With the change in ownership, management, coaching, the captain and a number of players since the start of the 2017-18 season, Hurricanes fans entered the 2018-19 season hoping that the changes would yield different results. And in the NHL reshuffling the deck completely does have the potential to yield results. But in wishing and hoping that different would mean better, the potential for overoptimism crept in.
Evidence for the ‘R’ word
If one considered the details heading into the season, the situation was very clearly that of a team that was rebuilding.
* The team was relying on a rookie head coach without assistants with head coaching experience to lean on. There was going to be a learning curve for Brind’Amour.
* The team entered the season with five rookie forwards in the lineup and hopes/expectations that two rookies (Necas and Svechnikov) would be able to hit the ground running as scorers at the NHL level. Likely at least some of these players would struggle a bit stepping up to the NHL level.
* And finally, the team was content to enter the season with two goalies who could be considered reclamation projects fighting for the starting goalie slot. Though the goaltending and last try on Scott Darling did cost the team some games early in the season, the goaltending has actually become a strength.
In a league where more than half of the teams make the playoffs and surprising young teams rise up every year, anything was possible, but just as likely as a surge upward was a season of growing pains for a young team. The youth of the team makes it possible at any point that things click with the young players and the team suddenly surges up the standings. But thus far, the season has been much more ‘learning on the job’, and it is very possible that this just continues.
Evaluating early results
Of the five rookie forwards who started the season in the NHL, Valentin Zykov is gone to waivers and Andrei Svechnikov to the AHL after not being ready at the start of the season. Warren Foegele started hot but disappeared from the score sheet and is now on pace for only 14 points in an 82-game season. More significantly, his ability to affect the game with his tenacious play and bull in a China shop mentality seems lost. Lucas Wallmark is competent as a two-way center, but he has been unable to generate much offensively. He is on target for 27 points. Finally, Andrei Svechnikov who entered the season as a Calder candidate is ranking 5th to 7th in most mid-season roundups. Like Wallmark, he has proven competent but not significantly better than that thus far. His 41-point pace is a nice first step for an 18-year old prospect, but in terms of slotting him on a good NHL team based only on actual results for the first half of the season, he would be a decent third-liner providing depth scoring. When one nets it out, the Canes rookies have played like rookies. That is not a bad thing long-term if these players can continue to improve, but it is not recipe for being a great team in the here and now.
An enthralling preseason without a regulation loss followed by a 4-0-1 start to the 2018-19 regular season offered the possibility that the changes combined with Brind’Amour’s leadership had instantly transformed the team into a winner. But the longer run has increasingly looked like more of the same with the team mustering good games here and there but also too many efforts that were just not good enough. It is a subjective opinion, but during the team’s recent struggles, Brind’Amour has reminded me of the end of Kirk Muller and Bill Peter’s runs where the only answer seemed to be a general “we need to do better” and not much for answers or tactical or other changes that make a difference.
As noted above, the goaltending that was arguably the biggest question mark entering the season has actually been a positive.
So what’s next?
The team will need to right the ship soon or it to matter for 2018-19, but with a young team the potential is always there that things click and that the team plays at a much higher level down the stretch. But the higher probability is that the team continues to grow and learn but also hit bumps along the way that make for mixed results.
Most interesting will be watching to see what management does. Will it allow a rebuilding season to run its course like Francis did and collect a return at the trade deadline? Or will Dundon’s self-described dislike of losing prompt moves aimed at making something out of the 2018-19 season? With the team falling off the playoff pace at a rapid rate recently, time is quickly running out to make changes aimed at 2018-19 results.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think it is accurate to say that the 2018-19 season should have been labeled a rebuilding year from the outset? Or is this just hindsight being 20/20?
2) Of the rookie forwards who are still learning as NHLers, do you think any will break through and become more than serviceable NHLers by the end of the 2018-19 season?
3) What are the chances that the young team puts it together all of a sudden and charts a different path up and into the playoffs with a second half surge led by the young guns?