Hello again friends
Hopefully this finds everyone doing well physically, financially and emotionally. While enjoying a break after five years of covering Carolina Hurricanes hockey on nearly an every day basis for five years, I have very much missed the Canes community in general and also the group here at Canes and Coffee. –Matt
When the pandemic abruptly halted the 2019-20 NHL season in mid-March now nine months ago, Canes and Coffee opted to take a break rather than trying to manufacture Canes content out of thin air for some unknown amount of time. After a return for the playoffs in the summer and a run of writing after that came intermission number two. Now with much more time away from Canes hockey than anyone could have ever wanted, we are ready and rearing to go for the start of the 2020-21 season.
The current plan is to resume posting Daily Cup of Joe articles every day Monday through Friday by the start of January and also to restart The Coffee Shop posts on Mondays and Thursdays with polls and discussion topics to help everyone get back in the swing of things.
So please hop right back into the conversation when you too reemerge from the long hockey layoff and make sure you tell a hockey friend to join us as well.
The state of the Canes entering the 2020-21 season
After some rumblings and rumors about the possibility of making a change in net or possibly adding a player or two, the team had a fairly quiet off-season. The team let veteran defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk, Joel Edmundson and Sami Vatanen leave for other opportunities in free agency which made sense given the addition of Brady Skjei at the trade deadline and the emergence of Haydn Fleury late in the season and in the playoffs. At forward, the team worked through a couple restricted agent signings and added only Jesper Fast. The other significant change that occurred midway through the 2019-20 season was the trade of centers Lucas Wallmark and Erik Haula for Vincent Trocheck and the call of up Morgan Geekie. And despite a reasonable amount of noise and rumblings, the Hurricanes emerged with all three of Petr Mrazek, James Reimer and Alex Nedeljkovic still in tow.
In total, when one looks at the current Carolina Hurricanes roster as compared to the end or even the beginning of the 2019-20 season, the core is very much the same. With a team whose core is still young and growing, betting on improvement from within is a reasonable one. And how much the Canes young group improves and grows will likely dictate the story of the 2020-21 NHL season.
At the most basic level, the upside of this team still rests with young players continuing to grow.
After an overall solid rookie season by Martin Necas, does he have a higher gear and more consistency in his second full NHL campaign?
After a significant step up in his sophomore campaign to 61 points in 68 games, is Andrei Svechnikov primed to emerge as a true NHL star either at or very close to an elite level?
Are high draft pedigree defensemen Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean ready to be difference-makers at the NHL level?
Could Alex Nedeljkovic be the biggest surprise and upside of all if given a chance in net on NHL ice?
Outside of the ‘young players continuing to grow’ theme, Vincent Trocheck is another player to watch as the Hurricanes look to take another step up. With Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen established as two-thirds of a bona fide first NHL line, and Jordan Staal light on offensive production and maybe best suited for a narrower, focused third line role, the Hurricanes more than ever need to develop a second scoring line. There are decent options on Martin Necas, Ryan Dzingel, Nino Niederreiter and possibly even Andrei Svechnikov if Brind’Amour opts to balance lines out, but most probably Vincent Trocheck figures to be the all-important pivot for that line.
The Hurricanes are a deeper team than it was only a couple years ago, but I do still see a couple risks with this team. In terms of filling out the top 4 on defense, the blue line is rich with options but potentially light on sure things. Despite having Slavin/Hamilton fire on all cylinders with Hamilton taking off offensively and Slavin continue to do his thing defensively, the rest of the defense in 2019-20 did not offer the same top to bottom steadiness as the prior season. Jake Gardiner struggled mightily adjusting to his new team such that Joel Edmundson logged more minutes in the top 4. Gardiner did make some progress as the season wore on. Haydn Fleury emerged late in the season and could be ready for a bigger role. And Brady Skjei added another player who clearly has the physical tools. If Brett Pesce can return successfully from his shoulder injury, the Canes definitely have enough options to build a second pairing, but at the end of the day, someone has to be a steady top 4 on a nearly every game basis for the Canes to return to the level they were at in 2018-19.
In addition to offering upside, Vincent Trocheck is a risk. His odd start in a Canes uniform that included a short stint before the pandemic-induced NHL shutdown and then another short run of playoff games after a long layoff is not enough to draw final conclusions, but it is fair to say that Trocheck really did not click in his two short stints thus far. He did not produce enough offensively, and he did not seem to click with line mates to suggest he is the answer as a second line scoring center. I think that second line currently set to be built around Trocheck is the key to the forward lineup. If that line goes, the Canes become two deep offensively. If it does not, the Canes become very top-heavy offensively with not enough depth scoring-wise.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How do you feel about entering the 2020-21 season without a significant upgrade personnel-wise? Is the potential for continued growth from a young core enough? Or did they ideally need to add a bit more?
2) What do you see as the single biggest upside for the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes as compared to 2019-20?
3) What do you see as the single greatest risk entering the 2020-21 season?