Let me first start by putting forward a few disclaimers since the current state of Hurricanes hockey has the potential to have this read like a tirade.
First, as far as Bill Peters and Ron Francis go, I am not ready to chuck either under the bus. Francis is doing exactly what he said he would do from day 1, and even if the schedule continues to push out, he deserves credit for consistency and steadfastness. Though I do question whether he will be able to break from methodical and conservative when he needs to, I am not going down that road tonight. My rating on Peters right now is more mixed. At best, his team is playing to their talent level, but I do not think it is impossible that this team could be capable of much more. That said, at a minimum I think Peters deserves this year to show what he can do.
Second, I am not suggesting that each and every one of the decisions detailed below was wrong. Decision-making for managing an NHL team is an imperfect process even for those who do it well, so picking out some handful of decisions that did not turn out well and using it as evidence that the coach or general manager are not competent is just not accurate.
Finally, I honestly am not writing this as part of an angry tirade. Rather, I had a busy day on Monday and unfortunately did not have time to write Tuesday’s Daily Cup of Joe before the 10pm game, so that has me rambling away at nearly 2am. With the team’s recent struggles, what it could do better has been front and center, so it is the easiest to write stream of consciousness way late at the end of a long day.
Lawyer volume disclaimers aside, here is a short list of moves that I thing one could second guess right now…
1) The captaincy
First, I do not see anything negative with the team’s leadership right now except that it is not leading the team to enough wins. As I said on Twitter a few days back, the deeper we get into the 2017-18 season, the more I think the team would have been better off with Justin Williams as its captain. I just think as a team that has not won in forever and therefore with 10-11 players who literally never experienced it at the NHL level that the team needs a bigger shift in mindset than can easily be accomplished with a step-wise continuation from last year.
2) Failure to build a deeper coaching bench over the summer
At the front part of the summer, I predicted that the Hurricanes would make a meaningful coaching addition (not counting the goalie coach change) over the summer. My reasoning was threefold. First, as a fairly new head coach who had yet to coach a team that was legitimately pushing for the playoffs, I thought a sounding board and second set of eyes could benefit Bill Peters. Second, it would be a way to add more expertise for special teams or anything else that could use more attention. Third and significantly, the cost is so incredibly small compared to player costs. A “consultant” or “specialist” with significant NHL experience would probably cost $250,000 or less. I figured the summer would be perfect timing for Francis to push this change at a time when a number of things are in flux anyway and it would not be a big deal.
3) Not giving Sebastian Aho at least a trial at center
Peters is on record from shortly after last season as preferring Aho on the wing at least short-term, but I think that was also said at a time when the hope was to add a playmaking center to the mix. That did not materialize over the summer which left the team entering the 2017-18 season with Derek Ryan slated to be the purest version of an offensive center in the lineup. My opinion is that the lack of pure playmaking at the center position is the single biggest thing holding the team back offensively right now. Both 5-on-5 and on the power play, the Hurricanes lack the kind of player who could make sure that players like Teuvo Teravainen get at least a handful of decent scoring chances every game. I get the possibility that Aho just might not be ready, but hockey is very much a young man’s game. Teenagers very regularly rise up and lead teams. And I think it is a misconception that truly great players have to develop before they can step into a certain role. No doubt, good young players improve, but they also often have an uncanny knack for being good enough or better for key roles even before their game rounds out. At a more simple risk/reward level, I just think the potential risk or downside of giving Aho a short run of games at the center position is incredibly small compared to the potential upside.
4) Marcus Kruger and the fourth line
First, let me start by saying that I think the fourth line has been decent given its targeted role. So the issue is not so much Marcus Kruger and the fourth line’s level play. Rather, the thing I second guess heavily right now is if the team went the wrong direction trying to add players to build another checking line. For as much as everyone likes to rave about how good Marcus Kruger is defensively (and I am not debating that), he is as much of a non-factor offensively as Jay McClement was. Right now, Kruger is on target for no goals and 11 assists which is actually a small step down from McClement’s five goals and three assists in 65 games before he was traded last year. In addition, Kruger’s lack of offensive ability like McClement’s tends to be a drag on the entire line. And to add insult to injury, at least in 2016-17, all three of the Hurricanes fourth-liners played key roles on the penalty kill that was among the top of the league. Building a fourth line aimed purely at scoring does not work in the NHL. A line of a team’s 10-12th best players that is not defensively sound will get eaten alive by top 6 forwards on other teams. That is why it makes some sense that Peters and/or Francis leaned pure defense for the fourth line. But with Lucas Wallmark playing a decent two-way game somewhat similar to Victor Rask but potentially having a higher ceiling offensively, I have to wonder if Peters/Francis could have had their cake and ate it to building a pretty good defensive fourth line but also one that could provide decent depth scoring.
5) Clinging to Justin Faulk
First, it is important to note that I have always voted no to trading Justin Faulk. While I was actually quite critical of his defensive play during the 2016-17, I put significant value in his offensive ability. In addition, I did not think the emerging defenseman had enough experience to part ways with Faulk. Finally, his offensive production was not something to take lightly especially for a team that needed to find more scoring. But now 30 games into the 2017-18 season, I just do not think Faulk is good enough defensively right now. I view his game as that of a good offense-leaning #5 defenseman who also fits nicely on the power play. Interestingly, even that has not really worked out as Faulk has been slow out the gate offensively with only one goal and six assists through 30 games which projects toward a meager 20-ish point pace.
Not too long ago, I threw out the idea of trading Justin Faulk for a high-end center/offensive catalyst, and then trading Victor Rask plus modest futures to add a steady but unspectacular #4 defenseman to replace Faulk. I have no idea what the early December trade market looks like but chain reaction moves like this are difficult to pull off.
What say you Caniacs?
1) What are your thoughts on the five second guessing possibilities detailed above?
2) Do you have any that you would add to the list?