In a deal that has been talked about most of the summer and was a surprise to no one who follows the team, today the Carolina Hurricanes announced that Bill Peters had been extended for 2 more years (he was already under contract for 2016-17) through 2018-19.
Contract extension balances reward for progress and patience without overcommitting before the goal of returning to the playoffs is realized
I think the deal makes a ton of sense. It strikes the right balance between rewarding him for progress thus far, giving him enough time to finish what he started but does not commit long-term to assumed success. During his first 2 years at the helm of the team, the Hurricanes have very much been a team in rebuilding mode. Very few big names have been added to the mix. Instead, the team has gradually been getting both younger and better. The surge from December through February of the 2015-16 season (almost exactly half of a season) showed glimpses of what is hopefully to come. But with a team that is still very young and learning on the job at the NHL level, patience is in order. The 2-year extension gives Bill Peters 3 years from a decent starting point coming out of the 2015-16 to lead the team back to the playoffs.
Rebuilding for tomorrow with cautious optimism for today
Bill Peters justifiably receives nearly unanimous positive reviews from Canes fans for what he has accomplished in his first 2 years as head coach. The trajectory is good, but until the team returns to the playoffs, everything is a work in progress and nothing significant has been accomplished.
But the need to achieve measurable success must be balanced with recognition of the gradual rebuilding of the roster and the system. As the roster stands right now, four young defensemen are slated to take on significant responsibilities with only more youth as depth if there are struggles in that transition. Key departed veterans Eric Staal, Kris Versteeg and John-Michael Liles who I wrote about yesterday will be replaced primarily by youth.
There are legitimate reasons for demanding results (after 7 playoff misses), cautious optimism and patience for rebuilding the right way. But hockey is very much a young man’s game that often sees young stars arrive by seizing opportunities not developing gradually. That reality makes 2016-17 interesting and opens the possibility for sooner instead of later if Bill Peters
Lessons from the 2015-16 season and room for improvement
After a horrendous start, the Hurricanes played at roughly a 95-point playoff pace during their surge from December through the end of February. The surge was almost exactly half of the season. Summer optimism for teams that miss the playoffs is often built upon taking only the good part of a bad season and then projecting that across 82 games the following season. But saying that the a team is pretty good if you only look at a stretch of games when they are pretty good is not saying much.
To give the 2016-17 a chance, I think there are three areas where Coach Bill Peters and his staff must improve:
1) Being ready to go out of the starting gate. The Carolina Hurricanes 2015-16 was 90 percent over before the month of December started. By that point, the Hurricanes needed to play at a nearly impossible 106-point pace for the remainder of the season to get a 94-95-point playoff cut line. It is mostly covered up by choosing to instead keep the good memories, but Peters spent nearly two months of regular season games with forward lines in complete blender mode seemingly taking an extended preseason to figure out combinations that worked. Once they did, the results were great, but in an 82-game season where every game counts, it was already too late.
Peters must figure out how to find winning combinations much faster, ideally in preseason, and coax enough points out of what he has on the path to figuring out the ideal combinations.
2) Driving offense from the system and the back end. Lee Stempniak adds another potential goal scorer as do young forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, but minus Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg any kind of team scoring projection simply based on adding up individual players does not project significantly higher than what was achieved last season. The source for added scoring is not ticking off key additions who will score significantly more than who they are replacing. Rather, the path to added scoring comes from leveraging a young blue line that can skate and a system that utilizes this asset to push pace and attack with speed such that there is a boost modest scoring boost across the entire lineup caused by more and better scoring chances. Surely, I will write this up in some detail between now and the start of the 2016-17 season, but it will not be that different from this post just prior to the start of the 2015-16 season.
The Hurricanes greatest strength is quickly becoming its blue line which is stocked with offensively capable, skating defensemen. Bill Peters must figure out how to capitalize on this asset not just to gain improved defense but also as a catalyst for more pace, scoring chances off the rush and goals.
3) Coaxing a full season of at least average goaltending from the duo. A significant part of the Hurricanes 2015-16 roller coaster ride matched to rising and falling of the netminding. Cam Ward was shaky early, and Eddie Lack crashed upon landing trying to make the jump from Vancouver to Carolina offering no plan B for the early part of the season. Eddie Lack found his footing and was modestly better in the second half of the season, and Cam Ward played the best hockey he has played in multiple years during the team’s good stretch. But to have any kind of chance in 2016-17, I think the team will need to get at least average and importantly consistent/stable goaltending from wire to wire. There just is not enough margin for error to chuck games or short stretches of season into the loss column because of a disadvantage in net.
Some combination of Bill Peters, goalie coach David Marcoux and of course the goalies themselves must find a rhythm and consistency that gives the team a fair chance night in and night out with very few throwaway games.
I love the idea of seeing where Bill Peters and a maturing young team can go over the next three years. With some caution, I am also eager to see if Peters can pull some strings and pull at least stage one of success (just climbing into the top half of the league and the playoffs) into the 2016-17 season probably 1-2 years ahead of schedule.