With the 2018 NHL Playoffs now a couple games deep into the Conference Finals, the offseason is rapidly approaching. On the path to the offseason frenzy which starts in earnest in June, the Hurricanes have already been busy rebuilding its front office, firing and replacing the head coach, winning the #2 overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and even making a trade already.
With a new owner, a significant change in management and another playoff miss in the rear view mirror, the team has many questions that must be answered this summer hopefully on the path to finally making a return to the playoffs for the 2018-19 season.
I preface my list of questions by saying that I think the Hurricanes will need to improve primarily from the existing roster reaching a higher level or true player trades that see the team give up a player of value to obtain one back. I think those who think the team can keep what it has and somehow add 2-3 significant players without subtraction are misguided. As such, my list of ‘burning questions’ is heavy on trying to locate potential improvement from the current roster and the prospect pool.
With that, here is a sizable list of burning questions to be addressed this summer:
1) Which, if any, top half of the roster players depart and for what in return?
The one thing that seems inevitable is change. I will be most surprised if the Hurricanes just forge forward through the summer and return to the ice in September with mostly the same group. The burning question is who might go. I put the over/under at one for 2017-18 captains who are no longer with the team by opening day. That is to say, the I think there is a good chance that one of Justin Faulk, Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner departs. The burning question is which one, and what is received in return?
2) Can Scott Darling reset and find a much higher gear for the 2018-19 season?
Though buying him out or possibly eating salary and including him in a larger deal are both possible, comments from the team seem to indicate that the intention is to give Darling another shot in 2018-19 and possibly add a third goalie option from outside the organization to increase the odds or at least dice rolls.
3) Is Noah Hanifin ready to take the next step, or is he destined to peak as a decent offensive depth defenseman?
The physical skill set is clearly still there, and Noah Hanifin did make strides offensively in 2018-19, but he has also been passed by a fairly wide margin by Ivan Provorov from Philadelphia and Zach Werenski from Columbus who were both selected just behind in the 2015 NHL draft. Provorov had a phenomenal year as a top pairing defensemen and played a significant role in the Flyers going from 2017 playoff miss to 2018 playoff make. Werenski is half of Columbus dynamic duo with Seth Jones. At some point potential must give to either making it or instead admitting it will not be realized. Suddenly with three years of NHL experience, Noah Hanifin is reaching that point in his development when he needs to put it all together and arrive.
4) Is Martin Necas ready to play in the NHL in 2018-19?
For line-making exercises for the 2018-19 season, Martin Necas is quite regularly included somewhere in the Canes NHL lineup. The burning question is whether he is ready especially if he stays at his natural center position which comes with more responsibilities than the wing position. Necas will definitely receive an extended look in preseason to determine if he is ready to contribute now or if instead his long-term development is better-served with a stint in the AHL first.
5) Will the Hurricanes follow the book and select Andrei Svechnikov? If so, is he NHL ready?
Following the theme of the impending youth movement, will the Hurricanes keep it simple and select Andrei Svechnikov with the #2 pick overall? And if they do, will Svechnikov prove ready to play and contribute at the NHL level in 2018-19 as an 18-year old rookie?
6) Who will be the team’s captain(s)?
The roster makeover could have something to say about this, but I will be surprised if Justin Williams is not wearing a letter of some variety next season. I will also be surprised if the team emerges from the offseason still with two captains. Further, I think the playoff miss combined with the transition to Rod Brind’Amour as head coach will ultimately see Justin Williams wearing the ‘C’ just like I thought he should have last season. But just like last season, the potential outcomes are numerous such that the resolution of this situation easily makes a list of burning questions.
7) Can the Hurricanes make a key addition who is a difference-maker?
Whether it takes a trade of a higher-end roster player or a foray into free agency, it seems reasonable to believe that management will make an attempt to upgrade the roster. If that proves to be true, the question is what position the team will look to upgrade. At forward, scoring help is needed. In net, the team is still searching for an elusive combination that provides at least league average goaltending. On defense, despite having enough players with potential, the team still seems to be short at least one top 4 defenseman.
8) Who will the Hurricanes add to fill out the coaching ranks?
With a new head coach in Rod Brind’Amour who has zero head coaching experience at any level, having an experience that he can lean on at the ready could prove to be incredibly helpful. I clamored for the addition of another coach with head coaching experience last summer to help Peters navigate uncharted waters for him. I again think it could help. Will Brind’Amour be able and willing to lure an experienced former head coach? Or will he instead opt for someone who is more clearly below him?
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who has more burning questions for the offseason?
2) Which of the burning questions that I offered will be most significant to the Hurricanes’ 2018-19 success?