After a bit of a break to cover the official announcement of the sale of the team and the last burst of three games in four days before the bye week, my short series grading the Carolina Hurricanes at the midway point wraps up today with the goalies, coaches and management.
The format again offers the chance for readers to chime in, so with this being by far the most controversial set of evaluations, hopefully the bye week lull will keep things under control and most importantly civil.
Without further ado, here are my grades at the midway point of the 2017-18 season.
Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 mid-season grades
Please remember to click ‘vote’ after each individual poll response.
Scott Darling — C-. Per readers’ votes on my previous grades, I am on record as being an easy grader, and I do generally stay in the A through C range, so to put it bluntly Scott Darling’s C- is pretty harsh by my standards. Graded as an NHL starter who needs to be at least league average, Darling just has not. Early in the season, he seemed to alternate in a reasonably balanced way between good starts and ‘meh’ at best starts, but more recently he has struggled more often than not. His statistics place him near the bottom of he goalie heap. Important to note is that I think it is far too early to declare this story over and consider his addition a bust. He has shown flashes of what Ron Francis thought he was getting. If Darling puts together a strong second half, the first half will be quickly written off as an adjustment phase, but in looking backward not forward, the first half just has not met hopes or expectations.
Cam Ward — A-. VERY IMPORTANT is that I am grading Cam Ward as a backup goalie. That was his role starting the season, and that is the level of play for which I am holding him accounting. That level of play is less than that of an NHL starter. As a backup, I think Ward has done about all one could hope for. Ward’s .904 save percentage is not great, but it is really hard not to like his 11-5-2 record as a backup and even his ability to at least hold the fort as a starter while Darling tries to find a higher gear. My quick math has him as ‘good enough’ or better in 12 out of 19 starts and then at least okay even in a few of his seven lesser starts. That is at least good enough if not better for a backup. He has sputtered a bit of late, and now is when he hit the wall and faded in 2016-17, so his second half of the season is something to watch. But looking backward not forward and considering Ward as a backup, I stand strongly by my A-. If pressed to grade him as a starter, I would give him a B. Ward’s consistency has not been ideal, but he generally has had enough good efforts to give the team a chance as reflected by his strong record.
Coaches and management
Ron Francis — B. In some ways, grading Ron Francis at the midway point of the season is not worth the time. For him, think a HUGE percent of his end of season grade is whether the team pushes into the playoffs or not. His is a class for which the final exam is 75 percent of the grade. That said, I give him a mixed review on his work over the summer. The team is right where it was at this point last season which is not catastrophic but does lean slightly toward disappointing. As for Francis’ specific moves, after a fast start Justin Williams has settled into a scoring pace that is more depth than catalyst, but his leadership has already visibly helped the young team. Trevor van Riemsdyk has proven to be a tremendous value acquisition as a solid #5 defenseman playing in a key role next to young, still developing partners. And I am on record as saying that I do not think the fourth line additions of Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris have panned out quite as hoped. But at the end of the day, the biggest need Francis filled this summer was adding Scott Darling in net. Thus far, all of the other goalies who moved teams into #1 roles and could have been options for Francis (Mike Smith, Marc-Andre Fleury and Ben Bishop) have played well and far exceeded Darling’s play. The fact that Francis’ other moves have been more positive than negative and also that the team’s 2017-18 season is still to be decided pull him up to an even B.
Bill Peters — B. I started at B- but instead decided to keep it simple and put Peters in exactly the same boat as his partner Ron Francis. The 2017-18 Hurricanes are one point worse in terms of points through 45 games and two points worse in the standings. I wrote an article at the tail end of the 2016-17 season entitled,“The honeymoon for Bill Peters is officially over.” Put simply, now past three years deep and with a better team on his bench, he will be measured by results with at least the near-term cut line being playoffs or not. So based on that, his results through 45 are not a huge miss, but at the same time they are not good enough. But as with Francis, 75 percent of Peters’ grade will be decided by the end result, and the team is still very much in the mix for making that end well. Below the ‘results matter’ level, my assessment of Peters thus far is that he has been okay but has yet to find any levers, magic or whatever else that boosts his team from being good enough to make the playoffs up a notch to actually being in the playoffs.
Steve Smith — B. In recent years, Smith has earned an A for his role leading a penalty kill that has been among the league’s best despite annual changeovers in personnel. Though it has been intermittently better of late, the #23 ranking thus far is sub-par. My expectation is that Smith and the group are on the brink of figuring it out, but through 45 games, I think even a B is generous given the ‘meh’ results thus far.
Rod Brind’Amour — B. The power play that Rod Brind’Amour leads is somewhat similar to the penalty kill. It would rate as a C or worse for the first quarter of the season but has been trending upward of late and has risen to #20 out of 31 after being near the bottom early in the season. But while the trajectory is upward right now, the results thus far yield a B at best as group that is below the league average.
Mike Bales — C. I was very hard on former goalie coach David Marcoux because of the poor results under his leadership. In being fair and grading actual results, I have to do the same with Mike Bales thus far. If you grade him based on the players that he coaches, I think you could credit him for Ward’s play but would also have to downgrade significantly for Darling’s thus far. As a new coach who is working with two new goalies, it is reasonable to hope that the best is yet to come, but in grading results through 45 games, I have to give him a C which is near the bottom of where I grade.
What say you Caniacs?
1) Which, if any, of the grades do you most disagree with?
2) Do you agree that grading Peters and Francis at the midway point with the team in the playoff chase is mostly meaningless and that at the end of the day their grades are almost solely based on whether the team makes the playoffs or not?