On Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 playoff chances officially died which makes for another long offseason of oscillating between trying to figure out what went wrong in the 2017-18 season and what needs to be done to build a winner for 2018-19 season.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a series of ‘what ifs’ that at least potentially could have charted a different course into the playoffs that start in two weeks.
Ron Francis had opted for another goalie other than Scott Darling?
In an article on January 23, I detailed the list of teams that added a starting goalie during the offseason prior to the 2017-18 season. Long story short, the Hurricanes were the loser by a wide margin in a five-team game of musical chairs to add starting goalies. With Cam Ward holding his own in a backup role before being pressed into the starting role, one has to wonder if any choice other than Scott Darling might have been enough to tip the 2017-18 season into playoff territory.
To this day, I still think the miss was when the team passed on the Frederik Andersen bidding war during the summer of 2016. I had him rated #1 of the options available last summer. The striking difference between Andersen and the Hurricanes misses with Eddie Lack and Scott Darling (thus far) is that Andersen had already established himself as an NHL starter and proven capable in that role. At the time that the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Andersen many shunned his allegedly high cost. But nearly two seasons later Andersen’s $5 million per year for four more years does not look outlandish for his steady play, and the trade cost would have been the picks used to select Julien Gauthier in 2016 and Eetu Luostarinen in 2017.
Had the Hurricanes dealt for and signed Frederik Andersen is it possible that their fortunes could be reversed with the Toronto Maple Leafs? Had Francis opted for any of the other starting goalies available last summer, would that have been enough to make the playoffs this season?
The team had opted for Justin Williams as captain?
The chronology of the captain situation has to rank as the oddest story of the offseason. In post-season interviews immediately following the 2016-17 season, Coach Bill Peters seemed content not to have anyone wearing a ‘C’ with no incredible urgency to name a captain. Then Justin Williams added on July 1, touted in a huge way for his leadership by the organization and then sounded like a captain in his initial interviews. Then somewhere along the way, Peters changed his tune and declared that a captain would be named before the start of the season. Then in the end no real decision was made when the team instead opted to name Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk co-captains leaving Justin Williams in a secondary informal leadership role. I voted for Williams largely because I just thought the team needed a jolt of some kind. Unfortunately, I think the team will enter the offseason still needing some kind of jolt to find a higher gear during crunch time/when it matters in order to push up over the hump and into the playoffs.
Bill Peters had shifted Sebastian Aho to center earlier in the season?
Last April Coach Bill Peters and General Manager Ron Francis seemed to be on the same page that the team needed to add a difference-maker offensively at the forward position. For whatever reason, such a player did not materialize during the offseason. (Though I think Justin Williams is a good player, I did not put him in this category.) Sticking to his original plan from comments made during the offseason, Peters did not shift Sebastian Aho to the center position. He instead decided to give it a go with three defense-leaning centers in Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Marcus Kruger and one offense-leaning center who was really more of a depth player in Derek Ryan. Without the addition of an playmaking/scoring catalyst type center, should Peters have expedited the process of transitioning Aho to center? Less than three weeks into the 2017-18 season, I did not like the trajectory of the team offensively and suggested exactly that in a Daily Cup of Joe article on October 28 entitled “Seeking more offense from within.” My first bullet point in that article read, “Put Sebastian Aho in a position to play with the puck on his stick more.” We will never know what might have happened had Aho moved to center earlier, but it is definitely an interesting point to ponder.
The team had reached to the AHL level for help earlier and more often?
The recent results from Valentin Zykov and Warren Foegele have been eye-opening even if only an initial burst in a small sample size. The potential for at least short bursts of help seem to have been available, and who knows what the results might have been in terms of sparking the entire roster with energy and motivation to keep ice time in the face of challenges from below had more AHLers been involved at the NHL level sooner.
Francis had brokered a deal for a top 6 scoring type forward?
This one might be the most tricky of all since the most common name bandied about was Matt Duchene. As most know, Duchene ultimately fetched a ridiculous king’s ransom in trade assets and has since done almost nothing to salvage Ottawa’s season. So there is definitely a case to be made for prudence being better than aggressiveness in this regard. But the bigger question is what might have been possible had Francis had a bit more wheeler/dealer in his blood and been able to pull off one of the ‘wow’ deals that has not been that uncommon the past few summers. When Colorado’s Joe Sakic was having trouble unloading Matt Duchene, might the door have been cracked open for Francis to make an offer that Sakic could not refuse for Nathan MacKinnon just so Sakic could shake things up in some way? In my article on June 6, 2017, I suggested that Francis should do exactly that. The scouting report and rating for MacKinnon have proven to be dead on with the Colorado center in Hart Trophy consideration. Who knows if such a low probability deal could have been pulled off, but trades of Taylor Hall, P.K. Subban and Ryan Johansen in recent times make it clear that nothing is impossible. Regardless of if MacKinnon could have been pried loose, the bigger question remains – What would have happened had Francis added a higher-end scoring forward last summer?
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you think of these ‘what ifs’?
2) Who has more worth considering?