Let me start by saying that I am generally pleased with the current state of the Hurricanes especially if Justin Williams returns for one more season as the captain. So the aim of this article is not to predict doom but rather to acknowledge potential Achilles’ heels.
The blue line
The trade of Calvin de Haan made sense in that he was a fifth top 4 defenseman and pricey for that role. When one also considers the injury risk coming off a second shoulder injury, the trade measured by itself has some merit. But I think what the team lost was a potential stabilizing force. De Haan was arguably the team’s most boring defenseman in 2018-19. His game is a non-dynamic, vanilla version of being decent defensively but not offering much offensively. But in terms of being part of the formula that worked in 2018-19, I think de Haan played two key roles. First, he was part of the equation that helped Justin Faulk right the ship after a tough 2017-18 season. At the same time, de Haan made it possible to bump Dougie Hamilton to the third pairing when he was struggling such that he could find his bearings and not have to do so under the pressure of a top 4 role.
Justin Faulk rebounded in 2018-19, but is there a chance that he hits another bump in the road?
Dougie Hamilton had a tremendous second half of the season in 2018-19, but he struggled in the first half of the season and actually has a history of that.
The biggest thing about the departure of de Haan is that the top 4 must now all perform. The backstop behind them is not there to the same degree. Trevor van Riemsdyk is a proven veteran, so it is possible he could step up into a higher slot if needed, but I still think the blue line is much more of a risk factor than most believe.
To a certain degree, I just think goaltending is always a risk. But I think that is even more true for the 2019-20 Hurricanes. Lost in the second half surge and playoff run is the fact that Petr Mrazek really did not find his game until the midway point of the 2018-19 season. If Mrazek starts slowly like he did in 2018-19, the Hurricanes will need some help from another goalie to stay afloat. The team scores well in this regard in terms of volume of options, but really does not have a safe and sound backup. James Reimer has a good resume and experience but must rebound from a tough 2018-19 season. And Alex Nedeljkovic did all he could do at the AHL level to earn a shot in the NHL, but he is completely unproven. At a basic level, I like what the Hurricanes have for options in net, but at the same time I think those counting the goaltending as a sure thing are missing on the general history of the position and more directly the Hurricanes recent history.
Leadership (if Justin Williams does not return)
The biggest wild card still remaining is whether Justin Williams will return or not. I am on record as thinking the need for his leadership for one more season is underestimated. I think the challenge in 2019-20 will be the transition to being a team with expectations. If the team hits a bump in the road which it most certainly will over the course of a long 82-game season, it will face a different kind of pressure as a team with expectations that are not being met. I think helping the team push over this different hump is the last big ask from Williams short but powerful reign as the team’s leader. If Williams does not return, I think there is significant risk with the leadership of the team. Other players are capable of playing a leadership role, but I think Williams is at a higher level in terms of absorbing a ton of the pressure and also knowing how to force the team’s mentality to where it needs to be over the course of a meandering six-month NHL season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you think of these three potential weak links for the 2019-20 Carolina Hurricanes?
2) Do you see additional potential weak links with the current Hurricanes roster?