If you visited Canes and Coffee on Monday, you probably quickly noticed an odd deja vu feeling in seeing that the front page was filled with articles from late October.
The short version of a somewhat longer story is that a technical glitch seemed to wipe out about a month of articles that at least so far appear to be unrecoverable. Such is the challenge of running a website on a shoestring budget.
From three years of running Canes and Coffee, I have learned that the general rule of thumb is that such problems have an uncanny knack for scheduling themselves only when you have absolutely no time, energy or ability to deal with them. Put together a combination of being behind on things at work, having a touch of the flu, being buried otherwise and having a holiday weekend on that way, and for whatever reason it almost seems to trigger some variety of unpredictable and bizarre crisis to pop up out of nowhere.
The positive is that the site is up and functional such that another round of daily coverage will restart the string on Tuesday, and as long as the website gods are reasonably fair, we should be free and clear for a couple months.
My hope is to do a bit of more detailed analysis on the first quarter of the season, but with game 20 now officially in the rear view mirror, I wanted to do sort of a high level review of the first quarter of the season.
Nothing gained, nothing lost
Through 20 games the Hurricanes sit a single game above .500. That 86-point pace is well short of the 94-95 points it usually takes to make the playoffs. And it is only a single point better than the 0-0-0 .500 starting point. In that regard, the Hurricanes are underperforming at least relative to a playoff pace.
But a broader look at the competition suggests that the Hurricanes are really right where there started in terms of playoff hopes. Though the Canes have not really gained anything, the team has not really lost much either. Using points above .500 to adjust for games played, the cut line for the Eastern Conference playoffs is at three points above .500 right now. As such, the Hurricanes are two points short. That gap is small enough that I think it is simpler to say that the team must at some point find a higher gear and a win streak to rise above the fray and into the playoffs. That is not really much different than when the season was starting.
Despite the ups and downs of the season thus far and the treading water type record, I would actually rate where the Hurricanes are as a small positive right now. With a new coach, a young team, a bunch of roster changeover and an injuries to the (hopeful) starting goalie and a key forward to start the year, I think getting to the one quarter mark of the season is more positive than negative. That is not to say that the current pace is good enough or that the team does not ultimately need to find a higher gear. But if it does, the current position is not so bad that they have dug a significant hole already.
Strengths and weaknesses
At a basic level, I think the early 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes are fairly close to what I expected. Though it has been imperfect of late, the strength of the team thus far has been it’s aggressive style that drives puck possession in even strength play. When the dice come up goal which does not seem to be often enough, the results are there. In addition, though I actually think things are not really clicking yet, the depth on the blue line has also been a positive early on.
On the flip side, the team’s weaknesses are not at all unexpected. Now with three goalies in the mix, the goalie play continues to be an every-game dice roll that on average has been sub-par. In addition and also not unexpected, the team lacks raw scoring. Thus far, the rookies have been okay in terms of transitioning to the NHL but have not offered much in terms of offensive production. Foegele has not scored in forever after a fast start. The combination of Necas, Bishop, Roy and Wallmark filling two center slots have produced a meager 2 goals and 5 assists. Projected over 82 games that would be an average of 4 goals and 10 assists each for the third and fourth line centers. That is short for the fourth line and not even in the ballpark for what is needed from the third line. Andrei Svechnikov is developing nicely but his current 32-point pace is much more learning on the job than starting to drive the offense. I said in a recent article (one of the ones that disappeared) that the only true playmaker/catalyst on the team is Sebastian Aho. That makes for a lot of trying to scrape together goals here and there which at least so far has not worked out.
Reason for optimism
As noted above, where the team is exiting the first quarter of the season is not horrible. If the team can find a higher gear, anything is possible. Because team just does not have difference-maker type center help from the youth yet, I think Victor Rask’s ability to be a difference-maker when he returns in early December is underrated. And though I am not overly optimistic, the potential is still there for one of the goalies to find a rhythm and be the positive that the team needs. Finally, with a young team it is reasonable to suggest that they will get better as the season progresses.
Reason for pessimism
I have beaten the drum that says that there really is just no way without improved goaltending. Thus far, the Hurricanes are still short on goaltending, and the probability of better suddenly materializing seems to decrease as the season plays out and goalie play mostly offers the same level of inconsistent that recent history would have predicted. ‘Iffy’ netminding combined with scoring difficulties has the potential to be a deadly combination that results in more ups and downs and arounds on a roller coaster ride that ultimately ends right around .500.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you rate the first quarter of the season as half full or half empty?
2) If asked to assess the team’s play in the first quarter what would you say?
3) What has most surprised you during the first quarter of the season?
4) If you wrote anything brilliant in the comments during the past 3-4 weeks that you want officially logged, here is your chance to re-add what was lost.
1. Half full. We are not out of it and there is still a chance a couple of the newcomers will step up their scoring.
2. Inconsistent. The team can’t seem to play the up tempo style that they need to play.
3. That we are still in the race for a playoff spot with the poor effort the team has shown since the first five games of the season.
Agree with all …
3a/ The more I watch de Haan the more I like him.
3b/ I’m not surprised Lindholm is crushing it in CGY. He’s the player I miss the most. Except for Rask: we’re a different team with different lines when he gets back – it’ll be like adding a UFA.
3c/ If the Nylander trade rumors are true and Pesce is the piece we’ll give up on defense (whether it’s in a trade with TOR or anyone else for someone else), we’ve seen a preview of what that looks like the last few games and it’s not terrible. It looks to me like Fleury is ready to rise up; he looks much faster, more calm under pressure, and much more confident.
4/ I still think a trade is coming and it would not surprise me if it’s a big one that involves more than one player. Everyone crapped all over OTT for what they gave up in the Matt Duchene trade when it happened but he’s been excellent for them so far; “the team that gets the best player usually wins the trade” and this may turn out to be true here. It makes me wonder whether a huge package for Nylander or RNH isn’t worth it.
1. Half empty–see rant (or don’t–TLDR) after responses.
2. Team has more grit and is harder to play against. The league requires more speed and harder to slow down.
3. shooting %
4. Maenalenen will be next call-up.
It is becoming obvious that the team in Raleigh somehow destroys offensive talent. It is becoming equally evident that too many fans (myself included) have bought into the problem.
Jeff Skinner is an elite scorer. Yet the management and ALMOST ALL of us fans believed that he was some sort of cancer who didn’t put out maximum effort. At the same time an almost equally large percentage of fans wanted to acquire Ryan O’Reilly, who does seem to somehow make his team worse. Many others will say that Skinner’s play so far was expected because it is a contract year. Read on!
Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin were playing for new contracts last year. The new owner and many fans said they had not earned what they were asking for–which implies that the contract year phenomenon wasn’t present. Now in Calgary after receiving new contracts both are producing more offense than ever. Both of their contracts will be absolute steals if the can produce at 75% of the pace they are producing now. Both are playing solid defense–something their replacements are not. In addition, Bill Peters has Calgary believing that they are winners. I realize that may change over 82 games, but it seems evident that both players had more scoring ability than the Canes were able to bring out of them. It also appears evident that I was woefully mistaken that Peters was a poor coach in relation to getting offensive production out of a team.
Both Joakim Nordstrom and Marcus Kruger have more goals in the first 1/4 of this season than in all of last season. In fact, only Derek Ryan of the departed Canes is less productive so far.
There was excitement when Rod Brind’Amour was hired as head coach. He is a workout king. The preseason practice teams foretold how the new Hurricanes would be harder to play against: grit and grind. Anything less than 100% commitment would not be tolerated. In the preseason and the first 5 games of the season it was evident that the new Hurricanes were better than at anytime in the past 9 years because they cared more and worked harder. No more Jeff Skinner “floating” in the defensive zone. Joakim Nordstrom had been replaced by skaters who liked high-speed contact.
Now a quarter into the season and the real problem is evident. Something about the Carolina Hurricanes keeps players from producing offense. The disease is apparently contracted only as a member of the Hurricanes. We all had first hand evidence of Lindholm’s “muffin shot,” but suddenly he is on pace for 40 goals. Noah Hanifin, who often seemed overwhelmed on the Canes blueline, is a plus player on pace for 30 assists while averaging more than 20 minutes per night. Jeff Skinner, who was a -95 in his years in Carolina, is now third in the league in +/-. All three have become significantly better merely by moving on. I, like most fans, believe they would not have produced as well had they stayed. We all underestimated Lindholm’s and Hanifin’s offensive potential. As mentioned above, even Joakim Nordstrom is on pace for 10 goals on another team.
But all this could be just the benefit of new surroundings. Though as I think about it that seems unlikely. Because look at the two players who I thought would replace most of Skinner’s and Lindholm’s departed scoring: Andrei Svechnikov and Valentin Zykov. While Elias Pettersson, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Rasmus Dahlin are scoring more than even their biggest fans hoped, Svechnikov is on pace for 33 points. Zykov has played but was not given much ice time and little power play time. Even “can’t miss” rookies are struggling offensively in Carolina. Michael Ferland, a lone outlier as far as goal scoring, is not immune to the Carolina flu. Ferland has produced as many assists as goals throughout his career but in Raleigh he is barely helping his line mates score.
So while Matt has written about his interaction with Arturs Irbe in which Irbe “cursed” the Canes’ goalies, I think there might be a more plausible explanation! Rod Brind’Amour is a modern Faust. The only remotely (ok not even remotely) reasonable explanation for why near-elite offensive players, like Staal and Skinner, and good offensive players, like Lindholm and Hanifin, struggle in Carolina is that the captain of the 2006 team bargained with the devil. The Stanley Cup came at the cost of offensive competence. The only question is if the Canes are subject to the bargain for as long as RBA is part of the organization, as long as RBA is alive, or as long as the team is in Raleigh. It would be truly Mephistophelian for the Canes to move and then become an offensive juggernaut.
Seriously, the current coach has been around for most of the struggles. I do think there is likely too much emphasis on effort and not enough on tactics. Look at Charlotte. The Checkers lost four of their top 5 offensive contributors. Yet they are actually better. When I watch Checkers games I see two things I don’t usually see watching the Canes. One–offense that relies on movement and cross-ice passes to create breakdowns in the defense. Two–four lines committed to goal-scoring.
Carolina needs to focus on scoring. They shoot plenty. They need to work on becoming better passers and better at moving to open up passing lanes. They need to find a way to get more production out of their star rookie. They need to get three lines scoring on a regular basis. They need goals out of their defensemen. That will make them tougher to play against.
A well-written rant.
Skinner’s play is greatly improved playing with Eichel. Skinner no longer worries about taking the puck into the offensive zone. Eichel does that and Skinner buzzes around the net looking for his shot opportunities – which Eichel provides.
Lindy in Calgary is a bit curious. He got moved to center and has taken off. But it is under the same coach who largely kept him on the wing here. Again, Lindy has quality offensive linemates.
And yo are straight on with Checkers (and I think our coach too).
Ct I couldn’t agree more with your rant assessment especially the difference in play between Clt and Raleigh. I had hoped that Vellucci would have been promoted to be head coach and after RBA was named at least the assistant position. Granted the talent and skill levels are different but I see a more organized team in Clt. I think a lot of it has to do with coaching and preparation. They having been out of any game all season and have driven and controled the play every game thus their league leading record. The PK and PP are in the top 10 and when on the PP they are in front of the net. I get more excited listening to their games than watching the Hurricanes. I even turn the tv to mute on Hurricanes games. I am starting to find Tripp too annoying. That is another conversation. I also can focus in on the play rather than the noise. Another thing ……… Darling sucks and Ned seems to be the real deal. I am confident that he would have won at least two of the games where Darling laid a egg. I hope he gets gets called up this season and then bid “big bird” goodbye.
One last thing I agree with Matt that we have only one offensive driver (Aho) on the Canes and the rest are passengers now. I don’t see anyone stepping forward other than Svechnikov once he grows. We need more skill players and I hope management makes some moves to address this before the December deadline.
Excellent rant CT. I’ve seen the same thing. So I’ll answer in context of the rant.
1) The season started half full and has moved to half empty.
2) The team’s play was exactly what I was hoping for when the season started but completely changed to a style I don’t like.
3) What surprised me was seeing RBA change from “we’ll play the right way and deal with the mistakes” to “we have to eliminate the mistakes”. The change is killing the team.
4) I posted late one night when no one would see it, and this post may suffer the same fate. My Rant:
RBA started the season saying we would play the right way and deal with the mistakes. Work with the kids. Develop the players. We started the season largely possessing the puck in transition, through the neutral zone, and carrying the puck into the O-zone. We would carry the puck directly into the “royal road (RR)” or slot, carry it through the RR, or pass it across the RR, as we transitioned into the O-zone. It made the goalie move side-to-side. It took advantage of player quickness and skill. With this style of play, the players move to create and exploit passing lanes, with success determined by the ability to make tape-to-tape passes. Let’s call this the “high-risk, high-reward” style of play. When you possess the puck out of the D-zone and through the neutral zone, a turnover often ends up in your net. That is the “high risk” part. What makes it fun is the high reward – the good guys score 5 or 6 a game. We are treated to scores of 5-4 or 6-5 in games that could go either way, but a higher percentage goes for.
I love the “high risk, high reward” style and believe it is the best way to develop young players. Get better at creating and exploiting space, and possessing the puck, and your team will be much better at the end of the year than it was at the beginning.
The we started phase 2. Hrmph. As soon as RBA switched to “we have to eliminate the mistakes”, we switched to a “low risk, low reward” grinder style of play. Flip the puck forward, get it in deep, chip and chase, dump and chase, etc. The style greatly reduces the risk, as fewer mistakes end up in your net. But the style also greatly reduces the reward. Instead of carrying/passing the puck into/through the RR, the puck is chipped or dumped in along the boards. The game turns into a perimeter game with board battles. In transition, instead of players moving side to side, diagonally, etc, to create and exploit space, the puck is dumped behind the defense and all offensive players skate in a straight line, as fast as they can, straight up the ice. By the time the puck is dug out of the boards, players are a bit gassed. The “high danger” shots are off passes from the same side of the goal – most of the passes do not cross the RR and do not require the goalie to move. It is the reason we get lots of shots and the goalies look like stars – the shots come off of passes from along the boards to the same side of the goal. The goalie doesn’t have to move, the defense doesn’t have to reset to defend a shot from the other side. The goalie doesn’t lose sight of the puck during the side-to-side transition. This style results in mostly 2-1 games that could go either way, but a higher percentage goes against.
This “low-risk, low-reward” grinder style of play is why players look like stars when they leave. This is the reason we lit up scoring in the preseason and the first few weeks of the season, but then got regressed back to “same old result”. or SOS. It’s why our players looked like stars for awhile and now look like grinders.
I literally noticed the change over night and lost major interest, participating in message boards less and missing more games. I do not like the grinder style of play. I believe RBA started losing the team when going to this style. “We have to eliminate the mistakes” is death to a team, it is difficult to play while trying to not do something. It is like saying “don’t think of an elephant, don’t think of an elephant”. Of course you think of an elephant.
And, the “low risk, low reward” grinder style works best with great goaltending, which we don’t have.
“High risk, high reward” statistically works better with average to bad goal-tending, which gave me hope and excitement for this season.
In Rant summary, I believe RBA can get the room back and the team can get their mojo back by switching back to the “high-risk, high-reward” possession-oriented style of play.
My list of player evaluations for the year change dramatically for the two different styles of play, but that is a topic for another day.
1. and 2.
a. Half-full?, or
b. Half-empty?, or
I am leaning towards c. I was truly hoping to be proved wrong in my preseason assessment of the coach and system, such as it is. I had hoped the quality of players would be high enough so that they would overcome RBA’s learning curve struggles. I see very little positive here that the team can “build on”. We are a quarter of the way through the season, and we still have to look for things we can “build on”? As a fan this is challenging to watch.
I really doubt if simply adding a scoring piece is going to make a difference in team results.
3. I am most surprised that in spite of our mediocre play we are still in the thick of things for the playoffs – the benefits of playing in a (so far) mediocre division.
asheville. Your rant was magnitudes better than mine. You give reasons why players, Lindholm particularly, are producing more offense elsewhere. It is painfully ironic that Bill Peters’ team is more dynamic than the Canes.
asheville also encapsulates why dixie and I find the Checkers more successful and more fun to watch. They play to win rather than not to lose. Usually they get out in front and make the other team struggle. But even when they were done 4-1 in their last game they were playing as asheville describes.
With Rask returning soon, I hope RBA does go back to the high risk/reward style of play. It could unleash Svechnikov and provide some support for Ferland/Aho/TT.
If you get a chance read the quotes from Vellucci today on the Checkers web site. It reminds me of how Tortorella speaks about his team. I think he along with Trotz are the better player motivators and statisticians in the league and they are both winners with any teams they coach.