With the 2019-20 season hanging in doubt, the season could potentially become a missed opportunity for older teams whose potential to hoist the Cup will decrease in the coming years. But the Carolina Hurricanes are very much a team whose future chances will likely be better than the team’s chance in 2019-20. For that to become true requires the Hurricanes to improve from being a team battling at the edge of the playoff cut line to being a team in the next tier.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe speculates on what it takes mostly from the current roster for the Hurricanes to rise into the top tier of teams in the NHL that are expected to compete for the Stanley Cup.
A tiny bit more offensively is always welcome, but for defensive anchors Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, I think they really just need to keep doing what they have been which is be stalwart defenders and the leaders for two capable defense pairings. I question whether Dougie Hamilton’s scoring pace from 2019-20 is sustainable, but I think simpler for Hamilton is just repeating the basics of what he did in 2019-20. He boosted the offensive from the bak line at even strength, on the power play and as a bonus in overtime, and equally importantly his lapses defensively were minimal such that he was a bona fide top 4 defenseman defensively while being elite offensively. Exact goal and point totals for Hamilton are not as important as just being a difference-maker offensively and defensively. Hamilton is only signed through the 2020-21 season, so being part of the long-term requires inking him to a new contract. That makes three core defenders which makes the next slot critical. The Hurricanes have options but no established #4. Haydn Fleury has made step-wise development and finally looked capable in more than a depth role recently. Jake Gardiner historically was a capable second pairing defensemen in a bit of the offense-leaning style as Hamilton. He struggled mightily early on, but has also been better of late. And then the Hurricanes also added Brady Skjei who very clearly has the skating ability and physical skill set to be a top 4. One of these three left shots must emerge and be more than someone that Brett Pesce is trying to prop up for the Hurricanes to complete the top 4.
Summary: Team needs more of the same from Slavin, Pesce and Hamilton and someone to emerge as a good, not just adequate, #4 defenseman.
With Andrei Svechnikov making good strides in his sophomore campaign and Martin Necas having a Svechnikov-like rookie season that hopefully suggests a similar trajectory, the Hurricanes are becoming deeper offensively. No doubt Svechnikov and Aho could have one more gear higher offensively despite how good they are already. Teuvo Teravainen has grown to become a great two-way player capable of excelling in any situation. Add in Martin Necas if he continues to grow and Warren Foegele who brings a different element and the Hurricanes have a nice core of offensive leaders. But I actually think the next leg up for the Hurricanes will be to what degree these players mature in terms of two-way play. All of Aho, Svechnikov and Necas have their moments defensively but are still prone to too many lapses such that the development of the defensive part of their games is not at the same level as the offensive part of their games. Coupled with a few other wings in Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Dzingel whose games are more developed offensively than defensively, and the Hurricanes forward group can be really loose defensively at times.
Past that I think a key will be the team’s ability to build out depth either from within the system or possibly with additional work from Don Waddell. The acquisition of Micheal Ferland over the summer and Nino Niederreiter during the season were instrumental in the Hurricanes’ push into the playoffs in 2018-19, but Waddell’s moves have not been as magical for the 2019-20 season. Erik Haula started like gang busters with a series of mostly power play tallies and looked to be the answer at least short-term for anchoring a third line. But he seemed to lose some momentum with his injury and faded before being traded. Niederreiter has struggled to find the magic he had upon arrival in 2018-19. And Ryan Dzingel has similarly underperformed in terms of expected goal scoring. On the positive side, Morgan Geekie had an impressive even if sample size-limited start at the NHL level. But I think there is room for youth and or Waddell’s work to improve the depth especially in terms of scoring capability at the wing.
Then finally, beating a dead horse, I continue to think that finding a difference-making center who can be a catalyst for a second scoring line will be critical. Could it be Necas taking switching back to center ice and making big strides in his sophomore campaign like Necas? Could Geekie’s phenomenal start be just the beginning? Is Vincent Trocheck the answer? A bit like the all-important #4 defense slot, the contribution of a second offene-leaning center will likely play a significant role in where this team’s peak is a couple years out. With a second scoring line, the team becomes a two-headed monster than can match fire power with anyone. Without it, the team teams to be a bit shallow offensively maybe especially if Jordan Staal continues to be a scoring-limited defensive center.
Summary: I think underestimated is the need for the Hurricanes group of young forwards to continue to grow defensively to chart a path more toward Patrice Bergeron and less toward Jeff Skinner. Past that I think the other key is finding a second scoring/playmaking type center who can be a catalyst for a second scoring line behind Aho’s. Finally, Waddell may have some work to do to find complementary scoring help at wing.
The question in goal is whether a maximum version of the Hurricanes needs elite or close in net or if NHL average with a boost from an improving team defensively is enough. I lean toward thinking that the latter is enough. In today’s day and age, teams mostly need two goalies, so balance can be as important as having a great #1. For certain though, the team will need to have average or better goaltending to play its way into the upper echelon of the NHL. Is Petr Mrazek that guy on a consistent basis like he was during the 2018-19 surge up into the playoffs? Is Alex Nedeljkovic ready to seize an opportunity and become that goalie? Is this another area that might require some work from Waddell?
Summary: I am torn on whether the Hurricanes need to be great or just good enough in net but lean toward the latter. Nevertheless, the goalie position more than any other has the potential to sink even pretty good teams if it is not up to par.
What say you Canes fans?
1) If you had to identify 2-4 keys for the Hurricanes to rise up another notch or two and into the top echelon of the NHL, what would they be?
2) On defense, is it as simple as having the big 3 (Pesce, Slavin, Hamilton) continue on their current paths and then having someone settle into the #4 slot? Or…?
3) At forward, do you agree that developing defensively will be a key component? What would you identify as a key or two for the position?
4) Finally in net, do you think the Canes need to have a top-tier goalie or could good enough be good enough? What do you see for answers either internally or externally?