While steering clear of the high risk bidding war range of the market, the Hurricanes have completed a couple rounds of lower profile but still quality transactions to build out most of the 2018-19 roster. With only about $7 million in cap space remaining and Justin Williams (if he returns), Brock McGinn and Haydn Fleury yet to be re-signed, the current version of the Hurricanes could be pretty close to the one that takes the ice on opening night.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe compares the current roster to the team from the second half of the 2018-19 season that pushed up into the playoffs.
Curtis McElhinney is replaced by some combination of James Reimer, Alex Nedeljkovic and possibly Anton Forsberg if needed. I would consider this change to be a wash but would also acknowledge that there is some risk. McElhinney was pretty solid in the second half of the 2018-19 season even when Mrazek was rising up to become the starter. So anything short of solid from Reimer and/or Nedeljkovic would represent a downgrade. Reimer is a proven NHL goalie but is coming off a down season. Nedeljkovic had a stellar 2018-19 season at the AHL level but is unproven at the NHL level.
In: James Reimer or Alex Nedeljkovic // Out: Curtis McElhinney
Net: Breakeven with modest increase in downside risk for second goalie slot.
Calvin de Haan is subtracted and right now likely to be replaced internally with Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury most likely to see additional NHL ice time. Jake Bean is interesting because he has the potential to be a plus on a power play that largely struggled during the 2018-19 season. But in total, the loss of de Haan is a reasonably significant downgrade. De Haan was part of the duo that got Faulk going early in the 2018-19 season, and even when pushed down the depth chart, it was great to have a player of his caliber solidifying a bottom pairing.
In: System depth including Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean // Out: Calvin de Haan
Net: Losing Calvin de Haan’s proven and steady play is a downgrade. How significant this downgrade is depends on injuries to top 4 defensemen and the ability of Haydn Fleury and/or Jake Bean to take a step forward.
The most significant changeover in personnel will likely be the forward position where a couple changes were made and where the potential is highest for an AHL player to step in and make a difference. As compared to the second half team from 2018-19, the Hurricanes are minus Greg McKegg and the quieter version of Micheal Ferland with Justin Williams still TBD. In are Erik Haula who likely slots at center and Ryan Dzingel who likely slots at wing. Haula should be a significant upgrade at center over Greg McKegg. McKegg fit the system well and was the good version of serviceable during the playoff push but contributed only modestly on the score sheet. If he can get back up to speed after a serious injury in 2018-19, Haula figures to be an upgrade offensively. As compared to the second half version of Micheal Ferland who never really got going again after returning from injury, Dzingel also figures to be a significant upgrade. The burning question on how much the Hurricanes upgraded at forward lies with Justin Williams’ decision. After clicking with Aho in the second half, he rose up the stat sheet to finish third on the team in scoring. Though maybe not as mobile at 36 years old, Williams still had enough of a combination of a nose for the net, veteran craftiness and finishing ability to be very productive offensively. His leadership is first and foremost, but his offensive production is not something to be ignored.
In: Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and system depth // Out: Micheal Ferland, Greg McKegg and possibly Justin Williams
Net: If Justin Williams returns and can produce even at a slightly reduced level, Haula for McKegg and Dzingel for second half Ferland look to be fairly significant upgrades. If instead, someone must also replace Williams’ production, the forward changeover starts to look like more of an even swap.
My thoughts netting it out
The summer has been an interesting one from a fan perspective. Early on, when the team did not have an NHL goalie signed and had traded de Haan mostly to clear cap space, the fan base seemed skeptical and pessimistic. More recently, fans seem to be enamored with the activity, the Mrazek re-signing and two additions at forward.
If Williams does not re-sign, I put the current roster as pretty even with the 2018-19 group with a few risks. Dzingel would replace Williams production-wise, Haula could be a modest upgrade over Ferland, and the wild card with upside would be the internal replacement for McKegg.
But there are question marks on the back end. I think the Hurricanes enter the season in a better place in goal, but that position in general still just always comes with some risk. With the comparison point being the second half of the 2018-19 season, Mrazek really cannot do much better and can only match that. And doing the same for the backup slot either requires Reimer to rebound or Nedeljkovic to hit the ground running at the NHL level. And as noted above, losing de Haan without a proven replacement also adds a significant element of risk.
Worth noting are two things. First, the Carolina Hurricanes from the second half of the 2018-19 season were a very good hockey team, so matching that level or even falling a little bit short of it is playoff pace. Second, because of how young the team is, there is upside in the roster simply from players becoming better without the need to improve via additions.
What say you Canes fans?
1) In goal, do you see the current group as capable of matching a strong second half by Mrazek/McElhinney?
2) Where do you stand on the blue line with regard to weighing the loss of Calvin de Haan but also considering potential positives/upside from young defensemen Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean?
3) With and without Justin Williams in the mix, how would you assess the current forward group compared to the version from the second half of the 2018-19 season?