First to be clear, the point of today’s Daily Cup of Joe is not to suggest that the current state of the Carolina Hurricanes and the team’s season is positive. It is not.
But amidst the current trials and tribulations, there are legitimate positives. Taking a break from the day to day of the currently sinking 2018-19 season, today’s Daily Cup of Joe points out five positives.
1) Sebastian Aho
Thus far, his season has been about all you can ask. His point per game pace is a tiny bit short of the league leaders, but Aho has been swimming upstream on a team with a bottom tier power play and general inability to score. In addition, arguably the harder part of the transition on the defensive side of the puck has mostly been a non-story. By no means has he been perfect defensively, but he has not looked to be in over his head either. For whatever issues the team has with forward scoring depth, Aho has established himself as a legitimate first line center.
2) The goaltending
Had you told me in October that the team’s goaltending would be a strength in late December, I would have been ecstatic and probably also jumped to the conclusion that the team would be right in the thick of the playoff chase. In the category of ‘finding new ways to lose’, the culprit right now is the team’s inability to score.
Looking forward to 2019-20, I will be shocked if Scott Darling’s rough tenure with the Hurricanes does not end with a buyout in June, but what happens with Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney will be interesting. Both are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer. If the Hurricanes season continues on its current trajectory which is to be out of playoff contention by the trade deadline, either or both goalies could have decent value at the trade deadline especially if a Cup contender or two encounters goalie injuries. But the Hurricanes also need to find two goalies to man the nets for the 2019-20 season. If he continues to play well, Mrazek would figure to be the one more likely to stay simply because of his age. (Mrazek is 26 years old versus 35 for McElhinney.) But it would not be out of the question for the team simply to retain and re-sign both. I would not make a long-term commitment based on half of a season, but given the unlikelihood of luring a high-end free agent without overpaying, maybe a short-term commitment to the tandem is the best possible.
Regardless of if the team collects value x2 at the trade deadline or considers extending either goalie, the situation is clearly a positive right now which is refreshing.
3) Though imperfect, the foundation is strong for the blue line
I have a half-written article on the pros and cons of the Hurricanes defense. On the positive side of the ledger, the group has been decent or better defensively and in my opinion has been trending upward defensively which has contributed to the goalies’ success. And with Fleury as a #7 and van Riemsdyk and even a slumping Hamilton as a third pairing, the group is among the deepest in the NHL. In addition, the fact that the veterans are all under contract at least through the 2019-20 and longer for many makes for stability and the ability to focus on the forward position in terms of transactions and budget. That makes for a solid foundation. The inability of Hamilton to settle in with the Canes and the somewhat related lack of scoring from the blue line do present offsetting negatives. But the starting point of being decent or better defensively and having capable depth on the current roster is a workable foundation looking forward.
4) The team is incredibly young
Hurricanes fans know by now that upside and young players is not automatically realized nor is there a guaranteed time line for it. But young players do have the ability to grow, become better and take on bigger roles. The current roster features 10 player who are 24 years old or younger. What’s more, many of the youth are players who are already leading or are expected to lead the next step upward.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of these four positives will have the greatest impact on the team going forward?
2) Who has more positives to add?
3) With two potentially marketable impending free agent goalies, what would you do if the Hurricanes are out of the playoff hunt come February? Is one or both part of the solution at least short-term such that the team should re-sign one or both? Do you collect what you can in trade assets and start anew this summer? Or…?