Today’s Daily Cup of Joe offers a quick batch of Canes notes with a lineup focus.
The center position and Erik Haula as a key
A strength of the forward group right now is the depth. Brind’Amour trusts the fourth line in pretty much all situations and the team is finding decent scoring depth across all four lines. Though injuries of any variety could upset that apple cart, I think the key could be Erik Haula. Losing any of the centers could have a negative impact, but with Haula missing time already do to his knee injury, he seems to be the biggest risk. If he were to exit the lineup, there is a domino effect. For as well as Lucas Wallmark is playing right now, I like Haula better between Ryan Dzingel and Martin Necas. Further, I think Jordan Martinook, who seems to be a preferred choice to move to center when injuries occur, is more effective at wing. Further, with Justin Williams now in the mix at the NHL level and Julien Gauthier scoring the AHL, I think the Canes have better ability to back fill an injury at the wing position.
Jake Gardiner as a key on defense
At the risk of jinxing him, Jake Gardiner has recently been a regular in the top 4 next to Brett Pesce and has not stood out noticeably in doing so. After a rough start in a Hurricanes uniform, that is exactly what one would hope from Gardiner. He does not need to be spectacular defensively. He just needs to be steadier than he was early in the season. I increasingly think Gardiner is the key to the blue line. Joel Edmundson had a run where he filled the slot next to Pesce, but in the long run I think he is better-suited for the third pairing. His game in terms of generating offense and advancing the puck just does not have as much upside as Gardiner. The transition is still in its early stages, but there are at least signs that Gardiner is ready to step into #4 slot that he was probably penciled into by coaching and management when he was acquired.
A last trade chip?
Related to the two items above, I think it is likely that Don Waddell keeps what would likely be his last trade chip in his pocket right up to the trade deadline. Though there is always room for improvement, I think the Canes right now have question marks more so than specific needs. If Gardiner continues his upward trend and everyone stays healthy, the current set of seven looks pretty solid. If instead Gardiner stumbles again, I could see Waddell making a move to shore up the defense for the stretch run and playoffs. Similarly, if Haula and everyone else stays healthy, the Canes are now 13 deep at forward with a pretty good early trade deadline addition in Williams. But if Haula’s injured leg acts up on him again, I could see Waddell making a move to add another center. Right now, I think best is to watch how things unfold over the next couple weeks and let that dictate actions, if any, at the trade deadline.
Sebastian Aho with more to give
Through 45 games, Sebastian Aho is on target for a whopping 41 goals and 73 points. The point total would be down from 2018-19, but the goal total is a huge one in today’s NHL. Despite productivity similar to 2018-19, I think Aho potentially has a higher gear. Though he has racked up points at a high rate since a slow start, he really has not had an extended stretch where he was every-game dominant like he was in 2018-19. I have recently noted that Aho has had that extra gear in terms of mobility in many recent games and could be on the verge of a break out. It is not that his current scoring pace would necessarily be a negative, but I just think there is more.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you see as the key(s) to the forward part of the Canes lineup? Do you similarly see Erik Haula and his previously injured leg as a key to the team’s depth?
2) Is Jake Gardiner rounding into form? If he reverts back to struggles earlier in the season, can the Hurricanes still make the blue line work with the big three and probably Edmundson slotting up again?
3) If one goes with the assumption that the Canes have one trade move possible, what would you do with it, and when would you consider using it?
4) Despite being on a scoring pace pretty similar to 2018-19, does any else agree that Aho could have a higher gear in terms of more regularly being a bit more dominant?
I agree that Huala makes the Canes a lot better. When it comes to playing the game situationally, Huala is the Canes most versatile centerman. He can drive offense, but he is very good defensively as well. When the Canes are trying to hold a lead late you see a lot of Huala and he does his job. Losing him would hurt a lot.
Glad to see Gardiner playing better. I think the promotion is more mental as anything. Gardiner’s mistakes are often so bad that having a responsible defenseman as a partner doesn’t help much. If he can avoid those blunders it will improve the Canes a lot.
Unless some great opportunity landed on Waddell’s desk I don’t see another trade coming down the pike. My not so secret wish would be to unload Neiterrider and his contract, but that’s a pipe dream. An upgrade in goal would be nice, but those kind of goalies don’t grow on trees.
Aho has gone cold. He’ll heat back up. Hard for Aho to get many assists when you have one linemate that doesn’t want to shoot and the other can’t score at all.
There is nothing at all wrong with Aho/Teravainen, but whenever a line shuffle makes sense anyway, I would be curious to see Teravainen with a different set of players. He leans so much pass over shoot (and is good at it), that I think ideal could be seeing if he can boost 2 finishers.
I like the idea of Dzingel/Haula/Teravainen. Both of Haula and Dzingel have a propensity to shoot the puck, and Dzingel especially could have more to give.
The downside of that is that it seemingly puts Necas on Aho’s line which might not be ideal defensively if Aho’s line still slots match up-wise as #1 or #2.
Biggest positive is that Canes are deeper offensively which means regardless of combinations there will automatically be some offense sprinkled throughout the lineup.
1. I was talking about it at the last game with someone – the team has been very fortunate to avoid injuries (could we survive losing as many players as are out with PIT??). Haula is certainly critical – I wonder how much is he really playing through as opposed to being healthy.
I don’t know how many people realize Turbo is playing through something major – RBA referenced it in his post-game locker room chat several weeks ago. I think Turbo wants the ASG break for rest and rehab.
But we are definitely a different team without Haula.
2. I don’t know if he “rounding into form” but he has been better at avoiding defensive gaffes and is playing with more confidence offensively. But we are still closer to the version of Gardiner getting booed last year at TOR and the 40/50-point producer of previous years there.
In an interview last week on 99.9 Waddell specifically said they are looking for a d-man – bloggers have jumped on the possibility that Gardiner is going to be moved. Will he???
3. I think we have the potential for more than one move. We can take on a maximum $5.5M contract at the deadline – probably won’t be as high because of bonus implications, but that is still a lot of money.
But I wonder if we will keep TvR as this year’s self-rental. With Fleury playing perhaps even better than TvR, that would free up another $2M+ in cap. Trade TvR for a pick and then turn around andmake a rental trade for a $6+M contract?
You cna be sure that Waddell is looking at all sorts of possibilities and isn’t limiting himself to one path.
4. What is impressive is Aho’s annualized scoring pace recognizing that he has been quite cold of late. I expect he has another hot streak in him this season.
We are a much better team with Haula – noticeably better, with more scoring balance and a stronger PP and more grit – he’s quietly a very physical player. When you think back to VGK’s run to the Finals and their fall-of the next season, it kind of correlates with Haula’s availability. I’m wondering whether having JW back means that RBA can decide to rest Haula to keep him healthier – if his leg needs it.
(BTW, it was around this time last season when the discussion started around whether or not to extend/re-sign Ferland, and the injury concern was the biggest reason against. GMDW decided the risk was too great – he also decided to move on from de Haan, and I think concern over availability was at least as much of an issue that Cap space, so there is a pattern developing around avoiding extensions when there is known injury risk. That may happen with Haula, but having said that, he’s the type of player I’d like to keep long-term. But some other team is probably going to roll-the-dice at a nice raise.)
I’ve been surprised that Fleury has played so much recently over TvR – not sure what that means – and with Gardiner certainly playing better – I’m still not sure we’re getting now all that we expected, though it’s getting much closer to that – we have really nice depth on Defense, and it’s a strong enough group to take us deep into the playoffs. It would surprise me if we disrupted this group.
I’m much more concerned with our goaltending. I don’t think that “league-average” is enough in the playoffs; we’re going to need Mrazek to get hot again, and while there are flashes of that from time to time, the consistent run of 4-5 stout games hasn’t been there this season. We have the assets, and it would not surprise me if we made a move for someone like Corey Crawford or Craig Anderson – I’m sure both are available and neither would be overly expensive (if we could get through their no-trade lists). Or maybe there is a bigger deal for someone else being considered? In any event, I think another trade is coming if we continue to play well and I think it’d be centered around goaltending.
1. I agree that Haula is the key. If he gets injured the ripple effect to the lineup is considerable.
2. Jake Gardiner – can he round into form offensively? Yes, but he will always be prone to defensive errors. My thought is that the Canes would now trade him if they could find a taker (maybe Detroit/Mike Green or NJ/Vatanen?) and replace him with an experienced powerplay d-man with no term left. Jake Bean fills that role next year.
3. The way things stand now, I would use my one trade move to obtain Luke Glendening. A right-handed center that’s good on draws, excellent defensively, with leadership qualities and a reasonable salary. The perfect addition that provides insurance and depth down the middle.
4. I agree that Aho has a higher gear. After somewhat fading down the stretch last year, he may be pacing himself to finish strong this year. I’m okay with that.