With June officially here, the time has come to launch into an extended series of articles focused around building the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes hopefully for a return to the playoffs. Over the course of the summer, the team will need to make many decisions big and small that impact both the short-term and the long-term for the franchise.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe kicks off the series by identifying the four biggest decisions that the team must make this offseason:
1) A decision on Bill Peters and the coaching role going forward
This was already decided already when the team won a game of chicken that saw Peters opt out of the last year of his contract to flee to Calgary. Shortly thereafter, Rod Brind’Amour was named the team’s new head coach. I think how well Brind’Amour adapts to his new role is critical for the 2018-19 season. There is room to improve roster-wise, but the biggest gains to be had are from a change in attitude, mentality and all of the fuzzy things. Rod Brind’Amour was a strong leader as a player. If he can get that to translate to a coach’s suit, it could be exactly what it takes to return to the playoffs. If he instead struggles as an inexperienced first year head coach, the 2018-19 season could be written off to his trial.
2) A decision on Jeff Skinner long-term
I think the second biggest decision to be made this summer is Jeff Skinner. His contract is up at the end of the 2018-19 season, so the timing is right for management to decide right now if he is part of the long-term plan and act accordingly by inking him to an extension this summer rather than risking his departure with no return. If he is not part of the long-term plan, then the time is now to act accordingly and trade him to collect as much return as possible. In that regard, the situation is a tricky one since Skinner possesses a no-trade clause that requires his approval to be dealt.
Justin Faulk is in a somewhat similar situation coming off a sub-par 2017-18 campaign and with a big contract and impending free agency approaching. However, Faulk is signed for two more years which offers more time to resolve the situation possibly after seeing how Faulk fares under Brind’Amour.
3) Resolving the goalie situation
Somehow, some way, someday…The Hurricanes need to get league average goaltending. Very likely this occurrence will coincide with a long-awaited return to the playoffs. In what has become an annual tradition at this point, the Carolina Hurricanes will enter the offseason looking to improve upon sub-par goaltending. The situation is a complicated one because Scott Darling still has an expensive three years at $4.1 million (salary cap hit) remaining on his contract. As such, the obvious solution of replacing him is at a minimum costly and at a maximum just not viable. Word from 1400 Edwards Mill Road and Don Waddell’s office is that the team might retain Darling and actually go with three goalies (which would suggest Cam Ward stays too). Simple options are not really available, but going with three goalies has to be near peak for choosing a convoluted and unconventional solution to having sub-par goaltending. Regardless, how this situation gets resolved and its level of success will play a significant role in the 2018-19 season.
4) Deciding the mix between leaving room for rising rookies versus adding proven NHL upgrades
When one does the math on the current roster, the potential is there for the opening night lineup to have four or five rookies in it. As the Hurricanes are not (intentionally) in rebuilding mode, that number on the surface seems high. The challenge for management is to figure out how to leave room for youth that can make a difference but also not be so thin in terms of proven players that players are forced to the NHL even if they do not prove to be ready. The risk on one side is filling too many slots with ‘meh’veterans and therefore tamping down any upside just like in 2017-18. The risk on the other side is turning the 2018-19 season into a ‘learning on the job’ season for too many players who just are not ready therefore causing the 2018-19 season to morph into an unplanned rebuilding year.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of my four biggest decisions would you rank highest?
2) If you had to add a fifth biggest decision, what would it be?