Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a quick look at difficult lineup decisions stemming from a couple different sources.
Petr Mrazek remains the #1, but as the season wears on the organization could have some difficult decisions with regard to who gets the #2 starts. James Reimer was strong in his first two starts but has sputtered a bit in four straight now. I think ideally the team wants Reimer to at least play his way up to a level where he can be traded at some point even if it is just part of a bigger deal. The situation in Charlotte further complicates things. Ideally, the Hurricanes need to get Alex Nedeljkovic a trial at the NHL level to see if he is ready/capable to at least be a competent backup. The issue there is NHL ice time but also the fact that Nedeljkovic is off to a poor start in the AHL. At least for now, it seems that the organization needs to give him time to reestablish himself. In fact, if the team needed to recall an AHL goalie with the objective of winning the next game, Anton Forsberg, who has been the better AHL goalie, would be the obvious choice. So as the season wears on, the team could have some weird balance between planning for the future, winning now and boosting Reimer’s trade value.
On the blue line
The ongoing decision is who to slot into the third defense pairing. Haydn Fleury returned to the lineup on Monday and played well. With the win, I would expect Trevor van Riemsdyk to again be in the press box for Thursday’s game. But longer term there again are competing factors. Based on merit alone, my assessment is that Jake Gardiner would be the healthy scratch right now. But with the team’s four-year investment in Gardiner, the organization is likely to err significantly on the side of patience giving Gardiner every opportunity to play his way up to a higher gear. The team must balance winning now with the potential long-term damage if the team shows a lack of faith and/or commitment with the newly-arrived Gardiner. Also, lurking behind the current group at the NHL is Jake Bean who at some point needs an NHL audition somewhat like Nedeljkovic.
With Erik Haula out for the time being but Jordan Martinook practicing and close to returning, the forward line combinations have varied in recent games. The rise of Eetu Luostarinen also adds another wrinkle. When Erik Haula returns, the team will be five deep at center. Though the sample size is small, I actually like Luostarinen over Wallmark for the fourth-line center. The players are both ahead of their time in terms of two-way play, but I prefer Luostarinen for his more aggressive and physical play. In addition, Jordan Martinook should bump someone out of the lineup. Best guess is that Brian Gibbons returns to the AHL, but the question is whether Luostarinen could be moved to wing to stick at the NHL level. My best guess is that the team sticks with the original four centers but that Luostarinen possibly gets a look on the wing.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How do see the Hurricanes lineup resolving itself in terms of:
a) The goalie position.
b) The blue line.
c) The forward position.