I have a couple longer posts in progress on Jordan Staal and Noah Hanifin but do not have the time or energy to finish either today and figure 1 might make for a good extra Saturday post if weather forecasts hold, and everyone local to Raleigh is snowed or iced in for at least the first part of the day Saturday.
So instead here is a short collection of catch up notes and thoughts that have yet to make it into other posts:
Landeskog versus Duchene
I wrote about Duchene a lot already this week actually drafting a Canes offer to acquire him. I honed in on Duchene. First, it is not certain that either player is available at all or known what the asking price would be. Today someone asked me why Duchene and not Landeskog. Both are good players. Both are proven top 6 forwards. And either would make any NHL team better. I view Duchene as more pure speed and skill and Landeskog as more of a power forward with a little bit simpler game. Both are valuable, but as Peters’ system and style of play takes shape, I continue to value skating above all else which make me lean toward Duchene if given a choice between the 2. That said, if the only option were Landeskog, I would still be a buyer.
Check in on expansion draft shields on defense
Over the summer, I wrote about the need to either buy or manufacture an expansion draft shield for the defenseman position. Next June, the Hurricanes will need to expose 1 defenseman who either plays 40 games at the NHL level in 2016-17 or 70 games at the NHL level between 2015-16 and 2016-17. As of right now, the only option under contract is Justin Faulk which obviously is not going to happen.
From the current roster, the options are thus:
Ron Hainsey: Hainsey has met the experience requirement but is not under contract for next season. He would need to be extended before the expansion draft to qualify.
Ryan Murphy: Murphy is under contract for next season but would need to play 27 more games at the NHL level in 2016-17 to qualify.
Matt Tennyson: Tennyson would need to be extended and also play 17 more games at the NHL level in 2016-17 to qualify.
Klas Dahlbeck: Dahlbeck already qualifies experience-wise but would need to sign a new contract for 2016-17.
The short version is that the Hurricanes have options but not a ‘done now’ solution for this situation.
The goalie situation
In my post earlier this week evaluating the current roster and possible trade upgrades, I voted know on claiming Jaroslav Halak off of waivers simply because it makes no sense to tie up another $5 million annually prorated for this season but importantly also for the 2017-18 season. That said, the Hurricanes do have a growing problem at the goalie position. The positive is that Cam Ward has played well and held up his end of the bargain thus far. The negative is that the current formula of playing him each and every single game is not sustainable. Ward has now started 14 games dating back to December 3.
At some point, the Hurricanes are going to need to get a few starts from someone other than Ward. If one works through the rest of season’s schedule thinking about logical games for a backup, it goes like this. January has tomorrow’s back-to-back and then another next weekend both at home (January 13 & 14) and another the following weekend with travel (January 20 & 21). In a normal scenario, the backup would take 1 of the 2 games in each of the 3 back-to-back sets making for a normal 10/3 split of starts for the month. The front part of February is actually friendly to just riding Ward. The Canes have a back-to-back on February 3 and 4 but with 2 days off on both sides of it. Then the schedule is light until February 17 and nicely spaced out every other day through the end of the month. But that is when things get really dicey for not having 2 goalies. In 29 days from February 28 through March 28, the Hurricanes play 17 games including 4 sets of back-to-backs never with more than 1 day off. Even if the Hurricanes can work through January and want to ride Ward through a manageable February, the March schedule seems like a recipe for trouble if Ward enters it already dragging a bit.
So what can the Canes do? The options are limited and not great. As of right now, Eddie Lack’s availability is uncertain with his second concussion this season, and if/when he does return, he will be at least 2 months removed from NHL game action. That leaves Michael Leighton. I called for the team to give Leighton a shot when he was red hot at the AHL level early in the season. He eventually got a couple starts and had 1 incredibly good start and 1 pretty bad start. I think plan A is to do the white knuckler with what is available and give Leighton a start or 2 hoping he can find a couple good starts. If that does not work and if Lack is still not available, Francis will have a tough choice to make between just riding Ward at the risk of riding him right into the ground or putting more money into the goalie position. I actually think the latter could be viable if the Canes can push closer to the trade deadline and find a goalie whose contract expires at the end of the 2016-17 season such that there is no commitment into next season.
Would love to see more giddy up from Hanifin and Murphy
The transformation of the Hurricanes’ style of play to a skating and attacking style of play under Bill Peters is well underway. I think most telling is how comfortable the Hurricanes have looked recently in games against elite, skilled teams like Pittsburgh and Chicago who are willing to play that style of game. Against both opponents last week, the Hurricanes looked comfortable and played well enough to win despite only going 1-1. On the flip side, the Hurricanes look miserable and confused anytime a team can slow them down like New Jersey did on Tuesday. This skating style of hockey is theoretically right in the wheelhouse for Hanifin and Murphy but for whatever reason neither is thriving offensively in what seems like a well-suited system.
In the case of Murphy, I actually think he overcorrected away from his early games in the NHL when he would rush up the ice by himself in a straight line and often skate past his help and into a corner with not much for options other than a low percentage shot or dumping the puck to a place where his team mates behind the play had no chance to get there first. In trying to adjust his game to the NHL and looking for more options to move the puck forward, I think maybe he too much abandoned finding openings here and there and flying through them.
In the case of Hanifin, I think more so it is just that his game is still developing. When I think back to my first impression of him in prospect camp playing with other young prospects, his propensity to play with the puck on his stick and skate until he found a better option for it very much reminded me of Joni Pitkanen. The overdone version of that in prospect camp needed to be adjusted and I do see instances of Hanifin using his wheels to push pace up the ice. But I also just keep feeling like there is a higher gear for Hanifin in this regard that has a bit more attack in it.