Monday’s Daily Cup of Joe entitled, “State of the Canes after 42 games” offered a general assessment of the Carolina Hurricanes as a team at the midway point of the season.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe dives into assessing individual players. Part 1 (of probably 4) grades the goalies and a good number of the defensemen.
Very important for how I grade players is recognizing that players are graded based on role. As such, a backup goalie is not held to the same standard as a starter. A fourth line/depth forward is not graded with the same expectations as a first line scoring forward. Etc. I will also admit that I struggle to grade players worse that a C, so the scale is more like A+ to C- most times I do this.
Graded as a starting goalie: B-
Thus far in the 2019-20, Petr Mrazek has yet to really find his stride. Worth noting is that the same was true last season when Curtis McElhinney more so helped the team scrape out some points during difficult times before Mrazek hit stride and carried the team up into the playoffs in the second half of the season. So here is hoping that Mrazek is on the same same schedule.
But grading Mrazek based on his play through 42 games is ‘meh’. To his credit he has not really cost the team games. He has generally been good enough on many of the nights when the team surged offensively, but at the same time he has not really stolen many games like he did in the latter half of 2018-19. When considered with taking on the somewhat easier workload, I land somewhere between B- and C+ for Mrazek. He has made 18 of his 27 starts at home and in the process been exempted from many of the tough road starts. Mrazek has allowed three or more goals in 16 of his 28 starts. His 16-10 record is positive, but his .901 Save Percentage and 2.75 Goals Against Average are below league average. I do think the Canes struggles defensively are a factor, but at the same time, I think Mrazek has been ‘meh’ overall with a few stellar starts thrown in.
Graded as a backup goalie: A-
Getting back to my introduction, important is to recognize that Mrazek and Reimer are being graded for different roles. Reimer very clearly entered the season as the team’s #2 goalie and has performed admirably in that role. Reimer’s 8-6 record does not jump off the screen as spectacular, but when one considers his usage, that mark becomes significantly more impressive. A whopping 14 of Reimer’s 16 starts have come on the road. The gauntlet he has run has included road starts against Washington, Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, Edmonton and Colorado for six of the 12 teams that currently have more points than the Hurricanes.
So when on considers a 8-6 record against the tougher part of the schedule and also Reimer’s .914 Save Percentage, I am not sure how one could want for a goalie slotted as a backup. He gets downgraded a notch down from a plain A only because he has had a couple games where he did not have an answer in Canes losses.
Graded as a top 4 defenseman: A
Though there are other candidates, I have Dougie Hamilton as the team’s most valuable player for the first half of the season. His scoring is right there at the top of the team. If one adjusts for him being a defenseman, he is by far and away the team’s greatest offensive contributor. He has been a key part of the power play and also 5-on-5 scoring and has chipped in goals in overtime and the shootout to win games too. With a pace for 25 goals and 72 points, giving Hamilton an A for his offensive contribution is easy. But what rounds out his grade is the fact that he has been a solid part of a top defense pairing that has held its own defensively such that the offense that Hamilton is generating makes him a huge positive in terms of goal differential when he is on the ice. A rare tough outing in game number 42 pulled him back below +30, but he is still second in the entire NHL in +/-. Yes, I realize that there are issues with that statistic, but the fact that the Hurricanes are winning by a wide margin with Hamilton on the ice means he is not just trading offense for defense.
Graded as a top 4 defenseman: A
I was torn on whether to put Slavin down a notch from Hamilton because of the difference in point production, but I think it makes sense to consider them as a unit. The duo has played the vast majority of the season as a unit and has been good together. Slavin’s 21 scoring points are impressive when one considers that they are all at even strength and with minimal power play ice time. In fact, Slavin’s even strength point total is only four short of Hamilton’s 25. And though I do think Hamilton deserves credit for his level of defensive play, I also think there is an element of Slavin being incredibly good in a read/react role that minimizes the occasional downside of Hamilton playing like a fourth forward. How many times have we seen Slavin make a 1-on-1 rush by an elite forward or a 2-on-1 break look harmless with one of his sweeping stick checks or diving blocks to defuse a dangerous situation? We can debate who is Batman and who is Robin, but Slavin and Hamilton have been good together and therefore mostly are graded together.
Graded as a top 4 defenseman: A-
While other players tend to garner more accolades and headlines, Brett Pesce just continuing doing what he has done for a couple years now which is being an incredibly steady half of one of the team’s top defense pairings. With Justin Faulk’s departure and the decision to keep Hamilton and Slavin together, Pesce landed in a critical role serving as the anchor to a second pairing that would require a new player to step into the lineup. Initially, the expectation was that Jake Gardiner would step up into Faulk’s spot in the top 4. He has had a few short runs in that role, but mostly Pesce has partnered with Joel Edmundson. Pesce has been a steady anchor for the second pairing, and I think has complemented Edmundson well. Adjusting to his partner, Pesce has taken on a greater role in advancing the puck up the ice while still maintaining his ability to be a top rate stay-home defenseman. And somewhat like Slavin, his offensive production is good in the context of his role/usage. Pesce’s 30-ish point pace is very respectable for a player who does not see power play ice time.
What say you Canes fans?
1) How would you grade the goalies? Do you agree with my assessments for them, or would you grade differently?
2) For the top 3 defensemen, am I being too generous giving each an A? Or do you also see this trio as the foundation of the defense that despite some ups and downs is still a team strength in the first half of the season?