If you skipped right past it, I encourage everyone to read the quick site update on the Bulletin Board post right below this blog on the main page and also with its own spot at the bottom of the main page.
Anyone remember the old Dunkin Donuts commercial with the store owner reciting the “Time to make the donuts” (spelled as Dunkin Donuts spells it)? I think that is the theme for what will be nearly daily posts to the “Daily Cup of Joe” blog category. I will eventually catch up and do it a bit earlier than tonight, but my hope is to post this late at night (when I write), so it is sitting and waiting for consumption with morning coffee for the early birds the next day. I will probably run it through Twitter most days, but my hope is to be consistent enough that people who want a daily Canes snippet just check in and find something there most days.
So yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe asked “Who plays center?” It started from the assumption of Jordan Staal, Victor Rask and Jay McClement as three and then posed the options of Eric Staal, Elias Lindholm, Riley Nash and possibly a new addition via free agency or trade to fill the remaining slot. At that position the team is pretty deep and has options to finish it up. Left wing also sees a decent set of options with Jeff Skinner, Nathan Gerbe and Andrej Nestrasil being left wing regulars, Eric Staal spending most of the 2014-15 season there and Chris Terry trying to use his skill and scoring skill set to climb the depth chart. Both center and left wing show a decent volume of prospects in the system even if they might be a couple years away.
But what about that other forward position – right wing? It is a completely different story. Now minus Alexander Semin and Patrick Dwyer, the Canes roster shows one natural right wing in Elias Lindholm, and even he was a natural center until making the big jump to the NHL. So it looks like a great opportunity for a up and coming right wing in the system to rise up and seize a spot. Right? Theoretically yes, but the issue is that the Canes have almost nothing here. Hockey’s Future shows only four Canes prospects at the position. Two of those are actually gone. Neither Jared Staal nor Greg Nemisz were re-signed this summer. A third (Spencer Smallman) was a 5th round pick only a month ago and is unlikely to crack an NHL roster for a couple years if ever. The fourth player is Brendan Woods who actually could play a part in the roster decisions in September. He brings a big body that the Canes could use, but unless he surprises, he slots more as a depth player and not a top 6 forward especially breaking in with only a handful of games of NHL experience. The Canes will surely fill a spot or two with a forward moving across from the left side where the team has a few more options.
But past that, the upshot for me is threefold:
1) Riley Nash. I detailed the numerous options at the center position. Ideally, I think the opening is the C1 or C2 slot. McClement is cemented into the C4 slot. I think the Canes are much better if they can force Rask down to the C3 slot. And Jordan Staal is either C1 or C2. Per that blog, I really like Riley Nash and his continued development, but I think he is overslotted in the top half of the roster. So where am I going? I really like the idea of auditioning Nash at right wing, ideally on Rask’s line. That would provide a left/right faceoff option and set up 2/3 of a 3rd line that is pretty sound defensively (if Nash adjusted okay) but not without some scoring potential. It could also be a penalty kill forward pair that also benefits faceoff-wise from the left/right pair. Bandying things around on Twitter at lunchtime today, I mentioned the possibility of a Gerbe/Rask/Nash 3rd line. With Gerbe’s tenacity and Nash’s good straight line speed, that line could be pretty strong on the forecheck which when coupled with minutes against other teams’ bottom defense pairings could be a recipe for creating more goal scoring without the need for a boatload of skill and pretty hockey plays. But exact slot and line combinations aside, I think it makes sense to look at Riley Nash on the right side in training camp.
2) Free agent help. There are a couple options that should be falling in price in Brad Boyes and Derek Roy (can play right wing or center where he spent most of last season). I like the idea of adding one playmaking forward on the cheap. I would prioritize based on best available player/price first, but the biggest hole to fill is at right wing which might make it the priority.
3) The system and maybe a trade. With very little in the system at right wing, realistically the Canes are 2-4 years from receiving significant help from the system for the top half of the roster at right wing. It is probably more of a “as time goes on” thing and not a “must do before the season starts” thing, but I have to think that Ron Francis and his team will shop a bit for young NHL ready right wings. I do not like the idea of constantly trading futures to patch holes in a short-term way. While I am not a big fan of trading away futures for short-term fixes, if I could add a young, long-term part of the team at right wing, I would do it. Ideal would be a 21-25 year old NHL-experienced or NHL-ready right wing who either can now or might soon be capable of playing in the top 6. As long as the player is signed for multiple years and/or will exit his next contract as a restricted free agent, I view this as trading help in 2-4 years for help now that could still be part of the team in 2-4 years. When you look at the Canes general direction and also the roster and system, the skill set seems fairly obvious to me. The team is generally small at forward and especially at left wing with Skinner and Gerbe. Many of the team’s top left wing prospects in the system (Brock McGinn, Sergey Tolchinsky, Sebastian Aho) also tip the scales on the smaller side. So if you work from the assumption that the team wants to/needs to get a bit bigger and then consider that the team both current and future looks small on the opposite side, I think the right wing desired profile is obvious. In a perfect world, Ron Francis would build a time machine and go back to Carolina Hurricanes 2002-2004 and bring back Erik Cole – a big, physical, mobile and skilled enough right wing to play in the top 6. Such a player would not come cheap, but if I was in Ron Francis’ shoes, I think this it the one trade I would consider expending futures on to expedite the path to improvement where the team is weakest right now.