First, let me acknowledge that it is premature to make any kind of final declaration on the state of the Carolina Hurricanes entering the 2018-19 season. I still think there is a reasonable probability that the team is willing to trade Justin Faulk to add one more proven forward for the top half of the roster. And with a batch of promising rookies like Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Warren Foegele, Valentin Zykov and others whose ceilings are high enough to be difference-makers at the NHL level, the potential exists for a youth-led surge.
Let me also say that I like the current trajectory of the team. I believe that the team is on the path to returning to the playoffs.
But the question is when and more directly as we approach training camp what the prognosis is for the 2018-19 season.
What follows is a pre-training camp assessment of the team. I am book marking this article to revisit in early October to see if/how much it changes after training camp and preseason offers at least an initial set of meaningful on-ice assessments of many unknowns.
A complete dice roll: Neither of the teams two goalies played well enough in 2017-18 to garner a starting role for the start of the 2018-19 season. It would not be a stretch to say that based solely on 2017-18 play, neither would even win a backup job if the roles were given out only based on previous season play. That paints a picture more dire than I think many Hurricanes fans acknowledge.
But there is a flip side. Both players did in the past play at a level good enough to win a starting role and even be pretty good at it. Scott Darling has yet to succeed as a true #1, but he did show the potential to do so in filling in for Corey Crawford in Chicago. Petr Mrazek had a stretch of solid play as a #1 that vaulted him over Jimmy Howard and won him a nice contract. But he has not lived up to it since.
When I net it out, the goaltending situation does have the potential to work. But looking at it objectively, the starting point is significantly lower than arguably every other team in the league which tilts the odds toward being dice roll with mediocre odds at best. The willingness to go with two goalies who were sub-par in 2017-18 screams ‘patient rebuilding’ more so than ‘going for it now.’
The addition of Andrei Svechnikov with the #2 overall draft pick in the 2018 NHL Draft boosted a group of forward prospects that already had the potential to fill a couple top 6 forward slots fairly soon. But as relates to success in the 2018-19 season, the burning question is about timing.
The Hurricanes lineup will likely feature three rookies in the top 9 and possibly even four.
And my count of NHL-proven top 9 forwards on the current roster coming out of the 2017-18 season tallies only four – Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Staal and Justin Williams. We could debate whether Brock McGinn qualifies or whether Victor Rask qualifies based on his play prior to a disappointing 2017-18, but the fact that there is a debate just for finding a fifth and sixth proven top 9 forward, the point has been made.
Consider that it is reasonably likely that a rookie slots with Aho and Teravainen on what I would deem the team’s top scoring line. Consider that separating Aho and Teravainen from Jordan Staal would mean that his wings on the second line would be sub-50 point players. Consider that there is a good chance that the third line will include two teenage rookies.
The long-term ceiling for the forward group is high because of the couple good young players already in the lineup and the high ceiling for a couple prospects. But specifically looking at October of 2018 when the current NHL season kicks off, the Hurricanes forward group is incredibly light on experience, proven players and proven scoring. If Svechnikov and Necas hit the ground running at the NHL level which is entirely possible, the outlook could be wildly different in only six weeks. But as of right now, I think the fairest characterization of the forward group is to say that the team is rebuilding but with the potential for an early surprise because of the caliber of the high-end youth.
The blue line is a different story and at least on paper the strength of the roster. The defense has the potential to finally be the difference-maker for the 2018-19 season. With the addition of two veteran, proven top four defensemen in Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, the Hurricanes could suddenly actually have a blue line capable of driving wins. If Hamilton and de Haan find chemistry out of the gate, it is not impossible that Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce become the second pairing after being at least serviceable in a top pairing role together. If Faulk stays, the group is also incredibly deep, but even if Faulk departs, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury represent a solid third defense pairing.
The blue line is by far the most know quantity of the Hurricanes current lineup equation. Can the defense be a strength that presents a stable environment for the goalies and supports the young forward group? If so, just maybe it can be the strength that propels the team forward.
Not to be overlooked in focusing on the lineup is the fact that Rod Brind’Amour is also a rookie. We will not know for awhile whether he can excel as a head coach like he did as a player, but it seems reasonable to expect that he will face some growing pains too. The hope here is that Brind’Amour can drive an immediate attitude and culture change that trumps any growing pains tactically.
Netting it out
It pains me to say it, but when I net it out, I think the current version of the 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes is very much a rebuilding team. But because of the high ceilings of the rookies and the potential upside from rough 2017-18 seasons for the two goalies, I think the potential for an upside surprise is significantly higher than average.
If the dice roll on the goalie situation comes up a winner, that alone could put the team into the playoff mix. If one then couples that with a couple of the rookie forwards rising up ahead of schedule, the team could very quickly shift from being a young rebuilding team to a young team that has arrives somewhat like the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Am I being too harsh in characterizing the current roster as a still rebuilding team? Or is that a fair characterization of the situation?
2) What do you make of the Hurricanes forward group that seems very light on proven top 9 forwards?
3) In a sentence or two, how would you describe the current version of the Carolina Hurricanes 2018-19 roster?
1) The description is spot on. This is a team in rebuild mode, more so than at any time in the last decade.
2) The forward group would make for a great AHL team. As an NHL crew, sure it could surprise, but I think we’ll see growing pains and 2019 top pick sweepstakes more so than a playoff birth. After all the 2019 draft is supposed to be one of the deepest ever, so the mentions of shooting for the bottom this year is not illogical. At least we should see more energy and fight in this group of youngins than we have in the recent past.
3) The Carolina Hurricanes are a small market budget team in full rebuild mode, after a decade of playoff misses. This would’ve excited me 4 or 5 years ago, but after the aforementioned decade of playoff misses and a billionaire business man owner coming in with big promises this is not the team I wanted or expected to see.
1) I’m not sure “rebuild” is the right word. I think management attempted to find a #1 goalie, made a strong offer for Grubauer, but were rebuffed. Settled on a short term option, Mrazek. Trading Hanifin for Hamilton wasn’t a sign of rebuilding either. Although, trading Skinner for a prospect and picks was more in the vein of rebuilding. It feels like more that they’re being forced to gamble on this season – gambling that rookies can make impact this season and gambling that one of two struggling goalies can be at least league average.
2) I think McGinn and Ferland are top-9 forwards, not just on Canes but on most teams. Neither are first line guys, but they both fit nicely on a second or third line. But no doubt, with Skinner’s departure there are points that need to be scored by rookies to compensate. That’s asking a lot. Never a good thing to need rookies to produce in order to win.
3) This team could be 96 points by end of season, or 76. I don’t think we’ll see another mid-80s season – I think they’ll push to the next level or crumble under inconsistent rookie play and poor goal tending.
So many new faces; 1/2 the goal tenders, 1/2 the top 4 on defense, almost 1/2 the forwards and all the bench coaches will start here in Raleigh come October. With all the changes comes a sobering reality. The Canes must have a goalie step up and a bunch of kids consistently find the back of the net for any of those changes to matter. The season at this point begs the question; Did the “committee” put the rebuild on steroids, or, did they put a disguise on an attempt to tank for Jack Hughes next summer?
But the 1/2 the new faces on defense is a VAST improvement. Canes have moved biggest defensive liabilities in Hanifin/Faulk out of top-4 and replaced with proven top 4 guys in Hamilton and DeHaan. I think moving on from Hanifin and Lindholm before they were both likely overpaid was a savvy move – something Francis and Karmanos would have never done.
If they were tanking:
– they wouldn’t have signed Hamilton and DeHaan
– they wouldn’t have tried to trade for Grubauer – making a better offer than what Washington ended up taking. (There were not a lot of other goalie options out there. Moving on from an aging Ward is a gamble, but probably needed.)
– they would send Svech back to juniors
I’m not saying it will work – it’s all a gamble and certainly the goaltending is a huge question mark. RBA is a question mark as a first time head coach. But big changes were needed in an organization that’s been begging patience for almost a decade.
I don’t believe it’s a tank job either. To me, it’s the best job time and talent permitted that did not risk the longer term goal of continued playoff appearances for a short term, one and done playoff goal.
1. Between the goaltending, Rask’s shoulder, and a large group of rookies, you are spot on.
2. It has potential. But we though Boychuk, Bowman, and Terry had potential. We won’t know till we see season or two.
3. A large question mark. That being said, I am keeping my irrational optimism till at lest the first intermission on Opening Night.
This team reminds me of the current Atlanta Braves: a few established players and a whole slew of talented kids with high ceilings that are very fun to watch, win or lose. The Canes, win or lose this season, are going to be a lot of fun to watch. It could go either way.
Having said that, our defense is as solid as any team in the league and is certainly NOT rebuilding. If we can solve the “big oopses” that plagued us last year, we should be very competitive and give up fewer goals. And it’s hard to see how we don’t produce more offense from the Blue Line this year either. This part is encouraging.
In a nutshell, there is for the first time in a long time real competition at every position and there isn’t enough ice-time to go around for all the high-ceilinged players in the system: that bodes well for accountability. Our team has skill and veteran leadership. If we can compete every night with heart – something missing last year – I expect us to be relevant in April.
Hey dmilleravid- I agree 100! I was up at Suntrust last week. I have been a Braves fan since 82. A little kid watching Murph and Horner crush the ball in old Atlanta Fulton County. I have seen players on Atlanta that I hope the Canes compare to as well.
Snitker-RBA both been with their team for along time
Hope the Canes suprise like the Braves have done this year.
Maybe the team shouldn’t play this year. The kids may get bullied by those mean Penguins or Flyers. Rask, Darling and Mrazek probably have a 0% chance of bouncing back. Staal and Williams have to hang their head in shame for being on this team. Give them all another year away from the rink before stepping into the NHL spotlight.
Or maybe this team has more talent than any other Canes team I’ve seen in 10 years. Some of the players are young but they may work out. The team has been in rebuild mode for a few years, if you define rebuild as stockpiling picks and young players. So perhaps the team is in the last stage of that process. It is one of the youngest teams in the league with a lot of talent, yet some think Hughes and relocation are the next step. Whatever gets you going in the morning.
If your expectation of a Cup in Raleigh was 2019, probably going to be a long year. If you want to see a better team on the ice, playing hard, with a chance at a wild card this could be a team to get excited about.
One change in this team that hasn’t gotten much attention is they will be a lot harder to bully. The new vets and new rookies aren’t lightweights.
It will be an entertaining season, no doubt. That’s the good part.
The Knights surprised massively last year (although now people wonder how many of them were literally on steroids).
Staal shouldn’t hang his head, but he should score more goals.
Williams shouldn’t hang his head, but be named captain and bring some extra fire and attitude to the team.
Fit the locker room out with a few packs of diapers for the kids if they get over excited and let the season Mcginn, I mean begin.
1. Definitely “NO” on the rebuild. If you want to see a team in rebuild mode look at the NYR. They jettisoned the majority of their experienced talent leaving themselves with a few seasoned vets, a hodgepodge of spare parts, and an inconsistent mix of youth.
We jettisoned experienced talent that the owner considered “losers” (apparently his word off-the-cuff once) as well as a lot of spare parts. We, in turn, filled out a defense with excellent young(ish) talent. Our forwards include a solid experienced corp, young forwards with expeirence and high ceilings, high-ceiling rookied, and new grit. If one forward doesn’t work out we have forwards waiting in the wings to step up (and a coach who isn’t stuck “must be able to play in the NHL” vs “might be able to play in the NHL”).
This is a young team built to win now, and then win more later.
2. Yes, we are light on “proven” Top-9 forwards…but are we really light on Top-9 forwards??? We are going to have a strong competition for NHL ice time in our forward ranks. Competition + chemistry = success.
3. Lest I repeat myself, “‘..a young team built to win now, and then win more later.”.
Matt, I think your characterization as a rebuilding team is very fair. Nobody was surprised when Skinner was dealt but it’s been a head-scratcher that another top forward wasn’t brought in to fill the void. It may still happen but appears less likely by the day. If we assume average goal-tending and defense this year, then it will hinge on the young forward group to put the puck in the net enough, a huge concern that seems to be present every season. At least we will give the youngsters opportunities to rise up, but bottom line is we are the lowest salary cap team in the league. When TD took over, my expectation was that the Canes would spend a bit more, but that isn’t happening so far. Somewhat disappointing.
Matt, I think you are exactly right!
We have too many questions to answer, and players to evaluate, to expect a lot. Hopefully some of the youngsters can surprise us, but it is a big gamble to really count on it.
Several kids have good to great potential, but whether they reach that and how long it takes…THAT IS ANYBODY’S GUESS!
Meanwhile, I sure hope they have a great “PLAN B”!!…C,D,etc.
1). Fair to say the Canes are still rebuilding, but not completely accurate. There have been some comments about the 05-06 Canes and last season’s Vegas club (tj I like the unintended pun about competition plus chemistry—as Breezy mentioned maybe that was as much a factor as team building in the desert). For me the analogy is the 16-17 Jets. They had a star rookie, a young center about to break through—I think Aho is our version of Scheifele despite the size difference—a rising young winger, excellent top four D, and questions in goal. While the Jets didn’t make the playoffs that season, I could mostly see the powerhouse they were becoming.
2). I like the forwards. They aren’t Toronto, but again in two years watch out.
3). A team waiting for one more player to break through.
Aho is going to be a leaguewide star. Staal and Williams will be solid. Svechnikov is going to produce like previous first forwards from a draft. The D will be stingy. If one player produces significantly more points than expected, then the Canes just might sneak into the playoffs. My prediction is that Pesce puts up 35+ points and the D leads the way.
1) It is not too harsh to say we are rebuilding. It is important, though, to consider the stage of (re)building. Here is a possible framework for assessing the stage, oversimplified to extremes:
(A) – The current roster players are what we want to make a deep playoff run
(B) – The current roster players are good enough to be in the playoff mix, and with deadline trades we could make a deep run
(C) – The current roster players are the players we want long term, but they are young and will need experience to reach their potential
(D) – The current roster players are placeholders for the youngsters being acquired and developed. Usually when I hear “rebuild”, I think mostly (D).
With this framework, imo we’re in state (A) on defense, in the (B/C) range with forwards, and we don’t know where we are in goal. When we signed Darling we thought (A) but after 1 season many thought (D). That is the biggest question facing the team and will likely decide where we end up as a team. Also, as Matt’s article points out, we’ll have to reassess the rookies to figure out if we are (B) or (C) at forward… but I don’t think we are still in (D) at forward in any scenario.
All in all the season should be really fun! And – I haven’t checked contracts – but we may be able to pick up a rental goalie at the deadline if the situation suggests.
Sooooo Matt, what you’re saying is that those who see the potential of our goalies have a longer-term view of player performances? Because I agree with that, I’ve been in, out, and around of 2015-2022 so much this year it’s ridiculous. Last year was Darling’s first bad year and Mrazek has proven stretches of good NHL goaltending in him as well. As for the prospects…well, if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going back to 2021.