Today’s Daily Cup of Joe has quick thoughts on two different topics — Jack LaFontaine’s play so far and an early look at possible trade deadline upgrades.
Making the jump literally one week to the next going from “Cawlidge Hawkey” to the NHL, Jack LaFontaine is off to a bit of a rocky start having given up two goals in three shots late in relief in his first NHL game and then giving up seven goals on 38 shots in his first NHL start on Saturday.
Less than four periods of hockey is obviously not enough to make any kind of definitive assessment obviously, but it does count for a first impression and does represent the starting point for his journey toward manning an NHL crease.
First, I would pretty much completely write off LaFontaine’s first appearance with two goals against on three shots. Coming in in relief for a first outing on a night when the Canes just did not have it was enough of a wild card anyway, and then consider that both of the first two shots that LaFontaine faced were on breakaways makes it something to just write off.
Again with the disclaimer that one game is not enough for any kind of definitive assessment, I do think the second game that he started at least offers a first impression. Again, the Hurricanes were not great in front of him, but LaFontaine also looked to be in over his head. His game reminded me a bit of the struggling version of Cam Ward that just seemed frozen. He was thinking the game and generally in position but seemed unable to react and track the puck at all when it did not just hit him; hence the ‘frozen’ comment. Not sure if that was nerves from his first start, an off night just tracking the puck or an indication that he is still a ways off from being NHL caliber. If he gets another start, I would be watching closely to see if/how well he is able to adjust/react to shots.
Per my article when LaFontaine was signed, my expectation is that LaFontaine was given a non-contractual promise that he would get some amount of NHL time as a backup for financial reasons (each NHL game is worth about $7,000 versus only about $1,000 for AHL games) and maybe also the expectation that he would get a start of two. With a chunk of games at the NHL level for salary and a start under his belt, next stop fairly soon might be regular work in the AHL.
Early look at possible trade deadline areas for improvement
With February originally scheduled to be a month off for the Olympics, the 2022 NHL trade deadline is a bit later than usual on March 21. So it is a bit early for activity, but on the other hand, I think we are far enough into the season to have some ideas where the Hurricanes might be able to improve. I see two areas.
A steady #4 defenseman
First, if the Hurricanes could land another #4/#5 defenseman on a rental deal, I think there is still upside for the blue line. More depth never hurts, but more significantly, I still think ideal would be finding a steady right shot #4 defenseman to slot next to Slavin. Ethan Bear was originally expected to fill this slot but has had some ups and downs of late that sees him in the #7 slot as a healthy scratch. Tony DeAngelo has generally been capable in that slot when Slavin is in the lineup, but I still think he is a safer better as an offensive #5 on the third pairing and playing more minutes against lower forward lines. That plays to his strength generating offense and steers away from his possible Achilles’ heel.
With decent depth at the NHL level and Chatfield and Lajoie performing well to fill #8 and #9 slots ready for recall from the AHL, I would not consider adding a top 4 defenseman an absolute necessity, but I would still be shopping for one in March. The big name out there is Chychrun who would be a great addition for any team, but I would be surprised to see the Hurricanes enter and win that bidding war.
A top 6 scoring wing, ideally a power forward
Just like on defense, I would not classify any need at forward as critical, but I do think the Canes could benefit from adding one more proven finisher at wing, ideally from the mold of a power forward who adds a bit more size. The scoring version of Micheal Ferlund or a forechecking beast like Erik Cole could be a good fit for Aho or Trocheck’s line to add a bit more scoring in the form of a physical force. Adding another scoring forward would also bump down another skilled offensive player to Staal’s line and hopefully help it become more of a going concern offensively.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What is your initial impression of Jack LaFontaine? In terms of splitting causation for his early struggles, how much would you assign to the Canes not playing well in front of him and how much would you assign to him just not being NHL-ready yet?
2) Looking ahead to the trade deadline, what needs or areas for improvement do you see for the Hurricanes?