There is only one goal
From day 1 and with a team that seemed miles away from contending for a Stanley Cup, that was Rod Brind’Amour’s goal — to win it all. Playoff berths and playoff series wins are not achievements. They are just stepping stones toward the ultimate goal and nothing more.
When contemplating why Brind’Amour makes decisions that he does, I think it is important to start from remembering his mindset focused only on one goal, winning the Stanley Cup.
Line combinations with an eye for playoff success
One of the favorite things to second guess Brind’Amour on right now is line combinations. Not a day goes by without a mini-uproar that ___ is on the top line with Sebastian Aho instead of Andrei Svechnikov. If the aim was to build the best first line possible, slotting Svechnikov next to Aho and just running with it would be a no-brainer. And those who think that Brind’Amour is not smart enough to know this are missing the boat. Remember the goal – the only goal.
Brind’Amour knows from experience over the years and actually more specifically from this Hurricanes team that it is possible to score in bunches and win in the regular season with a top-heavy lineup. But beating other good teams late in the playoffs when both teams are good, the opponent is generally sound defensively and goals are hard to come by requires a deeper lineup that has at least two lines that can generate offense consistently and at least three lines if not four that excel at their brand of hockey even if it is not necessarily scoring and can impose their will and style of play on opponents.
If one looks back at the most recent playoffs, the Hurricanes blew by a Rangers team that was probably a year or two early in the playoffs courtesy of the expanded playoff pool. But up against a more solid and deeper Boston Bruins team, the Canes lack of depth was exposed. With the ability for the Bruins to load up on a single top line, the Canes top line was not nearly as effective. And when Brind’Amour moved Svechnikov to try to balance things out, he was just rolling the dice for lack any better option. Wings Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel never really found their scoring touch in 2019-20. Jordan Staal was really limited to being a checking line center in 2019-20. And Vincent Trocheck had yet to hit stride in two short stints with the massive COVID delay between them. The result was a Hurricanes forward lineup that was hard-pressed to find sources of offense.
Fast forward to 2020-21. It would be a ton of fun to watch Teravainen/Aho/Svechnikov shred defenses and pile up points in the regular season especially against non-playoff teams that might not have enough high-end players to slow them down. But that path runs straight into the same wall in the playoffs as the last couple seasons. The Hurricanes would again be on a path to not having the balance and depth needed to win a later-round playoff series against a good team with enough top-end defenders to significantly slow even a good first line if able to focus on it.
So focused on the goal not of excelling in the regular season but instead aiming for the ultimate prize, Rod Brind’Amour is trying to do two things with his forward line combinations.
Goal #1 — Get more players going offensively as early as possible
First, he is trying to get more players going. Especially for players who are coming off sub-par 2019-20 seasons, getting going offensively early in the season is incredibly important. There is such thing as momentum and rhythm for NHL players. So by balancing the lineup and spreading scoring talent throughout, the hope is that it lifts more players. So far the returns here have been massive. Maybe partly with help from Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Staal is playing the best offensive hockey of his time in a Hurricanes uniform. Vincent Trocheck has settled in and is scoring in bunches. Nino Niederreiter is on target for 40-50 goals. Sure that pace is unsustainable, but the confidence and looseness that comes from that kind of start could help build lasting momentum. Brock McGinn is also scoring in bunches. The number of players clicking offensively right now is at a level not seen since Brind’Amour did in fact win the Cup.
Goal #2 — Establish lines and combinations that can provide balance
In addition to getting more individual players going, Brind’Amour right now is seeking out combinations of two or three players that work together. He is also looking for middle or bottom of the lineup forwards who can find chemistry/mesh on scoring lines such that the scoring line does not miss a beat (reference McGinn doing an incredibly good job in a simple role helping win/keep pucks and then consistently going to where goals happen and being ready to receive/shoot) and such that skill players can balance out the lineup (reference Svechnikov playing with Staal and others). There is early success on that front too with the Canes scoring across three lines right now.
By mixing and matching a bit throughout the season, the players will gain familiarity, and Brind’Amour will get a feel for what different players bring to different lines as he tries to build a balanced forward group capable of matching or beating other talented, deep forward groups from teams like the Lightning and Bruins.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you believe that there is a method to the madness that makes sense for Brind’Amour’s line shuffling and seeming stubbornness in terms of not just putting Aho, Svechnikov and maybe Teravainen together?
2) What do you make of the MASSIVE early-season success in terms of finding more sources for scoring? Is it sustainable? Or is destined for a reversion to the mean that shows the Hurricanes to be not quite as deep scoring-wise as it appears now?
3) With more players going, do you think it could become possible to put Aho and Svechnikov together and still have legitimate scoring depth that will hold up against good teams in the playoffs?