Approaching a full month past the end of the 2017-18 season, time has passed to allow the disappointing season to sink in and be processed.
The general thought process is to try to fix what is broken and push into the playoffs in the 2018-19 season. And while that is entirely possible, I think it might be more challenging that some think, and I also think that pursuing a win now at all costs approach does not mesh well with what the team has for strengths right now.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe explores some of the challenges with fixing the current version of the Hurricanes and simultaneously considers that patience and another smaller round of rebuilding might be the better course of action.
Fixing what is broken is challenging
Fixing what is broken or needs to be significantly improved is challenging in a couple respects. Those who think it is as simple as making a checklist and working through it are misguided in my opinion for two reasons.
First is the magnitude of a couple of the easily identifiable things that need to be fixed or improved. Somewhere near the top of the list is goaltending. But with Scott Darling signed for three more years at $4.1 million per year simply upgrading the position is complicated, especially financially. Darling could well rebound in 2018-19, but counting on that as a cornerstone of a playoff push is much more of a dice roll or patient rebuild than it is a safe and certain plan. The other big need is adding at least one higher-end offensive player, ideally a center, to help boost the lagging offense. As much as it would be nice to just sign John Tavares and consider that solved, the real-world solutions to this problem are imperfect at best. With options to add from outside the organization limited and likely expensive, turning internally to Sebastian Aho and promising prospect Martin Necas is arguably the most promising course of action. But the issue here is timeline. Today’s NHL is a young man’s game which makes it entirely possible that one of both of these talented young players excel at center in 2018-19. But more likely is that there is still a learning process in front of Martin Necas who will make a big jump from the Czech Republic to the NHL as a 19-year old rookie and even for Sebastian Aho who is still early in the learning curve for his transition to center. Allowing one of both of these talented young players to learn on the job at the NHL level seems reasonable and could yield instant success, but it also sounds more like rebuilding with patience than doing everything possible to assure success for the 2018-19 season.
Then even if the Hurricanes can address the couple obvious items on a checklist, the situation actually becomes more complicated from there. For those who watched the team closely in 2018-19, it was clear that the team needs some kind of reset in terms of attitude, leadership, mojo, mentality or whatever else. The team seemingly needs some kind of shake up to start anew in this regard, and that does not come from turning over a handful of depth players. If the team does in fact make changes of significance to the roster, that too screams rebuild over win now though it is probably a necessary element for the latter.
Considering the strengths looking forward
A significant positive right now is the team’s youth and significantly improve prospect pool that is just on the cusp of providing NHL-ready players who have developed up through the ranks to become well-rounded and ‘overripe’. But there are a couple challenges in leveraging this upside. First is that there can be an adjustment with growing pains for young players stepping up to the NHL level. Second is that there can be some trial and error required to determine which players can convert AHL-level success to the NHL. Somewhat similar to Aho and Necas at center, there will likely be growing pains during a conversion phase. Yet again, this sounds very much like rebuilding.
And as noted above, playing young talents like Aho and Necas at their natural position at center position plays to the team’s strengths but with an uncertain timeline.
If the goal was 2019-20…
If the team resigned itself to another year of rebuilding and focused on the 2019-20 season, I think it looks like this:
Scott Darling gets another year to try to rebound, give Nedeljkovic another year to prepare and if nothing else to burn another year off his contract.
Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas (if he proves ready in preseason) are given the chance to learn on the job at the center position and in a way where they are challenged not shielded from difficult situations and match ups.
A healthy part of the roster is left open for the 2017-18 AHL successes to be given good opportunities to convert that success to the NHL level in meaningful roles.
Part of the core and leadership is changed up in hopes of changing the mentality.
By all means that formula could yield instant magic. The topsy-turvy NHL regularly has rebuilding and struggling young teams suddenly figure it out and become good. The Winnipeg Jets were a young team with a ton of upside but little in the way of current success until all of a sudden the success arrived. So I think the possibility of the Hurricanes youth just figuring it out is there, but I also think that if the team does go this route heading into the 2018-19 season that you have to mostly let it runs its course without aborting the mission almost immediately because it looks like it will not yield instant success.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Am I nuts to even consider that 2018-19 could be another rebuilding year even if only of the mini variety?
2) Is it time to just go all in on the youth movement?
3) What do you see as the potential for things to just click with the young players such that the Hurricanes become one of the ‘newfound success’ stories for the 2018-19 season?