With the offseason officially upon us, today’s Daily Cup of Joe makes an attempt at slotting the Carolina Hurricanes roster for a winner in 2018-19. In doing so, gaps emerge where the team needs to get better. Certainly it is possible that young players seize these spots, but placing a bunch of bets on players with no NHL experience to parachute into top roles and be good at it is a dice roll.
Starter: ___________ (Potential Starter: Scott Darling with rebound but with low probability)
Backup: Cam Ward (if re-signed)
I wrote about this in some detail in Friday’s article.
That is a big place to have a gap and definitely a situation to watch. Because of the cost, does the team go with a dice roll on a Scott Darling rebound? Might the Canes have to spend on a third goalie?
First scoring line: ______/Sebastian Aho/Teuvo Teravainen (Potential LW: Valentin Zykov)
If the Carolina Hurricanes draft Andrei Svechnikov as expected, both he and Valentin Zykov represent interesting wild cards despite their limited NHL experience. Past Zykov whose ‘to the crease’ style of play complements what Aho and Teravainen do well or Svechnikov who projects to this kind of role eventually, I am not overly high on anyone else on the Hurricanes roster filling this slot. The duo will score on their own, but my opinion is that the next leg up for Aho and Teravainen scoring-wise (point per game pace) requires a higher-end third player on this line.
First checking line: ______/Jordan Staal/Elias Lindholm
Even with modest talent around him, Jordan Staal is capable of anchoring a pretty solid defense-first line that takes the tough minutes against other teams’ top lines. But ideally on a winning team a line like this is also capable of scoring in the 50s. Making that happen would require some combination of a higher gear for Staal and whoever is on right wing (Lindholm, or Williams could also work), but more significantly, I think it requires a left wing with strong defensive acumen but also some playmaking ability. Given that the bigger needs lie elsewhere, I think the left wing slot on this line gets filled by someone on the current roster who is capable but maybe not ideal offensively.
Opportunistic scoring line: Jeff Skinner/_______/Justin Williams (Potential C: Martin Necas or a rejuvenated Victor Rask)
Call it a third line if you must, but I think of it more as a second scoring line that is deployed opportunistically. The great version of this line sees Skinner rebound a bit offensively, get back on task in terms of decision-making and maybe most significantly find chemistry such that he can boost the production of his line mates and vice versa. For whatever list of things that have Jeff Skinner being discussed in trade rumors instead of a long-term contract extension, I think two are most significant. First is that his game just has not matured in terms of defensive acumen such that he can be a positive lining up against other teams’ best lines all night. Second is that for as good as Jeff Skinner is when he is clicking, he has not been the type of offensive player who significantly boosts those around him. If Skinner does stay, the magic for this line would be Skinner finding chemistry with an offensively-capable center.
Fourth line with depth scoring capability: _____/______/_____ (Potential: Numerous; see below)
The Hurricanes improving depth in the system makes for numerous possibilities for filling a fourth line with players capable of providing reasonable depth scoring. All of Victor Rask, Martin Necas, Lucas Wallmark or Derek Ryan (if re-signed) provide center options that would be strong offensively for a fourth line. At wing, the Hurricanes have veterans Joakim Nordstrom, Jordan Martinook, Brock McGinn and Phil DiGiuseppe (if re-signed) if the team needs a veteran stabilizer and/or a penalty killer from the fourth line, but the upside at wing is youth. But longer-term, the upside is youth in the form of players like Warren Foegele, Aleksi Saarela and others. The trick will be capitalizing on depth scoring upside while still netting a couple penalty killers and enough defensive balance.
Defensive first pairing: Jaccob Slavin/Brett Pesce
Ideally, the duo of Slavin and Pesce would contribute just a little bit more offensively despite their defense-leaning usage. But regardless, the duo has proven capable of taking the tough match ups, and I think it is fair to say that they represent the team’s strongest defenders. During the past two years, Peters was forced to separate the two to find competent balance, but in an ideal world I think simplest is to just leave them together.
Second pairing: _______/_________ (Potential: Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin and possibly Trevor van Riemsdyk)
Here is where the problem has lied defensively for consecutive years. For as much as everyone likes to talk about the youth of the Hurricanes blue line as a strength, that strength has yet to emerge as an every-game strength. In terms of building for 2018-19, I think this pairing requires one proven player from outside the organization combined with one of Justin Faulk or Noah Hanifin finding a higher gear. The question is how to add a player and if and when Faulk or Hanifin will find that higher gear.
Third pairing: Two of Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Haydn Fleury
My math is what has rumors bouncing around that Hanifin and/or Faulk are on the market. Even if one rises to the top 4, the math still suggests that the Hurricanes have a couple decent defensemen without slots in the lineup. Both Faulk and Hanifin clearly have the potential to be capable in the top 4, but betting a season on both finding that higher gear defensively is risky. There are more than enough options here…probably too many and too costly which is why the trade mills have the Canes potentially trading a defenseman this summer.
Netting it out and identifying priorities
Realistically, the Carolina Hurricanes will not address all of the higher needs by adding players. The reality will more so see the Hurricanes make a targeted addition or two and then fill in the remaining slots from what they have already.
My priorities in order would be:
1) Adding a potential starting goalie
The fact that the team committed significant money to make this improvement last season with no results is unfortunate, but betting the 2018-19 season on a Scott Darling turnaround is gambling not planning. The team must do something at this position past Scott Darling and Cam Ward.
2) Adding a defensively steady #4 defenseman.
The Hurricanes do not need spectacular out of a second pair defenseman. They just need the kind of steady that makes the player on the other side better. Again, both of Faulk and Hanifin could take a step up and be exactly the second pairing that the team needs with some offense but also defensive acumen. But that like Darling is gambling not planning.
3) Adding one higher-end scoring forward.
If the team plans to skate Aho at center (most likely), my preference would be to add proven scoring wing. While I do think Aho will improve again anyway, I think the higher echelons offensively will require some help too.
I went back and forth on the order to prioritize 2 and 3. In the end, I think the team’s depth and youth at forward have more potential to fill the immediate gap than the blue line necessarily does. That drove me to put adding a top 4 defense second. The challenge is that adding three top half of the roster players in an offseason is no easy feat. But if the team does trade a big name player or two, the possibility is there.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What parts of how I slot the current roster do you agree with?
2) What parts of how I slot the current roster do you disagree with?
3) What is your split with filling the openings with veterans already on the roster, rookies and players from outside the organization?