After writing a mini-novel on the removal of Ron Francis from the general manager position for Thursday, today’s Daily Cup of Joe returns to the ice with a short ‘pros and cons’ series for a few players.
Elias Lindholm as a center
Pros: I touched on this in my game recap for Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Blackhawks. I continue to like Lindholm’s game at the center position. He is generally sound in terms of positioning and decision-making without the puck, and I think his game actually benefits from the increased responsibility. Whereas I much preferred Lindholm as a right wing entering this season, his play as a center at least has me considering the possibility of Lindholm as a center.
Cons: But even if capable there are a couple reasons why I think right wing might continue to be the better option for Lindholm. First is the team situation. Teuvo Teravainen has settled in nicely on on the right side which provides on top 6 scoring right wing. But past that the team is thin on the right side when one looks out a couple years. Lee Stempniak figures to depart this summer when his contract expires, and Justin Williams will be approaching 38 years old before the start of the 2019-20 season when his contract expires. There are a couple possibilities in the prospect pool, but I would consider right wing the strongest position in terms of filling a top 9 slot soon. As such, Lindholm fills the biggest gap on the right side. In addition, I think Lindholm is redundant in terms of skill set at the center position at least with the current makeup of the roster. Combined with Jordan Staal and Victor Rask, Lindholm would add another defensively capable but probably offensively light center on a team that desperately needs more of an offensive catalyst at the center position. On a roster minus Rask, I think the prospect of slotting Lindholm at center becomes more interesting. I think that scenario leaves an opening for Sebastian Aho or Martin Necas to be an offense-leaning center from within or for an offensive catalyst to be added from outside.
Joakim Nordstrom as a depth forward
Cons: On the surface, Joakim Nordstrom is quickly thrown into the heap of underperforming depth forwards by virtue of his meager scoring totals. His 2 goals and 2 assists in 62 games are a negative and do limit his usefulness in an NHL lineup. That is the obvious con for Nordstrom’s potential to help a 2018-19 team improve.
Pros: But from the group of Phil Di Giuseppe, Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris (who is already gone), Nordstrom could be the one who still fits even in a revamped lineup that goes younger and aims for more offense from the fourth line. I think he could be a perfect #13 forward. Coming off a $1,275,000 contract, he prices about right for that slot. And a veteran is preferred for the #13 slot. With younger players who are still developing, their development is better served by playing 18-20 minutes per game in the AHL versus being a healthy scratch at the NHL level. In addition, because of his defensive acumen especially on the forecheck and in the neutral zone, Nordstrom is the kind of plug and play player who could step into the lineup and at least not be a defensive liability as a short-term fill in.
Cam Ward as a backup goalie
Pros: Lost in the struggles of intended starter Scott Darling and another tough year overall for the goalie position for the Hurricanes is the fact that Cam Ward’s transition to backup actually went incredibly well. Peters and/or the team are sometimes (falsely in my opinion) accused of not giving Darling enough of a chance to get his feet under him and play his way up to a higher level. Darling received every starter type start for more than two months and 31 games into the season before Peters finally turned to Ward. Through 30 games of normal spot starts as a backup, Ward was 5-2-1 with decent underlying statistics. Since being pressed into service as a starter he is 14-9-3 despite fading a bit of late. Ward’s .907 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average are not particularly impressive, but his 19-11-4 record is more than good enough for a backup. What’s more, with three or more days rest (kind of the norm for a backup), Ward’s record is a stellar 11-3-2, and his other statistics improve to .915 for save percentage and 2.70 for goals against average. And along the way, he has proven capable of taking the reins if necessary. In short, Ward has been more than one could hope for in his transition into the backup role.
Cons: Considered in a vacuum by itself, the choice to bring Ward back as a backup goalie for the 2018-19 season seems like an easy one. But the situation becomes significantly more complicated when the considered as part of the broader goalie situation. Despite rating him highly as a backup, I do not see Ward as viable as a starter. At 34 years old, I think 20-30 starts in a backup role is a better fit. If the new general manager agrees with my assessment, that makes for a really interesting situation this summer. If the team retains Scott Darling (he is signed for 3 more years and not going to be easy to trade right now), I think it is incredibly risky to spend the other goalie slot on a player who is not at least potentially capable of being the starter. Or put another way, given the 2017-18 season, I would not feel comfortable entering the 2018-19 season in a situation where Darling must be the starter. The hope is that he rebounds and becomes the starting goalie that was envisioned when he was signed. But if I was going to go that route, I would definitely want to have a plan B in house given the risk. In my Daily Cup of Joe way back on January 11, I said that the fate of Cam Ward could be significantly influenced by the play of Scott Darling. I think that could become a reality. If Darling stays, it will be hard to justify keeping Ward instead of using that slot for another player more likely to step into and be successful as a #1 if Darling does not recover. So in short, despite receiving high marks in a backup role in 2017-18, I am not sure it makes sense to spend a goalie slot on Ward if Darling is still the other goalie.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who has other player pros and cons to bandy around?
2) What are your thoughts on the three that I presented?