It is a Carolina Hurricanes game day!!!!
For those looking for pre-game or similar, I got impatient after the long layoff and wrote that yesterday. You can find my ‘what I’m watching’ for the Canes versus Caps HERE.
When we lost saw the Carolina Hurricanes in action many months ago, consecutive injuries to Dougie Hamilton and then Brett Pesce left huge gaps in the blue line. General Manager Don Waddell opted to add reinforcements via the trade market rather than reach to the AHL. Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen were acquired. Skjei jumped immediately into the lineup and paired with Haydn Fleury on a new second defense pairing. Vatanen who was injured when acquired had setbacks and had not played in a Hurricanes uniform when the season was cut short. After the long layoff, the Canes figured to be deep on defense with Hamilton back, Vatanen and Skjei both still onboard and even Pesce a possibility later in the playoffs.
But fast forward to today, and the team might be right back where it was after the trade deadline. Pesce seems unlikely to play in the Rangers series, and now Hamilton is dinged up. Brind’Amour called him doubtful for Wednesday’s exhibition game. Hopefully being even a tiny bit hazy about the situation implies that Hamilton is at least a maybe for Saturday’s playoff start.
But just in case not, today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers how to build a blue line minus Hamilton and Pesce.
The good news is that the Hurricanes are still fairly deep at the position. All of Jaccob Slavin, Jake Gardiner, Sami Vatanen, Haydn Fleury, Joel Edmundson and Brady Skjei either played regularly or at least filled in in top 4 roles during the regular season. Trevor van Riemsdyk adds another experienced and capable NHL defenseman. So at a basic level, the Canes still have enough capable players to build out a legitimate NHL blue line.
But I think the hidden bad news could end up being that the mix of players is not ideal. Jake Gardiner seemed to find his game when the calendar flipped to 2020, but I still think he is borderline defensively as a top 4. Brady Skjei easily has the size and skating ability to be a solid top 4 defenseman, but in his small sample size in a Canes uniform, I was not sold. He very much reminded me of Noah Hanifin who similarly is a top-end skater but just seemed to be lacking in terms of awareness and decision-making. Sami Vatanen at least theoretically fits as a capable and competent right shot for the second pairing, but if Hamilton is out, is it possible that he slots up with Jaccob Slavin. Also in the mix would be Haydn Fleury who was playing in the top 4 with Skjei when the season was halted. When Gardiner struggled early on, Joel Edmundson slotted next to Pesce and was capable. The Canes are fortunate to have a ton of options, but I question whether they will now be trying to fill four top 4 slots with guys who are really #4/#5 types with some limitations.
Pre-Hamilton injury and before we had a look at Brind’Amour’s early pairings, I was onboard with not fixing what was working well which leaves Slavin/Hamilton. Then I liked Vatanen as providing some steady to go with Skjei or Gardiner for a second pairing. Missing Hamilton definitely complicates things.
In bullet form, here are some random thoughts:
* I was not nearly as big of a fan of Skjei/Fleury as many. As noted above, Skjei reminded me too much of Hanifin with intermittent issues with coverage and decision-making, and I just do not think Fleury is the right guy to try to cover for a partner.
* I prefer Gardiner in the third pairing probably with van Riemsdyk who is a steady veteran.
* I am on record as thinking Vatanen is a key. With Hamilton out and an overabundance of left shot defenseman, that is even more true.
* There is something to be said for Edmundson’s playoff run this year. Especially in the bottom half of the blue line, there is something to be said for steady and simple with a dose of physical.
* Slavin is going to need to log a ton of minutes, help boost his partner and be elite. Funny thing though is that that big challenge is not really on my list of concerns.
* With the odd restart, it might just make sense to go with whoever seems up to speed. That is a bit of a wild card.
* If pressed to make pairings minus Hamilton, I guess I would initially try Slavin/Vatanen, Skjei/Fleury, Gardiner/van Riemsdyk with a close eye on Skjei/Fleury for the possible need to separate Slavin and Vatanen.
What say you Canes fans?
1) For a Canes blue line minus Hamilton do you lean to being optimistic because of volume/depth? Or do you lean pessimistic because the team is again down two top 4 defensemen?
2) What would you do for pairings?