Part of me wanted to try to write something upbeat and positive about the Canes heading into the weekend that has 2 ominous-looking home games after Thursday’s tough loss, I think it would actually be disrespectful to try to blow sunshine for Friday morning.
To be clear, I actually still am optimistic about the team’s future based on the potential (and some actual progress) of the young blue line, but after Thursday it is difficult not to have that clouded by the trajectory of the 2015-16 season and the fact that it still has 56 games left in it.
So with that, here are the things in that worry me most right now when I look at the Canes:
1) Noah Hanifin wandering from his game
Noah Hanifin has lived up to expectations as being capable of competing in the NHL as an 18-year old. He has had his share of learning moments, but he has also held his own for the most part. And I think the high hopes that all Canes fans had for him when he fell into our laps at #5 on June 26 are still intact.
…BUT…I continue to worry that he is straying farther and farther from playing to his strengths and his game. During rookie camp, I said that he reminded me a bit of Joni Pitkanen in the sense that he felt comfortable/liked to play with the puck on his stick possibly to a fault sometimes not wanting to part with the puck until he had a better place to send it. He had no problem patiently holding the puck for 20 seconds waiting for something to develop. Fast forward to today, and he looks like a completely different player. On Thursday, he seemed to just want to get rid of the thing as fast as he could.
My position right now is similar but different. At a very basic level, I want to see Noah Hanifin play like the skating, attacking Noah Hanifin that the Canes drafted not a buttoned-down defenseman who defers to someone else to carry the play. I am fine with him doing that against lesser competition in Charlotte to build confidence. I am also fine with him doing it at the NHL level and living with the learning and mistakes that inevitably would come with it. I am not fine with his current path.
2) Eddie Lack and Francis’ commitment to him as half of the Canes goalie tandem going forward
First, to be clear, this is NOT a final assessment. It is an assessment based on what we have seen so far. Thus far, Eddie Lack has not shown that he is capable of being a successful starting goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes. Given that Ron Francis committed $2.75 million to him for 2 years after this 1 on a team that is budget-constrained, this is a concern.
I would actually like to see Coach Bill Peters commit to giving him a run of a few games as a starter for better or for worse. He has yet to start consecutive games or even 2 games in the same week, so it is possible that he just needs to get his feet underneath him and find a rhythm. The team definitely needs to figure that out before next summer when it needs to sort out the goalie tandem for 2016-17, and I vote for sooner rather than later.
3) Justin Faulk wandering from his core
I am as thrilled as everyone else with Justin Faulk’s continued development offensively. I had him nowhere close to where he is right now in terms of goal scoring or offense in general. And his goal scoring has been a bright spot amidst some challenging stretches this season.
But part of me worries that in trying to boost the struggling offense, he is straying just a bit from his core as a young defender with the potential to be part of a true shutdown pair. And frankly, I would rather have a 45-point stellar shutdown defenseman in Faulk than a 60-point offensive defenseman who gets labeled ‘offensive’ because his defense is just a notch lower. Statistically, Justin Faulk is on the ice for a large volume of goals against. I keep going around and around without any final answer on how to assign blame for that between some shaky goaltending, his D partner, the simple fact that he is logging the most ice time on a team that is not very good and his own faults. I want to put all of the blame on the other causes and say that it not Faulk’s doing. While there is definitely an element of this, when I track through the goals against, Faulk does seem to have a direct role in enough of them to make me worry just a bit.
To be clear, I still see Faulk as a great young defenseman and the short-term and long-term leader of the Canes blue line. I just think he still has some work to do to put all of the pieces together.
4) Don Waddell not having a good handle on the market/fan base
As I wrote in my post last night which you can find HERE, I worry that Don Waddell is out of touch with the fan base. A long time ago, I took a marketing class that focused on pricing. In 1 class, we did sort of a case study that immersed the class in all kinds of data and numbers that were theoretically to be used to figure out how to correctly price a product. Hidden amidst all of it and seemingly as an afterthought was some incredibly simple but compelling information that showed what value customers put on the product and also showed at what prices the sales volume moved significantly. The moral of that story was that at the end of the day pricing is what the customer will pay for something (in sufficient volume).
Getting back to the Hurricanes, I worry about the business of the team on 3 fronts. First, per the post from yesterday, I worry that the team is selling the wrong product – the 1 with a low value relative to at least slightly better options. I said on Twitter after tonight’s loss that it is quickly becoming impossible to sell anything Hurricanes from before Justin Faulk’s time basically meaning that any players deemed (fairly or unfairly) as leaders during the full run of playoff drought have the potential to be more negative to ticket sales with casual fans than positive right now. Second, I am not sure Waddell has a grasp of the economics of the market and fan base. He has overseen significant decreases in attendance for 2 years now. I get that part of this is freebies going away. And I get that a significant part of this is due to the team’s lack of success. But stubbornly letting seats go empty helps no one. Hockey tickets are like airline flight tickets in the sense that they expire once the event happens. They are also a bit like a restaurant on a Friday night. If hardly anyone shows up, it detracts from the entertainment value of those who did because the experience has an empty feeling to it. And right now attending most Hurricanes games feels empty even for someone who loves the team and will support it no matter what the results.
And without doing any kind of deep analysis of all of the many details behind it, it does make me worry that Don Waddell was at the helm of another NHL franchise that ultimately failed. Is he better for what he learned from that experience? Or does he just not have the right approach, skills, etc.?
With that dark cloud cast, I will call it a night and also promise to muster something more positive for tomorrow.