Today’s Daily Cup of Joe does a fairly deep dive on a couple topics related to Elias Lindholm and Jaccob Slavin.
I actually have two completed unrelated thoughts on Elias Lindholm.
Face-off woes on the road
The first has to do with face-offs. The Hurricanes had some trouble in the face-off dot on the just completed four-game road trip. The Hurricanes won 55 percent of draws against Winnipeg and 54 percent against Calgary, but only 40 percent and 39 percent respectively against Edmonton and Dallas.
Lindholm especially struggled. After winning 4 of 7 in Winnipeg, he then went 2 of 6, 2 of 7 and 0 of 7 in the final three games of the trip totaling to only 30 percent for the trip and much worse over the last three games. This one is definitely one for the video scouts to take a look at to see if the rest of the league is onto something in terms of finding a hole in Lindholm’s approach on the road where he is required to put his stick down first giving his opponent the opportunity to adjust accordingly. From watching the games but not honing in on Lindholm’s face-offs, it is not clear to me if there is something going on tactically by the opponents or if quite possibly Lindholm just hit a bit of a slump on the road where it is tougher anyway. But I think 30 percent for four games is probably enough to warrant a quick check by one of the video scout/coaches to see if they can uncover a root cause, and it also might be great timing for a pre or post-practice face-off session with Rod Brind’Amour.
Seeking the winter version of Lindholm
I continue to think the key for Lindholm this season is not to fall in love with his hockey skill. His game took a huge step forward at the midway point of the 2016-17 season not at all because he suddenly started making a bunch of pretty plays but rather because he seemed to suddenly find a higher gear in terms of intensity, compete level and most significantly physical engagement. Whereas he spent many shifts and even entire games of his first few years in the NHL largely invisible, he was suddenly the player who was still half tangled up with someone he engaged and annoyed before the whistle. Initially, the uptick offensively was minimal if anything, but the difference in terms of how difficult he was to play against was unmistakable to Hurricanes’ fans who had seen too much quiet.
During the preseason, I noted that Lindholm was a bit quiet but noted that preseason was not really the time and that the real measuring point was the start of the regular season. Now six games into the regular season, I am still not sure where to plot Lindholm’s play on an engagement level. By no means has he been passive and invisible, but by the same token, I am not sure he has found the higher gear that he rode through the second half of the 2016-17 season. This might sound strange, but one of my fears is that Lindholm finds too much success making pretty plays early and abandons the lunch pail and hard hat that made him a different player last winter. Through six games, I am sitting at neutral in terms of gauging whether the more engaged Lindholm has returned in earnest.
Jaccob Slavin and the Norris Trophy
First off, good for Tripp Tracy for starting to mention Jaccob Slavin in the same sentence as the Norris Trophy. Especially given the lack of league-wide coverage for the Hurricanes, I am glad he has taken up the megaphone to make people at least consider it.
Jaccob Slavin’s long-term $5 million plus contract seemed to boost his standing among NHL defensemen, but I still think he is underrated defensively. In terms of his play without the puck, he has grown to become a true #1 defenseman. The game against Edmonton on the same ice as Connor McDavid was a statement game, but the story is not a new one. As a #1 defenseman, I figure that puts him in a group with about 15 other defensemen league-wide as a good number of teams do not have a true #1.
But at the same time that I put Slavin in the top 10-15 defensemen league-wide defensively, I think his chances of being more than an also ran with a few votes for the Norris Trophy are very slim for two reasons. First is that winning the Norris Trophy is a bit like the acting awards. It seems like you need to deserve it consideration for a couple years and then be passed over when you deserved it before finally winning the award. By that schedule, Jaccob Slavin is likely at least two years away from Norris Trophy consideration regardless of how well he plays. Second and even more significant is that Slavin is unlikely to score enough to even be considered. The dirty little not so well kept secret about the Norris Trophy is that the voters seem to value scoring even more than defensive acumen. As such, the award actually has a prerequisite of high scoring before the defense part really even comes into play.
Since the lockout of 2003-04, only two defensemen have won the Norris Trophy with fewer than 60 points (not counting the shortened 2012-13 season). Drew Doughty had only 54 points in 2015-16 and Zdeno Chara only 50 in 2008-09, but during the past 10 years, they are the only Norris Trophy winners who did not finish first or second in scoring among all NHL defensemen. I actually am okay with this trend at a basic level because I think that in today’s NHL where scoring is at a premium, generating offense is a critical part of what an elite defenseman brings to the table.
But this does not bode well for Jaccob Slavin and his chances of pushes up into Norris consideration for the 2017-18 season at least as the Hurricanes are constructed right now. In only his third year in the NHL and still growing as a player, I cannot say for certain where Slavin’s ceiling is offensively. But what I can tell you is that he will not reach it in 2017-18 simply because of how he is utilized. Like many teams, Peters has created power play units that regularly feature only one defenseman, and right now the two players receiving power play ice time are Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin.
To put this in perspective for top scoring defensemen, roughly one-third of their scoring comes from the power play. Without power play ice time, Jaccob Slavin could have a phenomenal season offensively, push up to 40 points, be close to the league leaders for defensemen in terms of even strength scoring and still be outscored by 25-30 points because of power play scoring alone.
Regardless of how well Jaccob Slavin plays in 2017-18, he is unlikely to garner any real Norris Trophy consideration even if he earns it. Couple that with lack of power play ice time and scoring, and I think the debate of exactly where Slavin ranks among NHL defensemen will unfortunately mostly be limited to the Hurricanes fan base that watches him on a daily basis and has an appreciation for where he is at right now in terms of level of play.