On Wednesday, Canes and Coffee posted a Coffee Shop article with a set of polls with only ‘stay’ or ‘go’ options for each of the 2017-18 Carolina Hurricanes forwards. Most of the results matched what I expected, but the magnitude of a couple votes did surprise me. If you are reading this early on Thursday, check back at lunchtime or later for part 2 which looks at goalies, defensemen and staff.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers my quick thoughts on the forward group.
Building the top 9
My core at forward is only Jordan Staal, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Justin Williams right now. Jordan Staal is a top 6 forward capable of lining up against and quieting elite NHL scoring lines. That is very hard to replace. Sebastian Aho is an obvious choice, and Teuvo Teravainen has chemistry with Aho and makes two out of the three needed for a true top scoring line. Justin Williams is not so much untouchable because his skill set cannot be replaced. Rather, I just think the team needs all the leadership it can get as it trying yet again to rise up from a playoff miss in 2018-19.
Would require a good return to pry them loose
This group includes Elias Lindholm and Brock McGinn. In the next category, I include a couple players who I would begrudgingly consider trading as part of a deal that added the offensive catalyst that the team needs. McGinn has grown to become a solid depth forward who rates high for intensity and consistency in that regard and also scores at a decent clip for his role. By no means would I be looking to trade McGinn but for the right deal he is replaceable and therefore someone who I would begrudgingly let go. The same goes for Lindholm who slots a bit higher. Lindholm is a capable, well-rounded top 9 forward. On a team that is light at right wing looking into the future, he fits well in the top 9 for 2018-19 and beyond. But as a mid-40s scorer who does not really excel at anything, I would also categorize him as a player that I would consider giving up in the right deal.
Jeff Skinner is easily the most perplexing player on the Hurricanes roster for me. On the one hand, he has the potential to reach 40 goals, and what’s more he seems to be able to do it as a lone ranger without much help. If the Hurricanes had a legitimate top scoring line that did not include Skinner, might he be perfect to provide a huge amount of secondary scoring without needing high-end line mates to do it? And though I question the reality of it, the idea that maybe Skinner is capable of even more if surrounded by better talent is intriguing. But the other side of the coin is that Skinner has regressed defensively again in 2017-18. Back are failed back-checking responsibilities and questionable decision-making at times especially in the defensive and neutral zones. In addition, it is not clear that his style of play that holds the puck a ton really meshes with other offensive players well. Finally, it is not clear that he is capable of significantly boosting the play of his line mates or having line mates do the same for him. Especially if his next contract comes in at $7 million or more, I would want a player who not just scores but plays well enough defensively that the scoring translates to a positive goal differential and also who is capable of boosting a couple line mates scoring-wise.
In a summer that features a bunch of huge decisions for the new general manager, making a long-term decision on Jeff Skinner ranks high. As a player set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, best would be to make a decision next summer and either re-sign him early or otherwise considering moving him while he still has maximum value. To be honest, I am torn on which is the right path.
Victor Rask is another wild card. As another center whose skill set leans defense-first/offense-lite, Rask is easily expendable this summer. The issue is that his $4 million contract is probably close to immovable right now unless the Hurricanes eat a big chunk of it or take a similarly overpriced contract back. As such, I think the smartest move with Rask short-term is to ride forward and hope for a rebound. As positive is that even the struggling version of Victor Rask is a competent bottom half of the roster center, just with too high of a salary. So in that regard, he still fills a roster spot.
The fourth line and depth
Two too many
As much as they are maligned right now which is showing up in the polls right now, I actually think that all of Derek Ryan, Joakim Nordstrom, Lee Stempniak and to a lesser degree Marcus Kruger could be useful in depth roles. But two things in that regard — First is that the Hurricanes do not need four of these depth type players for 2018-19. One of maybe two would be enough to provide experienced players for the bottom of the lineup but also leave room for youth to move up. Second is that the salary needs to be right for these depth roles.
Very likely, Lee Stempniak will be gone to free agency. Though he might be tough to move, I think Marcus Kruger’s days are likely numbered because he just did not work out in 2018-19. That leaves Joakim Nordstrom and Derek Ryan. If their prices stay at over very close to the $1 million mark, I could actually see both players stay to provide depth at a reasonable price. The #13 slot is not one that a team wants to fill with youth who are better-served playing in the AHL than sitting in an NHL press box.
Another unique case
Considered only as an NHL player, Phil Di Giuseppe is a player who could be replaced with AHLers on the way up or an inexpensive free agent signing. So in that regard, he fits with the group of players above. But if the Hurricanes can ink him to a two-way contract such that he provides NHL depth but with the capability to slot in Charlotte at a legitimate AHL price, I think he is worth keeping for that role to provide deep depth with NHL experience on the right kind of contract.
My starting point for a 2018-19 forward lineup
Extras: Nordstrom and/or Ryan (if they can be re-signed for about $1 million each)
AHL depth: Di Giuseppe (only if he can be re-signed to a two-way contract such that he can be slotted in the AHL as deep depth)
Gone: Kruger, Stempniak, Jooris (already traded)
That leaves two top 9 slots to be filled with one offensive catalyst/difference-maker from outside the current roster and one slot to be won by a rookie or otherwise McGinn. Similarly, the fourth line should have one or possibly two slots available for AHL players to seize, but the #13 slot will be filled by a capable NHL player if none of the youth can seize the slot.