With the team’s recent struggles that mercifully ended with a win on Thursday night against the Flyers, I have been thinking about the current roster and where it needs to be better. What has been striking during the Hurricanes’ losing streaks, especially the most recent one, has been the team’s ability to alternate between seemingly playing well but just not being good enough and then throwing in an occasional train wreck. The latter could be attributed to youth or just timing, but the volume of losses where the team seemingly played fairly well and put forward the effort but still lost is in some ways more of a concern. Is the team just not good enough? Quite possibly yes. The team is deeper than it has clearly improved in terms of depth, but it is not clear that it yet has enough talent to slot players correctly.
So today’s Daily Cup of Joe goes through the current roster and attempts to slot players on where they would fit onto a ‘peak’ Canes team defined as a team that is a regular playoff entry with enough talent to potentially go deep into the playoffs.
Carolina Hurricanes goalies
Cam Ward — Backup: He performed admirably in that role early in the season, and also proved capable of taking the reins at least for a short stretch. As a veteran and good locker room presence, Ward brings extra benefits in a limited role. In addition, his success in the playoffs suggests that if forced into action in the postseason, he would not be fazed by the enormity of the situation such that he wilted simply because of the pressure.
Scott Darling — N/A: To be clear, I am basing this specifically on play during the 2017-18 season. As such, if given the choice and no contract situation to retain Scott Darling, I would have to pass. But important to note is that Darling had a strong track record as a backup in Chicago, so if he could regain that level of play, he would at least be a capable backup.
Jaccob Slavin — 1st pairing: To be honest, his 2017-18 season has not matched his 2016-17 season. He started strong and has been strong again of late but had more of a lesser stretch in the middle of this season than he saw in 2016-17. But even still, Slavin is a capable top pairing defenseman who can play against the other teams’ best and at least survive.
Brett Pesce — 1st pairing: Pesce has been a bit steadier than Slavin during the 2017-18 season and rates similarly. I would not put him (or Slavin) in the elite category, but I think Pesce is capable of holding his own against other teams’ top scoring lines.
Justin Faulk — Offensive #5 defenseman: Even with a down year offensively, Justin Faulk is on target for about 35 points. With a decent knack for stepping into the play on the rush to shoot and a big shot on the power play, Faulk has the potential to reach the 15-goal level again. As such, he is a capable offensive defenseman. The downside of Faulk’s game is his defensive play. Dating back to last season, he just is not quite up to par defensively to play regularly in the top 4 of a good team. It shows in his minus 23 for 2017-18 following a team worst minus 18 in 2016-17.
Noah Hanifin — Offensive #5 defenseman: As a young player only in his third year, Noah Hanifin is at a different stage development-wise compared to Faulk, but in terms of slotting him into a good NHL lineup right now, I think he is quite similar. Hanifin’s game has taken a nice step forward offensively in 2017-18, and while not elite his mid-30s pace for scoring is capable of filling an offensive #5 slot with a player physically capable of stepping up into the top 4 as an injury fill in if necessary.
Hanifin makes for a good chance to point out that I am NOT projecting what players might become but rather evaluating what they are right now.
Trevor van Riemsdyk — All-around #5 defenseman: Trevor van Riemsdyk has proven to be a solid addition by Ron Francis. He has been a steady presence in the third pairing all season. First, he helped provide a stable environment for Haydn Fleury to get his skates under him as a rookie. Then van Riemsdyk provided a stable situation for Hanifin to grow offensively. In the case of Hanifin, the situation was a stark contrast to a 2016-17 season that featured a revolving door next to him in the third pairing.
Haydn Fleury — Learning #6 defenseman: Haydn Fleury has proven capable of playing at the NHL level, and on many nights he shows the potential to become more. But on a good NHL team with a solid and deep lineup, players like Fleury are ideally pushed down to the bottom of the depth chart where they learn on the job and are elevated only when they earn it.
Klas Dahlbeck — Serviceable #7 defenseman: In a limited role as a #7 defenseman, I think Klas Dahlbeck has had a reasonably strong 2017-18 campaign. He has proven capable of stepping into the lineup after an extended layoff and being at least capable. That is not an easy task. That is really all one can ask for that role.
Netting it out
When one works through my ratings for goalies and defensemen, it is not hard to find a problem. The team is currently short three top half of the roster players.
I see the team as:
1st pair: Slavin/Pesce
2nd pair: ____/_____
3rd pair: Fleury or Hanifin/Faulk or van Riemsdyk
While it is reasonable to project that the Hurricanes do have what it needs for a solid second pairing in-house, just wishing forward into a positive future and then counting on that is one of the problems that has reared its head intermittently during the 2017-18 season. So the positive is that the Hurricanes have depth to the tune of arguably four players who could be good #5 defensemen. That makes for strong depth and balance and also the potential to withstand injuries to key players. The negative is that though all have the potential to be a top 4, I am not sure any really qualify right now.
The goalie situation is complicated and will arguably be Francis’ biggest decision point again next offseason. Ward has been at least as good as expected in transitioning to a backup role, but that is not the same as saying he is a capable starter on a good team now that he is 33 years old. And Darling could well rebound and be a #1 or at least a #1A/#1B, but as of right now, he is very much a dice roll.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you agree with my assessment of the blue line that says the team currently has a bunch of players who have the potential to be more but are fairly categorized as solid third pairing defensemen right now?
2) Is it fair to say that the Hurricanes do not currently have a player that you can rightfully count on to be a #1 for the 2018-19 season based on what we have seen thus far in 2017-18?