a blue line capable of driving wins. If Hamilton and de Haan find chemistry out of the gate, it is not impossible that Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce become the second pairing after being at least serviceable in a top pairing role together. If Faulk stays, the group is also incredibly deep, but even if Faulk departs, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury represent a solid third defense pairing.
The blue line is by far the most know quantity of the Hurricanes current lineup equation. Can the defense be a strength that presents a stable environment for the goalies and supports the young forward group? If so, just maybe it can be the strength that propels the team forward.
Not to be overlooked in focusing on the lineup is the fact that Rod Brind’Amour is also a rookie. We will not know for awhile whether he can excel as a head coach like he did as a player, but it seems reasonable to expect that he will face some growing pains too. The hope here is that Brind’Amour can drive an immediate attitude and culture change that trumps any growing pains tactically.
Netting it out
It pains me to say it, but when I net it out, I think the current version of the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes is very much a rebuilding team. But because of the high ceilings of the rookies and the potential upside from rough 2017-18 seasons for the two goalies, I think the potential for an upside surprise is significantly higher than average.
If the dice roll on the goalie situation comes up a winner, that alone could put the team into the playoff mix. If one then couples that with a couple of the rookie forwards rising up ahead of schedule, the team could very quickly shift from being a young rebuilding team to a young team that has arrives somewhat like the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Am I being too harsh in characterizing the current roster as a still rebuilding team? Or is that a fair characterization of the situation?
2) What do you make of the Hurricanes forward group that seems very light on proven top 9 forwards?
3) In a sentence or two, how would you describe the current version of the Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 roster?