Wednesday’s round of roster cuts saw Matt Tennyson sent across waivers and ultimately to Charlotte. Hurricanes fans pounced on the realization that Tennyson’s demotion more or less assured that another NHL roster spot would be filled by 1 of the young blue line prospects. In my opinion, the more interesting upshot could be what it says about the #6 slot. That article was the subject of yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe which was basically a prologue for this broader roster discussion.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a deeper dive into the final steps for building the opening day roster.
Carolina Hurricanes roster cuts on Thursday
The starting point for the discussion is the follow up set of roster cuts on Thursday and the resulting roster.
Cut today were both 2016 first-rounders Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier who will rejoin their respective junior clubs. Because of his need to develop a bit more physically to be NHL-ready, Bean’s eventual departure was mostly a foregone conclusion from the start of training camp. Entering training camp, I thought Gauthier with his NHL-ready size and power forward skill set might be a dark horse to stick at the NHL level at least for a 9-game trial. But after seeing him in preseason game action, it became clearer that despite his promising skill set, his all-around game was not yet mature enough for the NHL. Both players depart Raleigh with the high hopes for their future fully intact. Jake Bean’s heady play shows through in game action much better than in drills and practices, and while Julien Gauthier has work to do to round out his game, attention to detail and every shift consistency, his potential is unmistakable.
Also cut were a batch of players headed for Charlotte to join the AHL Checkers. That group included defensemen Jake Chelios and Dennis Robertson, goalie Alex Nedeljkovic and forwards Andrew Poturalski and Valentin Zykov. Jake Chelios has come a long from being a short-term injury replacement in Charlotte last season to winning a 2-way contract with the Hurricanes to holding his own in training camp. At 25 years old, he looks nothing like the headline-grabbing young prospects but has worked hard to carve out a place in the organization.
Maybe to some relief, Raffi Torres completed his try out without incident and was cut today. His past is well-documented, but it is important to note in fairness that his short stay in Raleigh came without any negative incident. As I noted in my post last week back, at 34 years old, he just was not quite capable of matching NHL pace especially in Bill Peters’ system. Aleksi Saarela who was on the roster but never actually in training camp because of an injury sustained prior to training camp was also officially cut and returned to his team in Finland.
An odd not cut but cut list includes Tyler Ganly and Andrew Miller. Ganly was injured by a thunderous Brendan Woods’ hit in the Red-White scrimmage and did not see any preseason game action. Andrew Miller is similarly on the training camp roster but not really active because of injury. Both players are destined for Charlotte once ready and can unofficially be deducted from the list of players still competing for roster spots.
The winners and most notable surprises
With the adjusted roster sitting at 30 players (32 minus Ganly and Miller), timing is right to check who is left and gather some information about players moving up the depth chart. The most notable survivors at forward are arguably 2014 draftees Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark. Foegele who still does not have an entry-level contract but is clearly on the path to get one is the last man standing from the group of players who could return to Canadian juniors outlasting 2 first-round picks and a second-round pick. Wallmark is another player from a bit off the radar making the jump from Sweden to North America for the 2016-17 season and getting a long look in Raleigh.
On defense, the biggest story is the strong play of first-season professionals Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury. Trevor Carrick who did not survive this round of cuts last summer rounds out the group of 3 competing to fill the opening created when Matt Tennyson was demoted yesterday, and per part 1, it might not just be the #7 slot that they are competing for. I would not call Carrick a surprise, but the fact that Tennyson is already in Charlotte presents the biggest opening he has seen while making progress development-wise but being pushed down the depth chart by the waves of good young prospects on the blue line.
The remaining Hurricanes roster and the battles it presents
In net: After dressing as the backup on Wednesday, Alex Nedeljkovic was not surprisingly returned to Charlotte today setting the goalie position with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack.
Math=> Set with 2 goalies.
On the blue line: From the beginning, the expected set of 6 if healthy has been Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin and Ryan Murphy. In addition, by virtue of his NHL experience, Matt Tennyson entered camp as the best bet to provide depth at #7 especially since most of the players that might compete for that role are better served development-wise playing 22 minutes per game in Charlotte instead of sitting in a press box in Raleigh. But that apple cart was officially upset yesterday when Tennyson was placed on waivers to go to Charlotte. Still in the mix for the last blue line spot and not necessarily the seventh blue line spot per yesterday’s post are Trevor Carrick, Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown.
Math=> 3 competing for 1 spot.
At forward: The forwards position is the most up in the air with multiple scenarios and players still in the mix. At least to start the season, I think the top 9 is pretty set barring a late injury. Skinner/Rask/Stempniak has looked good with Stempniak adding a nice playmaking element to the group. Nordstrom/JStaal/Nestrasil has actually played more time apart than together but was reunited on Wednesday with the expectation that they will at least start the season together with the aim of providing steadiness and stability. And the Nordic kid line of Aho/Lindholm/Teravainen showed enough spark on Wednesday that it looks to continue to process of building chemistry and an identity when the real games start next week.
That is where it gets interesting.
–Veterans on 1-way contracts include Jay McClement, Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell.
–Phil Di Giuseppe gets a category of his own as the forgotten man who had a solid second half of 2015-16 but still seems to be without a definite slot and has played much of the preseason on lines with AHLers.
–The category of AHLers looking to push up into the NHL is the biggest group with 6 comprised of Patrick Brown, Warren Foegele, Brock McGinn, Derek Ryan, Sergey Tolchinsky and Lucas Wallmark. (Note that Foegele is technically a Canadian junior player, but he is a 3 years out from his draft year, and I did not want to create another category for him.)
Math=> 10 competing for only 4 spots. While I think McClement, Stalberg, Bickell and Di Giuseppe are the defaults/incumbents, I think this situation is one to watch as Peters/Francis try to balance experience with contract financials with building the best roster possible.
The blue line battle
I wrote a longer version of this with layers of details yesterday, but that was actually before the latest round of cuts added at least a tiny bit more clarity.
I think the situation goes like this…
Trevor Carrick is the default for the #7 slot if that is in fact that slot that must be filled. This is not a statement about his merits relative to Haydn Fleury and Roland but rather a statement about what makes sense. Making the jump from juniors to the professional ranks, Fleury and McKeown will both benefit significantly development-wise from playing 20+ minutes per night against the next higher level of competition in the AHL. While Carrick would also benefit more from playing that watching, he has logged 146 games over the past 2 seasons at the AHL level. The benefit he gets from a few more is relatively small compared to Fleury and McKeown, and one could even make the argument that Carrick will get just as much from even practicing and working with the NHL coaches at this point in his development.
But per my post yesterday, is it actually the #6 slot that is open? It starts to look more like a rare good old-fashioned ‘best player gets the spot’ try out if in fact Bill Peters is still considering his options for the #6 slot that was thought to be Ryan Murphy’s at the start of training camp. In that scenario, if McKeown or Fleury is better than Carrick just maybe they pull a Hanifin/Pesce Slavin and mostly skip the AHL altogether. In that scenario, McKeown has the advantage of being a right shot and maybe a pretty good fit as a stay-home type to play next to Hanifin who would do the heavy lifting in terms of moving the puck.
#7 the player
The discussion above puts Ryan Murphy (uniform #7) in the cross hairs. My evaluation has him in the gray area of not bad but not great in preseason. But with Fleury and McKeown rising, he faces the prospect of another fall of the next wave of young prospects leapfrogging him on the Hurricanes defense depth chart. Last year, Hanifin, Pesce and Slavin did it. Could 2 more do it this fall?
This might sound odd, but I actually think if that is the case that we might find out about this internal ranking with a bang but not until 2-4 weeks from now. The simple roster building scenario could see Murphy fall to #7. He is not a candidate to go to Charlotte because he would likely be lost for nothing off of waivers on the way there.
For the sake of illustration, let’s say that Ryan Murphy has fallen to #8 or #9 on the Hurricanes 2016-17 defenseman depth chart. In that scenario he gets the #7 slot and sits in the press box. Right? Not so fast. I think in that scenario it might be time to trade him and collect whatever value he has left. He obviously is not going to yield a tremendous return in that scenario, but it might be possible to get equal value in a ‘change of scenery’ trade that sees the Canes receive a similar age/similar draft pedigree/similar struggles forward in return for Murphy or possibly just a mid-round draft pick. In such a scenario that has Murphy as not part of the long-term equation, it might make sense to very very briefly boost Murphy up with some ice time to hold his value as high as possible and then hastily make whatever reasonable deal can be had.
Questioning the expansion draft party line
Toward the front part of the summer, I coined the term ‘expansion draft shield’ for the role of a defenseman who could be exposed to meet the experienced player requirement for the Hurricanes at the defenseman position. Each team much expose at least 1 defenseman who has either 40 games of NHL experience the previous season or 70 games over the past 2 seasons. Right now for the Hurricanes the only option is Justin Faulk who under no circumstances will be exposed in next summer’s expansion draft. Murphy is signed for next season and would need to play in only 36 games this season to qualify and serve as an expansion draft shield.
I disagree with expectations that Murphy is likely to end up in Las Vegas next summer and also with the notion that he is likely to even be utilized in 2016-17 specifically to qualify for this role.
I had 2 separate conversations yesterday and said in both that I thought Murphy was a long shot to end up in Las Vegas. I think his season goes 1 of 2 ways. If he has a good 2016-17 campaign, as a young puck-moving defenseman with a sub $1 million salary for 2017-18, I think the Hurricanes would find a way to keep him. In the event that he has a weak 2016-17 but qualifies, he basically starts to look like a not that young anymore AHL defenseman. In this scenario, the Hurricanes would be happy to expose him, but Las Vegas would instead pick from the Hurricanes options at forward or goalie instead.
In terms of trying to build Murphy up to at least qualify to be exposed for the expansion draft, I think this is unlikely unless the Hurricanes season goes badly. Murphy has a good chance to make the 36 games if he is playing well in which case the Hurricanes will look for a way to protect him. But if he is not playing well but the team is competitive, there is ZERO chance that Bill Peters will be forced to play Murphy if there are better options in terms of winning simply to deal with the expansion draft. That is Ron Francis’ job. If necessary, Francis can address this situation by adding an inexpensive defenseman who meets the experience requirements at the trade deadline.
So who makes the final roster and parting thoughts on Ryan Murphy
By far the most likely scenario is that Ryan Murphy keeps his #6 slot at least to start the season, and Trevor Carrick is rewarded for his strong 2015-16 AHL season with the #7 slot in Raleigh to start the season. And Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown are commended for their strong summers and preseasons, told to keep their local restaurant coupons for later and sent to Charlotte to continue their development together as 1 of the top 2 pairings for the Checkers to start the season. I think it is highly probably that both McKeown and Fleury see time at the NHL level this season, but unless an injury opens another slot, I think it will not be in early October.
How does this scenario change? It changes if Fleury or McKeown are deemed to be significantly better than Murphy such that Peters’ “My job is to build a lineup to win hockey games” viewpoint wins out. This scenario gets a significant boost if coupled Francis hastily being able to muster some trade value for Murphy.
This might sound out of left field, but I am actually not ready to give up on Ryan Murphy before seeing him in regular season action. It was drowned out by him being passed on the depth chart, but I thought he did show improvement in key areas in 2015-16 relative to prior NHL stints. If he can take another step upward in 2016-17, he starts to look like a serviceable, skating new NHL third pairing defenseman. While not exciting and maybe not what was originally hoped for when he was drafted, it is not a complete loss either. I would not be indefinitely patient with Murphy in 2016-17. It is time for him to either seize a spot or get out of the way. But at the same time, I think it is premature to punt on him before even having at least a short look at what the 2016-17 version of his game looks like.
When I get back to my laptop, my intent is to write a part 3 of this mini-series that addresses the myriad of possibilities at the forward position.