After a tremendous 4-0-1 start, the Carolina Hurricanes are officially on the roller coaster again for the 2018-19 season. With the current two-game losing streak with both games at home, the coaster is decidedly down heading into a four-game road trip that starts with two #CanesAfterDark events that thankfully hit the weekend.
The current 6-5-1 mark is a deja vu treading water mark that is uninspiring but at the same time catastrophic. But the front part of the season has identified a handful of gaps that one could argue are the result of unfinished work over the offseason.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe looks at three key weaknesses that arguably should have been on the work list over the summer.
1) The addition of an additional proven scorer
I stand by my original assertion that the departure of Jeff Skinner was a culture change type decision and likely heavily influenced by Brind’Amour and not based on production or statistics. If you take that at face value and trust that Brind’Amour is the right person to effect this change, the debate of how much the team needs Skinner’s scoring right now becomes a moot point.
But that said, I do think the Hurricanes came up one move short in the summer game of musical chairs when the team was unable to trade Justin Faulk for scoring help to back fill Skinner’s slot and replace his production. On July 3 before Calvin de Haan was signed and before Jeff Skinner was traded, I mapped out a series of three moves. I had the Hurricanes signing Calvin de Haan to solidify the defense (check). Then I had the Hurricanes trading Jeff Skinner for futures (check). And actually in the middle, I expected the team to trade Justin Faulk whose name was atop the rumor rumblings in June for scoring help to replace Jeff Skinner. The team seemed to pull back from that final step when the trade market was not satisfactory. The team has since talked about being happy with the roster as is, but I still do not see paying five defensemen top 4 type salaries, and I have to think that Faulk whose contract runs through next season will ultimately be the odd man out. But what is an unintended delay in my opinion has pushed the team into the 2018-19 still short one offensive weapon. When paired with the fact that neither Martin Necas nor Andrei Svechnikov hit the ground sprinting at the NHL level, and it is not surprise that the team is struggling to find enough sources of offense right now.
2) Seasoned help for Rod Brind’Amour’s rookie season as a head coach
As noted above and previously over the course of the summer, I am on board with the hiring of Rod Brind’Amour as the head coach. I think his ability to effect the change in attitude, mentality or whatever else you want to call it is a key positive, and I am willing to take my chances with his inexperience in other areas. I landed at “In Rod We Trust” but buried in a longer article that actually leaned slightly negative on hiring Brind’Amour were comments about adding staff that could support him as a rookie coach.
Because Brind’Amour has literally nothing in terms of head coaching experience at any professional level, my path forward with Brind’Amour as the head coach would have included the addition of seasoned assistant coach with some head coaching experience. I have no idea if such options were considered or pursued, but the team seemed to settle fairly quickly on a group that lined up significantly below Brind’Amour. Jeff Daniels who was a ‘meh’ AHL coach with the Checkers returned to the bench, and the only outside hire, Dean Chynoweth, was not so much the gray beard with experience that I had hoped for. Now 12 games into the season, the team seems to be sputtering a bit and facing at least a small bout with adversity. Brind’Amour will need to sort it out himself for the most part.
3) An upgrade in net
Entering the offseason, arguably the single biggest weakness with the team was netminding. After making a big trade land Scott Darling and then locking him up for four years at $4.1 million per year, he proceeded to show up to training camp out of shape and things went south from there. Early on, Cam Ward’s numbers were not stellar, but he was adequate in a backup role that was unfamiliar. But as the season wore on, the situation deteriorated. Darling followed a ‘meh’ start to the season with a winter implosion kicked off by the pop fly that got behind him and into the net. And as Ward’s work load increased, his level of play dropped. The result was an all too familiar position that saw the Hurricanes entering the offseason with a need to make significant improvements at the goalie position.
Admittedly facing a summer without a ton of great options, the Hurricanes opted to part ways with Ward and add Petr Mrazek on an inexpensive one-year contract. The move was low risk but also underwhelming in terms of adding a player with a high probability of helping the cause. Like Darling, Mrazek entered the 2018-19 season as a bit of a reclamation project trying to find a significantly higher level than he played at last season. It is not clear whether the Hurricanes chose to pass on other higher-end options (again, the options were not great this summer) or if instead the team just could not broker a deal it wanted. No way were the Capitals going to trade Braden Holtby in division, but might the Hurricanes have been able to do a three-way deal to get him? Instead, the Hurricanes have two dice rolls, arguably three if you count Curtis McElhinney, to find a winner in net. If the dice do not yield a winner, the Hurricanes are destined to be in a very familiar spot next summer in terms of trying to address goaltending woes.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Now with 12 games of regular season hockey behind us, do you think the Hurricanes did enough during the offseason?
2) Do you think the team just flat out whiffed on any of these three items?
3) What other comments do you have in terms of offering an early assessment of the summer’s work?