Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe had both ‘reasons to keep’ and ‘reasons to trade seven core players from the Carolina Hurricanes 2017-18 roster. I do think a change or two to the core could be a key ingredient to improving for the 2018-19 season, and I also think that a key addition or two possibly from the trades would help the process.
Gauging improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18
But I also think that there are enough players with more to give on the current roster such that a significant amount of improvement is possible from the existing roster. As much as some (including myself) want to focus on the exciting possibilities like trades and additions, a quick player by player assessment of the 2017-18 roster shows why the Hurricanes did not make the playoffs. The young group in most cases did not improve from 2016-17. I have good intentions of doing more in-depth player by player assessments for the 2017-18 season but below is the bullet point version of it.
The blue line
I think Jaccob Slavin took a small step backwards. He had a stretch of lesser play in the middle of the season, was a weak link on the penalty kill and did not make any gains offensively. Brett Pesce had a comparable season but has yet to find a higher gear offensively. To be clear, both players had decent 2017-18 campaigns and fit nicely in the plan going forward, but I would not say that they were significantly better in 2017-18. Noah Hanifin made strides offensively but has yet to elevate his defensive play such that he could be an every-game top 4 defenseman. I consider his season mostly treading water and hopefully preparing for a break out. Justin Faulk continued to struggle defensively and also took a step down offensively dropping from 17 to 8 goals which makes his 2017-18 season less than the previous one. If one counts Haydn Fleury as the team’s #4 defenseman, he had a decent rookie campaign but did not really provide a significant improvement for the #4 slot occupied by Ron Hainsey in 2016-17. If you evaluate Trevor van Riemsdyk in the third pairing role that he filled most of the season, he was the lone significant upgrade playing solid hockey in a slot that was a revolving door in 2016-17. Klas Dahlbeck also had a respectable season in the #7 slot. When I net it out, best case is that the blue line was comparable to the 2016-17 season, but I think I actually land slightly in negative territory saying that the group took a small step backward in 2017-18. For a position that has been considered the team’s future strength for a few years now, treading water was not good enough.
The story is much the same at forward. The Finnish duo of Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen did take a significant step forward pushing up into the mid-60s for points after scoring only in the 40s a year earlier. One can also make a case for gains from Brock McGinn who scored 16 goals and collected 30 points despite minimum power play ice time and below average minutes overall. But those three players are probably the extent of any gains which is why the team again struggled to score goals. Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm matched but did not better their 2016-17 seasons with decent all-around play but still a sub-50 ceiling for points. The limited scoring was even more significant for Staal who played with Aho and Teravainen but did not really convert the favorable situation to more scoring. Even with a small drop in goal scoring, I think Justin Williams produced about as expected but not enough to lift the team above its 2016-17 pace. Despite being hitched to Bill Peters and maligned a bit by the fan base for it, Derek Ryan did about what was probably reasonable to expect from him as a depth forward. Past that, the forward group is mostly misses. Jeff Skinner scored 13 fewer goals and regressed defensively again, and Victor Rask struggled to score early and was scratched before rebounding a bit late in the season. And somewhat surprisingly, the fourth line that added higher-end players was also a minus year over year. The group primarily of Joakim Nordstrom, Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris was front and center on a penalty kill that took a step backward and was light offensively even for a fourth line. Phil Di Giuseppe surged late but was not a difference-maker when the season was on the line, and Lee Stempniak mostly had his season derailed by an early-season injury. When I net it out, downturns by Skinner and Rask offset gains from Aho and Teravainen, the rest of the middle of the lineup was comparable to the previous season, and the fourth line was a negative. Not surprisingly, the average is ‘meh’ at best which lines up with the slight drop in ranking for scoring.
Cam Ward took a modest but important step forward in transitioning to a backup role (which lasted about halfway through the season). His underlying statistics were not significantly better, but his winning percentage was impressive. The problem is that whatever the team gained in Ward, it lost twofold in Scott Darling. His level of play was mostly comparable to Eddie Lack’s with a key difference being that he played about 20 more games being a starter at least initially. When the dust settled on the 2017-18 season, the goalie position that offered significant room for improvement fell short again.
When I net it out, the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes missed the playoffs again was no travesty. The team did not make the strides necessary as a group to improve in total. As such, the team again found itself on the wrong side of the playoff cut line looking for mid-winter miracles that did not emerge.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Would you agree that the lineup for 2017-18 was at best break even compared to 2016-17 or more likely down slightly?
2) Do you disagree with any of my brief player assessments for 2017-18?
3) Which 2017-18 underperformance(s) most significantly caused the playoff miss?