I have spent the majority of my recent Hurricanes brainstorming time on the blue line. I think it is both the most interesting story going right now and probably the best story to follow if the wins/losses continue on the current trajectory, and I need something fun for the latter part of the season.
If you cannot take more blue line brainstorming randomness, please stop reading now and save yourself the irritation. 🙂 In some strange way, I think it is my way of easing the pain and maintaining optimism at least for the future since the development of this group will likely be the foundation of better times as a Canes fan.
I do not think it is a regular pairing right now, but I actually liked the idea of pairing Jaccob Slavin next to Justin Faulk. Throwing him right in at the highest level hopefully showed him that he is not there yet but also left him with the realization that he has the skill and natural ability to get there.
In advance of Jaccob Slavin entering the mix, I was fully in the camp that says ‘the current defense’ is not working (more from an offense-creating standpoint than just defense). If he can settle in and find chemistry with a partner, Slavin could help with that. He definitely projects to help with creating offense down the road.
But when I think about who does what well and also about where the as-currently-constructed Canes defense has issues, the out of left field part of me thinks that a Brett Pesce/Justin Faulk pairing could actually be the best option. This idea comes from thinking that Hainsey/Faulk is not working, recognizing that Francis will not swing a trade for a top pairing defenseman and evaluating who is good at/not good at what.
Yes. I know that they are both right shots.
This said, I would explore the idea of pairing Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce. They are both right shots, so that sits as an immediate road block. Do either have experience (if Faulk does it is very little) playing on their off side? Could either adjust easily/quickly or would their games have too much of a setback? Etc.
It is completely possible that Peters tries this and very quickly realizes that it just will not work because of the adjustment. If that happens, you recognize it and move on quickly.
Assuming that hurdle can be cleared, here is why I think this makes sense.
Evaluation of Hainsey/Faulk
If you look at Justin Faulk from 2015-16 so far, it is mostly positive but a mixed bag. I think some of the mixed is directly tied to Ron Hainsey. A few of my observations from watching Hainsey/Faulk for most of 18 games now:
1) Despite Faulk’s strong scoring production, the duo is creating very little offensively 5v5. My log of Canes goals credits Faulk with involvement in only 4 scoring plays for at even strength and Hainsey with 3. That is not enough for a defense pairing that is playing 20+ minutes per night at even strength.
2) They have struggled at times defensively, and I think much of it is Hainsey. He has been directly involved in a team-leading 14 goals against. Faulk is second with 11. There just are too many breakdowns ranging from small to big.
3) One of Hainsey’s biggest struggles is moving the puck. It is in multiple regards. I do not think he is strong in terms of providing support/outlets for his partner, and I think he too regularly falls into the trap of using up his options and time such that when he moves to his partner it is too late, too obvious and too likely to have them receiving a puck in a difficult situation.
4) The positive in terms of moving the puck for this duo is almost unanimously the play where Faulk gets the puck on his stick with some kind of opening and pushes the pace out of the defensive and in/through the neutral zone by himself.
How does Pesce potentially help?
In terms of rectifying a couple issues with the current top pairing, I think that either Pesce (or potentially Liles) offers the greatest help.
I see Pesce’s strengths so far as follows:
1) He has been better than expected defending without the puck.
2) For his age/experience level, he pretty consistently sorts things out correctly and at least mentally makes the right play/decision.
3) He has a very good understanding of where to go/how to support the puck especially when his partner has it. He similarly has a very good knack for not holding/carrying the puck up to the point where he hits a dead end and then chucking it to his partner regardless of situation. Instead, he has been very good at getting rid of the puck BEFORE he has to and putting his partner in situations where they are not immediately under duress. (This is Hainsey’s biggest problem offensively in my opinion and also where Jordan struggled on his off side.
Put more briefly, for being only 21 years old and just entering the NHL, Brett Pesce has a pretty highly developed skill set of a safe and sound stay-home defenseman (importantly with upside offensively maybe longer-term).
If Pesce can do what he is already doing against a slightly higher mix of top competition (he already sees a good amount of it playing in the second pair) and (importantly) with the sometimes challenging adjustment of playing on his off side, I think his skill set actually offers better support for Justin Faulk with a sound and solid defender on the other side who can support behind him when he heads off with the puck. I think that is important to note that I am not suggesting this pairing as a current sacrifice in the name of future development. I actually think that Brett Pesce might offer better support for Justin Faulk right now.
Justin Faulk would do the heavy lifting in terms of moving the puck just as he is now with Ron Hainsey, but I think the key difference could be Pesce’s better ability to get the puck to Faulk in better situations, and I also think he could prove much better in providing puck support for Faulk once he gets going. And based on what I have seen so far, I do not think the pairing would take a hit in terms of defensive zone coverage.
Looking to the future
I do not want to jump too far into the future, but right now the Canes are slotted to have 4 right shot defensemen for 2016-17 (Justin Faulk, James Wisniewski, Brett Pesce and Ryan Murphy) and only 2 left shot defensemen (Ron Hainsey and Noah Hanifin). This assumes John-Michael Liles is not re-signed. It also does not account for Trevor Carrick or Jaccob Slavin. Slavin obviously gets his chance to play his way into the mix. My early read on Slavin is that he, like Hanifin, is going to take some time to round out his game defensively, but that judgment is better saved for after he at least plays a few games at the NHL level.
Slavin already has a run of time playing on the right side in the AHL. Figuring out who can (or even who cannot) play on the opposite side is good to know for building out the future of the Canes defense.
This 1 clearly comes from the files of ‘Matt’s out of left field ideas’, but then so did chucking Brett Pesce straight into the top 4, so maybe I am running hot right now.
With 4 left shot defensemen to go with Pesce and Faulk right now, what might make sense is to put it on hold right now while taking a bit longer look to see if Slavin is getting a taste of the NHL or staying and also to get Murphy back to add another right shot to balance at least 1 of the other pairs.