Going with the coffee theme and taking the opportunity to honor former Canes player Josef Vasicek who passed away in the tragic KHL Lokomotiv plane crash in 2011, I am setting up “Daily Cup of Joe” as my daily yammering post. My goal is to post to something, usually short (so it actually happens) to this blog category most days. Rather than full blogs, it will mostly be a more of an eclectic set of random daily Canes thoughts, like what might be discussed over morning coffee. So whether you are late night, early morning, lunch break or whatever else Canes-inclined, please make “Daily Cup of Joe” one of your daily Canes hockey stops.
Between being busy at my day job, a long weekend out of town to visit family and already trading too many hours of sleep spent on the details and check boxes of more formally launching the site, I feel like I have been out of touch with Canes hockey for about a week. But then we have reached that time of year when you can check out for a full week and not always miss that much.
But let me offer my random thoughts on what a couple player moves (or lack thereof) by Ron Francis in August or early September will probably tell us:
1) To what degree he has any budget and sincere goal of playing for 2015-16. I like the idea of giving the kids in the system the chance to win roster spots and move up as much as anyone. But when you look at the current roster, the team is minus Andrej Sekera and Tim Gleason on defense with only James Wisniewski added. The team is also minus Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin with no additions at forward. The budget is surely challenging. There is room for significant improvement simply from key players producing more. And even with a roster shakeup there is no guarantee that changes mean improvement. This said, I am skeptical of any claims that the Canes are pushing sincerely to make the playoffs in 2015-16 if the team enters the regular season with the current roster. This will be said regardless (because that is what teams do especially when they are trying to boost attendance), but for me it only becomes credible if Ron Francis steps into the closeout sale portion of the free agent season and adds a couple free agents (or brokers a trade or two I guess) who can help boost the scoring from the forward lines and provide more proven minutes on the blue line.
=> Shorter version: If the Canes truly hope to take some shot (yes imperfect due to budget and volume of improvement requirement) at a playoff surprise, Francis will need to do something in August or early September to bolster the roster.
2) To what degree he is truly committed to long-term player development in the system. Ron Francis has said all of the right things about doing what is best for individual players’ development and about building the future success of the team from within. He has also backed it up with a growing number of moves that suggest sincerity and commitment. When he could not get Tlusty or Sekera re-signed near the trade deadline, Ron Francis moved assertively and collected whatever futures he could. While he did give up a draft pick to land Eddie Lack, he mostly held tight to the picks he had for the 2015 draft and restocked the system. He decided not to re-sign team guy Jeff Daniels and instead invested in a veteran successful AHL head coach in Mark Morris. And in one limited example, last summer he steered clear of rushing Haydn Fleury to Raleigh. But the temptation in front of him this fall is even greater. Noah Hanifin will instantly bring a dose of excitement to the fan base. Haydn Fleury is closer to ready if not ready after last season in juniors. It is conceivable that both of these players are actually ready and best served by developing at the NHL level. But that is not even close to the same thing as saying that they should be inserted into the top 4 sight unseen before they even play a 2015-16 preseason game. If Ron Francis is truly committed to paced, methodical and long-term “best way” development of his young defensemen, they should move up the depth chart as ready and not sooner. Ideally, they earn their way onto the NHL roster and land softly in somewhat protected third pairing slots initially and move up if and only if they earn it and prove capable. The current roster has only four really proven NHL defensemen which puts Hanifin, Fleury or another young defenseman an injury or two away from being thrown into the fire in a top 4 slot. For both competing in 2015-16 and doing what is best for the kids’ development, I think Francis needs to add one more NHL proven defenseman. I have been chirping Ehrhoff since early July. Adding another defenseman, ideally who is top 4-capable, builds a bridge that lets the kids climb the depth chart as dictated by their play not lack of other options.
=> Shorter version: In addition to providing commentary on the Canes sincerity in trying to compete in 2015-16, I think Francis’ signing (or not signing) of another defenseman also makes a significant statement about his commitment to being patient and developing young players with an eye for the long-term.
With the list of things to launch and grow the site finally starting to ease up a little, I am thrilled at the prospect of making more time to get back to my blogging roots. Please stop by here and elsewhere!