This past weekend was chock full of Canes stuff of all varieties. We had 2 NHL hockey games plus the alumni/fantasy game on Sunday. There was pregame and in-game festivities for the 10-year anniversary of winning the Stanley Cup. And there was the news that goes with all of that.
Behind the scenes, I think 2 events could have a huge impact on the rest of the Canes 2015-16 season and also going forward. One was planned/scheduled. The other was not.
1) The impression of the 10-year anniversary
The Carolina Hurricanes roster is stocked with a number of young players who have never seen the NHL playoffs, let alone won a Stanley Cup. I have to believe that seeing a bunch of guys coming back from near and far to celebrate together something that happened 10 years ago had to create some “I want to play on a team like that” moments for the Canes impressionable young players. Hopefully it is also noted that the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes proved that it is possible in any season when they went from a consensus bottom 5 in the league pick in the preseason to Stanley Cup champion at the end of it.
2) Another step forward for the blue line
I think a more subtle but maybe equally important unplanned series of events also happened largely unnoticed in the midst of a heavy news weekend. Justin Faulk was injured in practice on Thursday when he got tangled up with Brad Malone and crashed into the boards. With 2 big games against Eastern Conference teams sitting ahead of the Canes in the standings, the timing seemingly could not have been worse for the leader of the Canes blue line to miss his first 2 games of the season. The injury pressed rookie Jaccob Slavin into the cross hairs of a first pairing D slot with Ron Hainsey at what figured to be the wrong time with a red hot Sidney Crosby coming into town followed by another elite line centered by John Tavares. It had the potential to be a tough learning experience for young Jaccob Slavin. Instead, he passed with flying colors. He led the Canes in ice time both nights and spent Friday matched up all night against Crosby’s line and most of Saturday against Tavares’ line. Slavin has been playing pretty good hockey in general and continues to improve, but this weekend was truly a coming out party of epic proportions.
I think the upshot of Faulk’s injury could be a positive in 2 ways.
1-Confidence builder for Jaccob Slavin
Jaccob Slavin was already trending in the right direction, but this should provide an additional boost to Slavin’s confidence and comfort level playing his game and continuing to take it to a higher level. It is astounding how quickly we are working from “projects to be a good top 4 defenseman someday” to “is he already there?” The pairings will be driven partially by chemistry and balancing things out, but is it possible that Jaccob Slavin is the Canes #3 defenseman right now? I think there is at least an interesting debate to be had there.
2-A calming effect for Justin Faulk
This might sound strange, but I actually think a couple games off with the team and the blue line doing well could also be a huge boost for Justin Faulk. Obviously the team is better with him in the lineup, but I think seeing the others prove capable on their own might actually help Justin Faulk’s game. His huge scoring outburst early in the season was welcome and needed when the Canes were struggling to find enough offense, but I think he strayed ever so slightly from his core as a sound shutdown defenseman. Might seeing that he has others emerging on the blue line help him avoid trying to do too much and enable him to settle into a tiny bit smaller role and just focus on his game versus trying to do too much?
Justin Faulk is questionable but at least possible for Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg. Regardless of if he returns Tuesday or maybe later in the week, I will be watching both Faulk and Slavin to see if there is any kind of carry over effect past Slavin subbing for Faulk for a couple games.
The Canes are looking for 1 more burst that can take them 1 level higher and help them do something unthinkable in early November. Is it possible that the unplanned series of events propels both Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin to higher levels and that is the catalyst for the next leg up for the 2015-16 season? Is it crazy to think that the duo could actually find its way onto the same D pairing along the way to this happening?
It is obviously pretty fuzzy trying to project the future based on 2 quick games, but I think it is at least worth watching.