No doubt the Canes are in the small group of teams capable of winning the Stanley Cup.
People often talk about the Stanley Cup Playoffs as if anything is possible. That is definitely true in the early rounds, but all that generally does is clear the path for one of the remaining few favorites to eventually knock off the early round underdog winners and hoist the Cup. In the 16 playoffs in the salary cap era, I would say that only the St Louis Blues in 2019 entered the playoffs as a true dark horse, and even so that team could have been considered a Stanley Cup contender before the season started and just played their way down the list with a rough first half of the season. The 2006 Hurricanes and 20017 Ducks would have been considered underdogs before the season started, but strong regular seasons had them among the Cup contenders when the playoffs started. Otherwise, the list of Cup winners is unanimously favorites like Blackhawks, Kings, Penguins, Lightning and other favorites.
Fast forward to today, I would put the the Hurricanes in a group of 6-7 teams who have a chance to hoist the Cup in June. But by no means are the Hurricanes a clear favorite over other top teams. The Lightning have the same core that won the past two seasons. The Panthers showed the ability to play dominant hockey with their dynamic run in January. The Avalanche have seemingly been knocking on the door for a couple years. The Golden Knights will try to pull a Tampa Bay with some injury-related salary cap circumvention.
The question that the Canes brass must answer in the next month is whether they are content to go with the current roster, or if instead they should play the pricey game of trying to make significant upgrades at the trade deadline. The 2006 Cup win benefited from aggressive moves to add veteran forwards Mark Recchi and Doug Weight. That veteran depth proved valuable over the long post-season. The Hurricanes spent significant futures capital giving up a first round and a third round pick to sign away Jesperi Kotkaniemi. But might the team invest more? Should the team spend more?
In late January, I wrote this article suggesting that the Hurricanes had basically a three year window with the current core before needing to re-sign key players and trying to make the salary cap work.
In general, my bias is toward going with a regular season roster that is successful. Significant trade deadline additions are both expensive and risky. The prices paid for rentals whose value becomes almost nothing if the the acquirer does not win the championship are usually high. And even good players do not always mesh immediately and/or make enough of a difference to boost a team. Finally, having good, inexpensive players on entry-level or second contracts can be critical to achieving sustained success within rules that require good teams to regularly offload key players to make the salary cap math work.
That said, I actually lean toward making a big move or two leading up the the trade deadline for three reasons. First, as noted above, I do think the Hurricanes are in the select group of teams with a chance to win it all. Second, despite giving up two draft picks to add Kotkaniemi, the Canes are still in a good positive futures-wise with a good prospect pool. Finally and maybe most significantly, despite being among the NHL’s best right now, I think the team actually has a couple areas where significant improvements could be made.
I think adding another bona fide top 4 defenseman would help. Tony DeAngelo has worked okay playing as a #4 next to Jaccob Slavin, but I think better would be to slot him in the third pairing. I think the result would be two positives. First, I think it is possible to be better defensively next to Slavin. Second, I think slotting DeAngelo in the third pairing could enable Brind’Amour to pick spots for DeAngelo to be on the ice a bit more against opponents’ lesser match ups which could maximize his ability to generate offense which is his strength.
I also think there is room for improvement by adding one more proven scorer at wing. In the Eastern Conference, the Hurricanes are in the group of top teams below the Panthers who are in a tier by themselves scoring-wise. So by no means are the Hurricanes desperate for more offense. But I still think there is room for one more top 6 scoring wing. That could both boost top-tier scoring and also increase depth.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Is this the year to spend a bit more aggressively to improve before the trade deadline to enter ‘win now’ mode and do everything possible to win a Cup?
2) Do you agree with either or both of the two areas that I identified as potential areas for improvement?
3) If you were General Manager Don Waddell, what would you do?