Today’s Daily Cup of Joe….is not about goalies!!! I know you’re excited. 🙂
Instead today’s offering is a collection of random Canes notes.
Key to the next step up
I think some people underestimate how close the Hurricanes are to being in Stanley Cup contention and at the same time overestimate how much closer the team can get by improving and making upgrades. While there are certainly teams that have a significantly higher chance of hoisting the Cup than others, much of winning it is just catching lightning in a bottle, finding and riding a hot goalie at the right time of year or just even playing good not great hockey and catching some well-timed breaks.
2019 Stanley Cup winner St. Louis came from as far back as the Hurricanes just to improbably make the playoffs in 2019 and then rode goalie Jordan Binnington who was not anywhere near the top of the depth chart when the season started to a Cup victory.
The Dallas Stars who are the current favorite to emerge in 2020 have ridden a sudden and mostly inexplainable surge in scoring and a backup goalie to within three wins of shiny silver goodness.
And these past couple years are not anomalies.
I think the most common recipe for winning the Stanley Cup is three basic ingredients.
(1) Be good enough to make the playoffs even if the regular season does not go perfectly.
(2) Have enough high-end talent and balance to be able to compete with good teams for most of a seven-game series without needing minor miracles to win individual games.
(3) Get hot.
Noticeably missing from my list is a requirement to be an elite team, a top 4 team or anything roughly in that category.
In that sense, I think the Hurricanes are in range of being able to win a Stanley Cup right now.
The team’s blue line is deep and generally a strength capable of matching up against strong opponents. Mrazek and Reimer have both shown the potential to find hot streaks and be the better goalie games for stretches. And the team finally has some higher-end talent to stock the top of the lineup.
I think the one area where the Canes still have struggle matching up against good teams for series is its second forward line. Because it has always been scoring light and/or because Jordan Staal is maybe finally starting to slow just a bit, I view his line as a capable third line but not more. Teravainen/Aho form two-thirds of a legitimate top scoring line. With Svechnikov is ideal but not required if they can boost a finishing wing as happened with Micheal Ferland early in the 2018-19 season and then with Nino Niederreiter when he first arrived. But the hole right now and also looking back a few years has been the team’s inability to build a second scoring line. Against good teams especially on the road, it can be very difficult to win without a 1-2 punch. Pending a well-timed hot streak in net, I think building a strong scoring second line around Vincent Trocheck or someone else if he does not work is the key missing ingredient right now top put the Hurricanes in or very close to the top tier of teams that have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup in the next few years. Per what I said above, this is not to say that the Hurricanes are necessarily in the top couple teams in the NHL. Rather it is to say that being ranked that high is not a necessary ingredient for winning the Cup.
Potentially time to sell high on Haydn Fleury?
Haydn Fleury entered the 2019-20 season as a player with a high draft pedigree but relatively slow path to even a depth role at the NHL level. He exited the 2019-20 season at a higher level after logging a full year at the NHL level and playing some of his best hockey in the playoffs.
The vocal group of Haydn Fleury fans are probably clamoring for a long-term deal and elevated role for Fleury, but I think there is a bit of a disconnect between what he is and what he might become. First, despite being a fairly new arrival at the NHL level, he is not so much a young rookie with a ton of potential upside physically. Fleury is 24 years old which is just a year younger than veteran Brett Pesce and four years older than Andrei Svechnikov who could still have a bunch of upside left. So while I do think Fleury could have upside as he adds NHL experience, he would reasonably be closer to his ceiling than younger first or second year players. More significant for me is the question of where he rightfully slots on a good team. Again, the optimists have Fleury pegged as a second pairing defenseman. While the potential is there, he has not proven in this role. No doubt Fleury’s game grew in 2019-20, but the vast majority of that occurred while safely sheltered in a third pairing role with a veteran and sometimes maybe underslotted partner. He had a very short stint in the second pairing with Brady Skjei before the season was suspended but was playing in a third pairing role during the playoffs. Could he be ready to take the next step and become a capable top 4 defenseman? Certainly. But are there also players who look very good as a #5 defenseman but just are not capable of being a regular top 4 defenseman? Definitely. Trevor van Riemsdyk is a good example close to home. So at a basic level, the burning question is whether Fleury has peaked as a good young third pairing defenseman who will be overslotted higher or if he can take another step up into the top 4 if given the opportunity.
In addition, to just trying to assess Fleury as a player, there is the matter of impending expansion draft. Even if the Hurricanes cannot re-sign Dougie Hamilton, the protection list, if the Canes go with the standard three defensemen, would seemingly be Slavin, Pesce and Skjei which makes Fleury the player most likely to be lost. If there is a good return to be had, could it make sense to move on a year early?
Finally, trading Fleury right now has the potential to be at his peak value. If he lands on the third pairing side of the fence for his ceiling, then trading him now could be perfectly-timed. Certainly, there are teams/scouts that lean optimistic on Fleury’s untested ceiling. If he gets valued as a top 4 defenseman in trade but does not reach that level, selling now would be wise. Further, as a restricted free agent coming off a season that mostly saw him in the third pairing, his next contract should be reasonable. For a team that needs a #4 defenseman but does not so much have budget for it and whose front office and scouts like Fleury’s upside, he could be a perfect fit between age, contract and upside.
By no means would be aggressively be shopping Fleury right now. Even if he just ends up being a capable #5/#6 defenseman, his next contract should be reasonable for that role. But in a realistic market where one has to trade something of value to get something of equal value, Fleury might be a good balance of being a trade chip that actually has real value but is also a player whose slot could be back-filled reasonably easily.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you buy my case that once you get roughly into range (which I think Canes are either there or close) that winning the Stanley Cup is somewhat of a crap shoot?
2) Do you agree with my assertion that building a capable second scoring line is the single biggest need for the Canes to take one more step up?
3) Would you consider selling high on Fleury in the trade market? What do you see as his ‘proven’ level as of right now, and what do you expect for his ultimate ceiling?