I kicked off this week with an article entitled, “Two Canes assertions.” That article which you can find HERE asserted that Brett Pesce was the key to the blue line and that peak Canes could include Martin Necas moving back to center.
Continuing with the assertion theme and continuing a tour through the Hurricanes lineup, today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers the goaltending situation and the need to figure out a more productive path forward at wing.
1) The Hurricanes do not ‘have’ to do anything at goalie
Spotlight type costly errors in both of the last two games of the series versus the Boston Bruins has some suggesting that the Hurricanes need an upgrade in net to take the next step. Petr Mrazek’s horrid error having Patrice Bergeron shoot off of him and in from an impossible angle behind the goal line with less than five seconds remaining in the second period of a tie game was no doubt a horrible gaffe. And James Reimer coming out to play the puck but instead being beaten to it for an easy goal was nearly as bad. But in total, even in the playoffs, the Hurricanes goaltending was not a problem. Mrazek finished the playoffs with a .929 save percentage and 2.08 goals against average in five starts. Reimer was just as good with a .934 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average in three starts. They fail the eye test only because a single bad play that each made featured so prominently in a playoff loss. Similarly, the duo was good enough or better during the regular season.
Are there better goalies in the NHL? Certainly. But goalies who are elite or close and currently playing at the top of their game are generally not available except via signing a massive, high-risk contract. Going that route did not pan out so well for Florida who won the Sergey Bobrovsky sweepstakes. And the same risks come with whoever wins a bidding war for 30-year old Braden Holtby this summer.
The other angle is that with Alex Nedeljkovic no longer waiver-exempt and needing to stay at the NHL level, that the Hurricanes will need to unload one of the three goalies. Financially, there is no immediate need. Nedeljkovic is on an entry-level contract and Reimer already received most of his 2020-21 pay in the form of a signing bonus. So the out of pocket cost from this point forward for all three goalies is only about $5 million. Having three goalies on the roster can be a bit awkward with only two nets for practice, but at least short-term I think that is manageable while the team hopefully sees if Nedeljkovic is ready but has a plan B if he is not.
I have a half-written article that considers Canes goalie options in more detail. I actually do think that there if a reasonably chance that the team moves opportunistically, but per my thoughts above, I do not think that is a necessity.
2) The Canes need to figure out the wing position
On the other hand, I do think the Hurricanes have some sorting out to do at wing. Andrei Svechnikov made good strides in his sophomore campaign and is on the path to being a top-tier scoring wing if he is not given credit for being there already. Teuvo Teravainen is established as a complementary two-way wing who can slot anywhere in the lineup.
But after that, things become questionable. After being acquired via trade, Nino Niederreiter provided a spark that was integral to the late season run and playoff berth in 2018-19. But since then he has struggled to find that top gear in either of two tries in the playoffs and also for the 2019-20 regular season. Similarly, Ryan Dzingel was acquired as a wing whose greatest strength was being a proven scorer. He never really found his scoring gear in his first season in a Canes uniform. The big issue is that both players are a bit one-dimensional as offense-leaning scorers, so when they are not putting the puck in the net, their contributions can be minimal. The end result was Brind’Amour rotating them in and out of the lineups during the playoffs trying to find a hot hand.
In a different category are Brock McGinn and Warren Foegele. Both do bring a bit more than goal totals as players who can be physical and a key cog in the forechecking engine when it is clicking. But neither is really a scoring line-capable finisher. As such, both are somewhat limited in their ability to be more than a complementary player who is a bit light on production if playing in the top 9.
The one player with seeming upside here is Martin Necas. I am on record in the previous article as suggesting that the peak version of the Hurricanes could be better-served with Necas in a center position. But if Necas does stay at wing, he showed signs of being a capable goal scorer.
Past that, the Hurricanes are light in terms of reinforcements. Trocheck skates well enough that maybe he could play wing. I am not sure that is true for Morgan Geekie. And at the trade deadline, the Hurricanes parted ways with prospects Julien Gauthier and Janne Kuokkanen who could maybe have auditioned.
To be deeper and more balanced scoring-wise across three lines, the Hurricanes need to have at least one and probably two wings find a higher gear. The question is whether the team thinks it can get more from what it already has or if instead General Manager Don Waddell will need to maneuver a bit. The challenge in that regard is that Niederreiter’s contract is inflated relative to his current production and though the one year remaining on Dzingel’s contract makes him low risk, he likely is not in high demand either.
Regardless, I think finding or adding a couple scoring wings will be on the team’s work list for this off-season.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you buy my assertion that the Hurricanes do not ‘have’ to do anything at goalie this off-season? Or do you think that the team must upgrade to take a next step?
2) Of the current group of wings not named Svechnikov or Teravainen, which do you think have a role to play in terms of more production in 2020-21? Who, if anyone, would you try to move via trade?