Friday night in Raleigh the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs will face off for the first time this season on the ice. In terms of where they were coming out of the 2014-15 season and where they are headed, their lots in the hockey world are similar as disappointing teams working to build a better future.
Both teams will of course try to rebuild by adding and developing young players.
But the 2 teams’ approaches for the 2015-16 season are quite different.
On the Hurricanes side, Ron Francis went light on adding veterans to the mix thereby leaving NHL roster spots to be won by younger players and a backup for injuries that also pulled from the team’s prospects. Francis did add 4 players Versteeg, Nordstrom, Wisniewski and Lack. But the additions were less than the 7 players lost between the trade deadline and the summer in Gleason, Tlusty, Sekera, Dwyer, Bellemore, Khudobin and Semin. The result was roster space for Ryan Murphy and Noah Hanifin to step right into the mix on defense and Chris Terry to assume a more permanent role at forward. It also set the Canes up to reach into the system for injury replacements and depth. The results are most noticeable on defense. With Ryan Murphy out with a concussion, the Hurricanes will see its third defenseman NHL debut already in this season when Jaccob Slavin steps into the lineup following earlier debuts by Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce. Brock McGinn has already been called up (and returned to Charlotte) at forward too.
The Toronto Maple Leafs plan is similar in that they are stockpiling draft picks and prospects with the goal of building the future from youth. But specifically for the 2015-16 season, the Leafs’ approach is quite different. The Maple Leafs signed a collection of veterans to 1-year contracts. This summer the Maple Leafs added Shawn Matthias, Brad Boyes, PA Parenteau and Michael Grabner (via trade) who are all due to become free agents this summer. Mike Augello at Hockeybuzz listed the Leafs players potentially scheduled for the February trade market in his recent post HERE.
The upshot is twofold. First, the Maple Leafs have the ability to push their prospects to the AHL level where they can develop as a group at that lower level. Second, it creates the potential for the Leafs to collect more draft picks at the trade deadline for the players from this group who work out.
Head coach Mike Babcock has been involved in building a junior Toronto team from the AHL affiliate whereas Canes coach Bill Peters is gradually assuming first hand role in developing the Hurricanes prospects at the NHL level.
In theory, the match up in Raleigh on Friday night does not mean that much, but both teams are hoping that a match up in 2-3 years is a much bigger game. It will be interesting to see over time which approach yields the best and fastest results when we look back in a couple years.