On Tuesday, the Carolina Hurricanes announced 5 more roster cuts. Keegan Lowe, Brody Sutter, Brendan Woods, Michael Leighton and Matt Tennyson will all be placed on waivers and likely to ultimately land in Charlotte after clearing.
On the surface, it looks like a pretty routine batch of cuts. I think that is true for 4 of the 5 players who played in Tuesday’s preseason game and were almost certainly destined for the AHL all along. But the last player on the list, Matt Tennyson, is interesting on levels that go a couple deep.
Failed attempt at plan A to be #7 defenseman
First of all, when the Hurricanes signed him as a free agent this summer after buying out James Wisniewski the most likely landing place for him was in the #7 slot. He fits the bill in terms of having some NHL experience and the right price for the role. He even had the potential to become an expansion draft shield as a veteran to expose if he played in 41 NHL games this season and was re-signed during the season. But alas, he was also signed to a 2-way contract to give the Hurricanes the ability to send him to the AHL importantly on an AHL-priced salary if things did not work out. And that is where the chips fell today. Maybe most curious is how early in the process he was cut.
The obvious implications
Upon seeing the news that Matt Tennyson was part of today’s cuts, the easy and obvious upshot on Canes Twitter noted that there was another NHL roster spot to be won by a young defenseman. The candidates would be Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown and Trevor Carrick who were all in the lineup on Tuesday. Technically, Jake Bean, Jake Chelios and Dennis Robertson are still on the NHL roster too, but I think Bean is destined for the WHL and Robertson and Chelios for the AHL. So Tennyson’s demotion today theoretically tees up an old-fashioned and rare true try out for a final roster spot which is exciting.
The more interesting but less obvious implications
I think the more interesting implications actually lay a bit deeper and are more subtle and possibly convoluted.
Right now, the Hurricanes blue line stands as Slavin/Faulk, Hainsey/Pesce and Hanifin/Murphy. All of those pairs saw action together in 1 of the past 2 games. If those pairings hold and everyone stays healthy, the try out is for the #7 slot. Here is the thing. The #7 defenseman travels with the team, practices and then spends games in the press box wearing a suit. It makes no sense to put either Haydn Fleury or Roland McKeown in that role for any extended period of time. As 20-year olds transitioning from Canadian juniors to professional hockey, their development will benefit significantly from regular ice time against the higher level of competition.
There are a couple different valid explanations for what this means for filling the #7 slot vacated by Matt Tennyson:
1) Trevor Carrick and/or Dennis Robertson beating out Matt Tennyson
Today’s cut of Matt Tennyson does not so much trigger a try out that includes Roland McKeown or Haydn Fleury but more so either Trevor Carrick just won that slot or possibly is competing with Dennis Robertson for it. It would take Robertson surviving the next round of cuts and possibly appearing in Friday’s lineup to make me think that is the case. Both Carrick and Robertson have paid their AHL dues and gain much less benefit development-wise by receiving more reps at the AHL level at this point.
Trevor Carrick was 1 of the best players at the AHL level last season. This makes a case that he could be ready to play at the NHL level and equally importantly fits under the management approach of rewarding players for a job well done.
2) The battle is actually broader and moving up to Ryan Murphy’s #6 slot
As noted above, it makes little sense to slot either Haydn Fleury or Roland McKeown in the #7 slot destined for the press box most nights. Is it possible that Coach Bill Peters is actually looking at Fleury and/or McKeown as possibly being good enough to also vault over Ryan Murphy and into the actual lineup? A couple weeks ago, I would have said that the odds are against it, but both have held their own in preseason thus far, and Ron Francis put a stake in the sand for going young on the blue line when he did not really replace John-Michael Liles with a veteran and then proceeded to also buy out James Wisniewski. I would not say that Murphy has been great nor would I say that he has been horrible in preseason. He continues to thrash in the gray area of ‘could be ready to turn the corner’ and ‘not quite there yet.’
3) Short-term is more flexible
While it does not makes sense to carry a young player like McKeown or Fleury at the NHL level in the #7 slot long-term, there could be some reasons to do this short-term. First, if 1 of those players truly earns it, a short stint at the NHL level for part of the first road trip could be a small reward and also a carrot seen by all of the other prospects in the system. There is also the possibility that Francis wants to work 1 of the up and coming young defensemen into the lineup sooner rather than later to understand what he has. This could be relevant to deciding what to do in the event of a significant injury to back fill a blue line opening. It could also be relevant if GM Ron Francis is considering trading Ryan Murphy and needs to have an idea of how ready the next generation of defense prospects are in terms of filling that hole sooner rather than later.
Most interesting would be any indication that the real roster battle shaping up is not actually for the #7 slot but rather for Murphy’s #6 slot. Most likely is probably that Trevor Carrick or even Matt Tennyson after being recalled is the long-term answer to filling that #7 slot but possibly after a short-lived reward for whichever prospect wins a real try out for the opening night roster.
The next round of roster cuts likely to happen on Wednesday could provide additional clues. The departure of Robertson, Chelios and Carrick would pretty much assure that Fleury or McKeown makes the opening day roster.
What say you Canes fans? Do you think this is simpler than I make it out to be? Is there any chance that the roster decision to be made is actually up at #6 not #7? Do you think the team would slot either McKeown or Fleury at the #7 slot? If so, for how long before getting them back on the ice regularly?