With hockey here (prospects anyway) and on the way (training camp this week), things are starting to heat up at Canes and Coffee. For those who stop by intermittently and want to browse what they missed, the best starting point is the first box under the main section entitled “View Chronological List of Articles Here.” You can also bookmark the page using the clickable link. This page provides a simple chronological list of all articles at Canes and Coffee, so you can scroll back as far as you wish.
A couple recent stopping points are the latest entry in the “Back to School” series, featuring David Cotton, which went up quietly on Sunday.
Over the weekend, I started writing my Carolina Hurricanes training camp preview which I will chop into a couple parts, clean up and post sometime this week.
There are two elements to trying to predict what could and ultimately will happen in training camp to shape the opening day roster. Part of this is on the ice — trying toguess how young players will look and how the veterans will best fit together to form lines and defense combinations. The other part is off the ice — trying to guess what Bill Peters and to some degree Ron Francis want to do with the lineup.
Peters and Francis are reasonably straight shooters in terms of providing meaningful information, but I would also rate both as way above average for NHL coaches and management in terms of being tight-lipped, especially Ron Francis. Because of that, in my estimation, figuring out where Peters and Francis are headed is 20 percent reporting what they tell the media and 80 percent some interesting combination of reading tea leaves, understanding their thought process on other similar matters and using intuition.
In starting to work on the training camp preview, here are four questions that I would love to have answered to provide some clarity on direction coupled with my best guess (and it is a guess since these are mostly things that they cannot or will not answer directly).
1) Josh Jooris, Marcus Kruger and the fourth line
I would love to get an answer from Ron Francis as to whether Josh Jooris was added with master plan from the beginning of adding two defensively-oriented depth forwards or if instead Jooris was added potentially to fill Kruger’s role before Francis new he could get the premium version in Kruger.
If Kruger was no acquired a few days later, I think Jooris could actually fill the same role that Kruger is now slotted into. Jooris can, and likely will now, play right wing, but he is also capable of playing center on a defense-leaning line.
If Francis confirmed that from the beginning the master plan was to add a defense-leaning center and wing, it would indicate a pretty strong bias from Francis and/or Peters that they wanted to go with veterans who were first and foremost sound defensively to build the fourth line. If instead, Jooris was sort of a hedge in case Kruger or similar was not obtainable, that might suggest more openness to having a younger player steal Jooris’ slot with a strong preseason.
My hunch: I actually think it is a little bit of both. Because Francis pounced so quickly to sign Jooris shortly after the start of free agency on July 1, my thinking is that Francis wanted him on board whether or not the Kruger deal happened. If that is correct, it indicates a roster building bias toward going with safe and sound defensively for the fourth line.
2) Reconsidering the time frame for considering Sebastian Aho or Elias Lindholm at center
Shortly after the end of the 2016-17 season in their post-season media session, Bill Peters and Ron Francis were asked about Elias Lindholm and Sebastian Aho and the potential that one or both could move to the center position either for the 2017-18 season or in the future. Peters was pretty emphatic about preferring Lindholm at right wing. On Aho, Peters also seemed pretty committed to leaving Aho at left wing short-term. With Aho, Peters did say that he saw Aho developing into a playmaking center in the future.
Francis did not name specific positions at that time, but he did talk about adding top 6/scoring forward help. My expectation at the time was that Francis would try to add a playmaking center, and my hunch is that he did exactly that but went a different route when none of the potential targets came into his price range. Instead, he added Justin Williams and Marcus Kruger and not insignificantly brokered a deal not to lose Lee Stempniak to the expansion draft.
So fast forward to today and barring a last minute surprise (which is not impossible) the Hurricanes will enter training camp with the only center addition being more of the defensive variety in Marcus Kruger.
Important to note is that the Hurricanes did also re-sign Derek Ryan who leans offense and could be part of a scoring line, but the situation still begs the question of whether Peters will reconsider his timeline for giving Aho a try out at center.
My hunch: I think Peters will be missing an opportunity if he does not at least give Aho some preseason action at the center position just to get an idea of what the possibilities are. Even if he prefers to hold tight to his original plan, one never knows what injuries or situations could arise during the long and meandering 82-game season. Best to use some preseason ice to time to understand options. That said, unless Aho just looks absolutely lights out at center and finds instant chemistry to create a scoring line, I think it is more likely that he does stay at wing with either Derek Ryan or Teuvo Teravainen filling the bottom 6 offense-leaning center slot.
3) The second layer of detail on the captain situation (depending on who is named)
The biggest pre-prospects tourney news last week was Bill Peters stating at media day that the team would in fact have a captain.
If Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk or someone else from the 2016-17 team is named captain, I think the questions are fewer. But if Justin Williams is named the captain, I think it raises a number of questions in terms of succession plan and conversations with relevant parties.
My thinking is that naming Justin Williams captain would be a statement that either none of the current options is the right person or that none of them is quite ready. If that is correct, it raises a myriad of questions related to the brain trust’s evaluations and the expected succession plan for the Hurricanes’ captaincy.
Does the brain trust just think that one of the current options just needs a little more time and maybe one more round of mentoring before assuming the role?
Is the brain trust looking for someone to rise above the fray over the next year or two?
Is it possible that Williams will be more specifically mentoring a player mostly pre-identified to follow him in a year or two?
Is it possible that the brain trust wants to leave time for a younger player like Jaccob Slavin, Sebastian Aho or someone else to rise up?
There will undoubtedly be some information shared when the team names its captain for the 2017-18 season. There will undoubtedly be twice as much or more information that is not shared publicly.
My hunch: I go back and forth on this one. On the one hand, I think the most likely and straightforward path forward is that either Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner is named the captain, and Justin Williams gets an ‘A’ and provides support in a Ray Whitney/Eric Staal kind of way. On the other hand, part of me continues to think two things related to the Skinner or Staal possibility. First is that I feel like if one of them was ‘the guy’ that it would have already happened. Second is that I find it interesting that Peters and Francis were very non-committal on the captaincy situation for 2017-18 when they spoke to the media after the end of the 2016-17 season. Surely, it could just be coincidence that Peters’ tone changed significantly after the addition of Justin Williams but maybe not. And I think naming Williams opens the door for the possibility that the next Hurricanes captain after him is not named Skinner, Staal or Faulk.
4) Current status of conversations (if any) with Colorado, Edmonton and Montreal
The start of June featured a reasonably high likelihood that scoring centers Matt Duchene from Colorado, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from Edmonton and Alex Galchenyuk from Montreal would be traded during the offseason. Yet here we sit on September 11, and somewhat surprisingly all three players are right where they started.
Situations changed such that Montreal rid themselves of salary which made it easier to fit Galchenyuk and also lost forwards such that there might be more need to keep Galchenyuk now. His hot and cold relationship in Montreal makes me think he will eventually find his way out the door, but my sense is that Montreal is again in ‘let’s see how this season’ goes mode with him.
On the topic of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle was dealt to the New York Islanders, so the 2017-18 salary cap works fine for Edmonton. That said, the enormous contractual commitments to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl very likely mean that Nugent-Hopkins will not fit for the 2018-19 season. While it is possible that Nugent-Hopkins stays for this season and is traded next summer, his imminent departure makes it possible that he could move at any time.
Finally there is the curious case of Matt Duchene. In early June, the odds of him still being in Colorado entering training camp seemed incredibly remote. Yet here we are. Sakic’s reported asking price has always been sky high, and at least so far no other general manager has been willing to leap across the chasm from a reasonable asking price to Sakic’s. But the volume of commentary and calendar invested in seeing Duchene out the door is immense, and therefore a move seems inevitable.
Francis spoke publicly (and only slightly cryptically) about the Duchene situation in his state of the union address saying that he would not trade a young defenseman for a forward who could theoretically leave in two years. That suggests that Francis might have interest in Duchene but only at a price significantly different and less than Sakic’s asking price.
So the burning question is if Francis is still in talks with any of these teams, especially Colorado, and if so what the current Hurricanes offer and trade partner demands are.
My hunch: My hunch is that Francis has had talks with Sakic about Duchene but that the bid and ask are still miles apart with Francis not considering a roster defenseman and Sakic not yet considering offers for less. I still think it is possible that this deal happens if Sakic finally gives in and accepts the ‘highest futures bid.’ The challenge here is that Fleury who might have been available during the summer is not penciled into the lineup (in my opinion) which makes the deal more complicated. I doubt much is happening with Galchenyuk until he returns to the dog house, and my guess is that Francis would take a wait and see approach with Nugent-Hopkins. If the Hurricanes start slow, and it is apparent that they need a playmaking center to make the scoring work as I said early in the summer, then talks restart.
The shorter version is that I think Francis is willing to bid on Duchene if the price comes down and would consider Nugent-Hopkins but is not pushing for that deal right now either.
What say you Canes fans?
The Monday Coffee shop will also feature some topics heading into training camp, but feel free to also bandy around these four questions and/or add more questions that you would like answered here too.