The big news today was that defenseman James Wisniewski who was injured Thursday will miss approximately 6 months with a torn ACL. I wrote about the options to replace him HERE.
At some point, my evaluation of Hurricanes coaches becomes a very simple assessment of how many games they are winning relative to what I think an average, below average and above average number of wins would be (importantly) considering the level of talent that he has. I do not think we are all the way there yet after one season and one that was hindered before it started by injuries. But we are inching closer.
So at the fuzzier, how do I feel about what he has done and how he goes about things level, I am a fan of Coach Bill Peters. He preaches accountability and backs it up. And I do think he managed to gain buy in and effort level in 2014-15 for the most part despite struggles in the standings.
Shorter version: Put me in the camp that is pro Bill Peters pending more win/loss data.
But I also think that he has had a tough time in terms of building forward lines. I wrote about this twice recently. See HERE about my initial assessment of lines after preseason game 4. My feeling is that he sometimes does not see what is coming soon enough and also struggles with the challenging balance of doing a rational assessment, putting players together and leaving them that way and giving them enough time to figure it out versus shuffling constantly when things are not working.
I think there are a couple mitigating factors that make ‘how he learned it’ (in Detroit) significantly different from ‘what he can do here’ (in Raleigh).
1) The Red Wings had a few elite players in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk who seemed to excel in each and every aspect of the game – defense, offense, playmaking, goal scoring, etc. Maybe more significantly, both possessed that rare ability to seemingly make absolutely any set of line mates significantly better. The result was that in Detroit, I think it was almost too easy to build 2 lines with virtually any set of wings around Zetterberg and Datsyuk and have it mostly work.
2) The Red Wings are arguably better than any organization in the entire NHL at training players at the AHL to play the system perfectly and therefore be capable of parachuting into the NHL lineup and being instantly at least a serviceable player with minimal adjustment to role, responsibilities or style of play. I actually think that this is the secret sauce for Detroit’s long run of playoff berths. Regardless of volume of injuries (and they had a ton last season) and who is in the lineup Red Wings hockey does not look that different.
3) The Canes are light on pure NHL forwards. When Andrej Nestrasil can be cut from Detroit’s roster and then float about to the top 6 with the Hurricanes, it says something. When former Canes prospects who seemed to be close to claiming top 9 forward slots fill the waiver wire in early October as they go unclaimed by 29 teams on the way to the AHL, it says something. I wrote about this in more detail HERE. So I think it is important and fair to note that Bill Peters has some challenges.
If you think of that in comparison to the Hurricanes, I think it sheds some light on where Bill Peters’ training might be a mismatch for his current situation. Right now, the Canes seem to have a weird mix of puzzle pieces that seem to fit in only certain places. Jeff Skinner is still figuring it out defensively, so he can be a risk on a top line. The Canes do not get a bunch of playmaking from the center position. Eric Staal brings some, but Jordan Staal and Victor Rask (at least at his current stage of development) are great defensive players, decent at driving possession, but not the greatest at feeding line mates grade A goal scoring chances. The lineup in general is light on pure playmaking. Kris Versteeg helps, but I think you could make a decent argument that he is the only pure version of a puck distributor at forward. So whereas the Wings seemed to have more ‘universal’ pieces that could seemingly fit anywhere, I think the puzzle is more complicated with the Canes. I wrote about the challenge of the Canes puzzle pieces at forward in some detail HERE.
On top of that, I question the Hurricanes ability to get AHL players up to speed and at least ready to be serviceable at the NHL level if needed. The Canes prospect development has some big successes, but mostly of the “needed little or no time in the AHL” variety in players like Skinner (no AHL), Lindholm (no AHL), EStaal (1 season AHL during lockout), etc. But the story of Canes forward prospects performing well at the AHL level but then failing to adjust from being a scorer at the AHL level to a lesser role at the NHL seems prominent. Of the once highly touted group of Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Chris Terry and others only Terry has been able to round out his game enough to stick as a depth forward at the NHL level. And it is not for lack of openings or trying. So I think the other thing that Bill Peters faces which is different is that when players arrive from the AHL, they do not come prepackaged and ready to go like in Detroit. Hopefully new Checkers coach Mark Morris will improve on this front.
Shorter version: I think Coach Bill Peters is still very much figuring out how this is different from how he was trained in terms of figuring out line combinations.
And I think he has had some missteps along the way both in terms of not following a methodical process or priority list and in terms of going ‘full blender’ too quickly/too often when things did not work. He had a long stretch of basically 2015-16 preseason hockey from March to early April last spring when the Canes were out of the playoff hunt, but I think he missed on some things:
–Despite having 5 centers (EStaal, JStaal, Rask, Nash, McClement), he did very little tinkering trying to figure out options for moving 1 to wing. Eric Staal mostly stayed at left wing alongside Jordan which he had already had a chance to see/evaluate for 2 months. Unless my memory is wrong, we did not see Riley Nash or Victor Rask take any kind of extended run at wing. As a right shot (Canes are light at right wing) with enough straight line speed to play wing, Nash seemed like an obvious candidate to at least try wing to see how it looked. Instead, Peters did not get to that experiment until game 5 of the preseason this year.
–In the rush of preseason (which I admit is challenging with the compressed schedule) and with a team light on playmaking, he failed to give consideration to if/how the best non-roster playmaker might fit in the roster to help boost an offense that struggled in 2014-15. It is possible that Peters and his staff have a different assessment of Derek Ryan from training camp and just did not think he was NHL ready. But with some goals and heady playmaking, my assessment was that he just might have some of the missing element that the Canes need. But with the aforementioned logjam at center, he never even got a look with NHL-level forwards. I am not sure if Ryan is ready for the NHL. I am not sure if moving to right wing is just asking too much. But as a player who has a resume of creating offense, I would have found a way to get a deeper look at whether he could help.
–I also think Peters fell into the trap of trying too hard to make everything work instead of figuring out a list of top priorities and just honing in on that. When I look at a Canes team that finished 27th in the NHL in goal scoring for the 2014-15 season and look at 2 high-end scorers who underperformed, it seems obvious what the priorities should be. On Twitter awhile back, I described Canes line-making for me as pretty simple. First, get Jeff Skinner going offensively, and if successful at that, change absolutely nothing around him until he cools down. First (B), get Eric Staal going offensively, and if successful at that, change absolutely nothing around him until he cools down. Then build out the rest of the lineup however you best can without messing up the 1A and 1B priorities. The preseason saw Jeff Skinner burst out for 2 goals (plus another on the 3-on-3 exhibition in that game) on a line of Skinner/Nash/Versteeg only to end up on a completely different line at the next practice. For me, this is a case of trying too hard to find the perfect answer instead of focusing of thinking hard about what is most important and first focusing on that.
At a basic level, I just do not get a sense of process or priorities from Peters line juggling at forward. I am not privy to the thought process or the conversations between Peters and his coaching staff, but from the outside it looks like a random run of trying something new whenever something does not work.
I stand ready to declare my assessment premature if things settle down a couple weeks into the season and Peters establishes some forward combinations that both work and seem to last past a couple games.