Last week, I graded Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis for the 2016-17 season in 2 parts. Part 1 graded Francis on building for the future and building the 2016-17 blue line. Part 2 evaluated Francis work at the forward and goalie positions. He nets about a B or B- if you look only at 2016-17, but his grade rises if you factor in the A that he received for sticking to the plan/building for the future (which is important).
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe does a similar initial evaluation of Coach Bill Peters with a slightly different format.
Bill Peters’ 2016-17 successes
Sticking with it: The team very much could have folded up the tents in mid-March after a tough stretch of unproductive hockey against the NHL’s worst teams in Arizona and Colorado. Instead, the team surged to a 13-game point streak with a 9-0-4 mark and came very close to climbing all the way back into the playoff chase. Peters deserves significant credit for staying heads down and focused on winning and getting his team to do the same.
Getting production from AHL call ups: I thought Peters did an especially good job of putting AHL call ups in roles where they could succeed, showing confidence in them and giving them a chance and netting productive hockey from it all especially at the forward position. In my opinion, the Hurricanes entered the 2016-17 season short in terms of legitimate top 9 forwards, and that was with the optimism that Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom could refind their 2015-16 magic with Jordan Staal. Instead, Peters had to use a variety of AHL call ups to fill top 9 roles. Most notable was Derek Ryan who had 29 points in 67 games for a 42ish-point pace which is pretty solid for an extended run by a player with minimal NHL experience starting the season.
A good season for player development: There were ups and downs, but on the whole I would consider the 2016-17 season a strong 1 for young player development. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce excelled when pressed into a top pairing role. Elias Lindholm found a higher gear just before the midway point in the season and surged through the end. Sebastian Aho built a nice NHL foundation in his rookie season. Had you asked me at the three-quarter mark of the season, I would not have been high on Noah Hanifin’s progress, but once elevated into a top 4 role, he handled the challenge well and played well in the last quarter of the season. Just like with anything, the players deserve individual credit for their success and individual blame for their failures, but I think it is also reasonable to credit Peters for his role in helping players develop.
Match up management down the stretch: Down the stretch at least until the team capitulated, Peters and his staff managed to play match ups and do targeted line juggling to try to coax as much as possible out his lineup. There were times when the logic was not obvious, but the results were there during the 9-0-4 run. Peters deserves credit for pulling levers to get wins.
Bill Peters’ 2016-17 struggles
But to go with the successes, there were also a number of areas where Peters either struggled or at least could have been better.
The start: Peters’ role with Team Canada in the World Cup probably played a role, but for the the third time in 3 years, the Hurricanes did not look ready to start the season. The team exited the 6-game road trip to start the season with a 1-3-2 record. That is on top of a 2-6-0 record start 2015-16 (including 2 home losses before the big road trip) and an abysmal win-less October in 2014-15 with an 0-6-2 record that ended that season before it really even started.
Inability to figure out the blue line until it was too late: Peters started the season with Slavin/Faulk and Hainsey/Pesce but quickly paired Slavin and Pesce to form a top defense pair of sophomore blue liners. The top pair worked, but nothing else really ever did until it was too late. The deficiencies of Hainsey/Faulk were highlighted on the road where the duo was nearly minus 1 goal per game at even strength through late fall and the first part of winter. And except for a short stretch of hockey where Tennyson seemed to help solidify the third pairing, Peters never really did find anything that worked for the third pairing. Hanifin’s best hockey actually came after he escaped it and moved up into Hainsey’s slot in the top 4. If I had to divide up blame, I would pin this more heavily on Francis’ inability to get enough help for Peters, but there is also a responsibility for Peters to make it work reasonably well by some combination of picking match ups, supporting weaker pairings with stronger forward lines or coming up with different combinations.
Overtime woes: I am on record as saying that more than any other part of NHL hockey except possibly special teams, tactics, strategy and execution are more critical in overtime hockey than any other parts of the game. The extra space with only 6 instead of 10 players on the ice completely changes the game by offering more time and space such that extended puck possession is possible. The Hurricanes were 5-9 in overtime and pushed another 9 games to the shootout which was also a bad thing since the team was only 3-6 in the skills competition. The end result was that the Hurricanes left a bunch of points on the table in extra hockey.
Goalie management: Again, distributing credit and blame is murky, but I think Peters has to take his share of the blame for another sub-par season goaltending-wise. He actually had a goalie playing pretty well from the beginning of November into January, but that ended after a run that saw Ward play nearly every game for about a quarter of the season. Second guessing after the fact is easy, but I have to wonder if Ward’s strong play would have extended farther with more rest. Did his downfall come simply from hitting a wall? Could Peters have used Michael Leighton selectively and spelled Ward? Leighton had exactly 1 good start and 1 bad start (a .500 record is not bad for an NHL backup on a middle-ish team) before more or less being shuttered. Peters managed his first short burst of solid starts from Lack finally in March after nearly 2 years of coaching him. I guess we will have more data if Lack departs as I expect this summer, but I cannot help thinking that Peters could have gotten more out of Lack. Regardless, the Hurricanes goaltending was not good enough, and I think it is fair to assign some amount of the blame to Peters.
Inability to scrape out points during tough stretches: There are a couple other options too, but I think one could make a reasonable case that the Hurricanes inability to cut short losing streaks was the deciding factor in the season. After nearly climbing back into the playoff chase, the Hurricanes lost 5 straight in late January without picking up a single point, lost 5 straight again in mid-February (only 1 OTL point), and lost 5 straight (only 1 OTL point) when the season ended in early April. When things went badly, Peters seemed unable to pull levers to grind out a win or a couple points by lineup tinkering, shortening the bench, lighting a fire or whatever else might help. Turn the 5-game losing streaks into 1-2-2 records and the team is in the playoffs right now.
The final grade
When I net it out I give Peters a B. I like him as a coach. I like the general direction of the team right now. And I am optimistic for the 2017-18 season. But at the same time, I think there were coaching-related areas of the 2016-17 season that could have been better, most notably overtime play and inability to cut losing streaks short.
What say you Caniacs?
Did I miss any positives for Bill Peters’ 2016-17 season? How about negatives?
Are there any things that I graded Peters on that you think were very little or not at all within his control?
What grade would you give Peters for the 2016-17 season?