Let me start off by saying I'm not complete to the ledge yet. Its coming up, but I'm not quite there. If I recall correctly, the Canes had 3 straight home loses in 08/09 by scores of 5-0, 5-1, & 5-1 and still pulled it together to get into the playoffs. But this is a different team and problems need to be recognized & addressed. I 'm going to try and examine what I SEE as problems. These are obviously my opinions, so please feel free to offer your ideas of what issues need to be addressed.
1. JR, our GM - After the playoff loss to Pittsburgh in 08/09, JR said the defense needed more toughness. He went out and added AWard and Alberts, leaving the Canes with just 2 "offensive" defenseman in Pitkanen and Corvo. Joni was injuried to start the season and Corvo got injured early on. So the defense was without more than one "puck-moving" defenseman most of 2009. Fast forward to this past offseason and JR went the exact opposite route. Now we have four "offensive" defenseman. IMO, the key to any defense is balance and that is something we are not. I know PK's self-imposed budget has hampered JR, but he could have also used the money he had more wisely. During the offseason, many here were clamoring for the Canes to put an offer sheet to Marc Staal. He is a young, good skating defensive defenseman that could have possibly been a compliment to Pitkanen. For what the Rangers got him for, the Canes could have offered 5 years, $21 million and probably gotten him or put New York in the position of matching. It would have cost the Canes a 1st and 3rd, but in what is considered a weak draft year; that isn't a whole lot for a solid top 4 defenseman. And if the Canes sucked this season, they could always trade away Pitkanen to a playoff contender for a 1st. If that happened, we would probably not have resigned Corvo, but we would have a much more balanced defense.
Another issue JR failed to address was the glaring need of a faceoff specialist (I'm not even going to go in to the 1st line winger thing). I thought the Canes should have signed Dominic Moore to a contract. He could have filled the 3rd line center position, played on the PK, and is effective in the faceoff circle. He was available until the end of July and could have been had for around $1 million. The other issue he could have addressed this offseason was Samsonov. Sammy has been a square peg that the Canes have continually tried to shove in a round hole. He could have bought Sammy out, costing the Canes $920K over the next 2 seasons; but it would have saved some money and opened up a spot for one of the kids.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but let's look at a couple of offseason moves the Canes could have made and what it would have cost us. Offering sheeting Marc Staal to address the lack of defensive defenseman, not signing Corvo, not signing Harrison, resigning Carson, signing Dominic Moore, not signing POS, buying out Samsonov, and filling Boychuk in Sammy's spot. The difference between all those move would have cost the Canes $1.35 million more, but would have address some, not all, major holes.
2. Coaching - Many of you here know I am not a fan of Paul Maurice. IMO, he is an average coach that does not work well developing players. This is suppose to be a rebuilding year, yet only 2 rookies (Skinner & McBain) that have seen any significant amount of ice time so far. Mo has more or less gone back to relying on veterans. Also his line organization is simply perplexing to me, but I will address that further later on. Ron Francis is also showing that he is more of a talent evaluator than coach. The PP is not successful and for the most part has looked ineffective. Tom Rowe hasn't beemn given a lot to work with, but since defensive positioning has been a key weakness, he must receive his share of blame. The coaches must put the players they have in the best position to succeed or in the case of the kids, the best position for them to learn from. I really believe that Francis should return to the front office and a "teacher" should be brought in to teach the kids.
3. LaRose/TK/Dwyer - Each of these guys has played well at times during this season. But the problem is that they play similar roles on this team and LaRose & Dwyer are slotted higher than they should be. LaRose is a 3rd/4th line energy player that does well as an aggressive penalty killer and on occasions he can play on higher lines. Dwyer is a 4th line energy guy that contributes on the PK and could on occasions play on the 3rd line. TK is a 4th line stand up guy that plays effectively on the PK. One of these guys needs to go! The others need to play where their talent levels say they are. There are many teams out there that could use a 3rd/4th liner and PKer. Colorado , Tampa, and Edmonton are a few that come to mind. Trading one would also open up a spot for a kid.
4. Staal & Sutter - These two are arguably 2 of the 4 most talented forwards on the Canes. Yet they are being teamed with lower level talent. Staal has a 3rd/4th liner in LaRose on his right and a 3rd/4th line square peg in Sammy on his left. I love Chad, but everybody knows he is not 1st line capable. Sammy has 8 points on the season, 3 while playing 4th line and 2 while on the PP. A prime example of this was last night in the 1st period. Staal had the puck, 3 Montreal defenders close on him, he passes to a wide open Samsonov with LaRose to his left. We barely even got a shot on goal! 1st liners should be able to capitalize on that!
Sutter has a 4th liner in Dwyer on his right and a "unproven" Tlusty on his left. I don't know how many times over the past week that I have seen Sutter feed to puck right in front of the goal and no one is there or no real shot is taken. Even the Dwyer goal against Edmonton went off his skate, not his stick. If Sutter had more talented players around him, he would probably have a lot more than 8 points.
Any while both players are still struggling in the faceoff circle, they have improved over the past 5 games. Staal is at 48% and Sutter at 40% during that time. Still, the coaching staff need to maximize their talent by putting it in the best position to succeed. Here is what I would recommend with current available players:
Skinner/Staal/Cole - this would put Skinner against 1st line defensive pairings, but would allow for some offensive pressure by our 1st line. Cole & Skinner have chemistry and Cole & Staal have speed.
Ruutu/Sutter/Dalpe - this would recreate our shutdown line. This allows Ruutu to go back to his forte of forechecking. Dalpe would be in "on the job training", but has decent size and scoring potential. This would also leave Jussi, so far our best faceoff man, to man the 3rd line center spot.
5. The JET line - I know a lot of people are in favor of keeping this line together, but I feel it is hurting the overall forward line combinations. Is it productive, yes; is it so productive that it should be kept, no. Ruutu has not been bad in the center spot, but the added responsibilty of center is taking a little away from his game IMO. I think Ruutu is best when he is allowed to forecheck and crash the net. This is hampered by the center position and the fact that Skinner and Cole go down low also; someone must be back and that is usually Ruutu. Like I mentioned above, I think Ruutu should be reunited with Sutter and a kid on the 2nd line. You could potentially put him on the 1st with Staal and Cole & Skinner on the 2nd with Sutter if you are hell-bent on not exposing Skinner to 1st pairing guys. I know everybody loves the JET line, but IMO it is negatively effecting the other lines.
6. Jussi - Will the real Jussi Jokinen please come forward? No one could have forseen Jussi's struggles to start the season. Is the real Jussi the guy from last season or the one from the year before in Tampa? I think he falls somewhere in between. Jussi needs to be playing more than 4th line minutes, but he's not playing well enough for the 1st line. Why not put him in the 3rd line center position with maybe Boychuk & LaRose? It would be a huge line, but I don't think it would be overpowered at will. Boychuk & LaRose are afraid to throw themselves around and Jussi is somewhat defensive responsible (ignoring his +/-).
7. Defense - The defense is simply horrible. We are offensive minded without solid puck-movers. We are also on the slow side, so we have problems making up for our mistakes. The organization of this defense is the key reason we are even having this conversation. Pitkanen is Pitkanen, he's a rover. He really needs to be paired with someone that will play "safety" to his floating all over the ice. Corvo has been much improved over the past 4 or 5 games, but he also needs to be paired with a defensive defenseman. Gleason has started playing a little more like Tim Gleason, but to get him back to himself; he needs help! Babchuk is the only Cane to get points in the last 2 games, so he is kind of doing what he is suppose to. But even with that goal and assist, he is a minus 4. Babs is a 3rd pairing/PP specialist and that is it. He is slow of foot, so he needs to be paired with someone that skates well. He could be effective in the right situation, but I think the Canes are asking too much of him. McBain is not playing up to his abilities. He doesn't have bad numbers over the 2 game skid, but he is not doing what he does best. He doesn't seem confident and is not producing offensively. My personal opinion is that the Canes coaching staff has messed him up and some time in Charlotte would do him wonders. But he is not very effective right now. Harrison has tried hard and he's not been a total disaster, but the guy is a depth defenseman at best. He is not overly physical, doesn't have speed, and just doesn't do anything real well. He's ok if combined with a decent skating, non-Pitkanen, defenseman. But lets call a spade a spade.
This would not completely address our defensive problems, but I would mind see McBain sent down for a little while, Harrison sat like he should be and Carson & Sanguinetti called up for a while. Carson has played well in his limited time this season and did a pretty good job for the Canes last year. Sanguinetti is a defensive liability, but who isn't for the Canes right now? I think his speed could at least help make up for some of the mistakes he will make. Give those 2 a week as the 3rd pairing and see what happens. We still need to find another answer for defensive help. I read that Colten Teubert is still injuried, but may be coming back soon. I wonder if the Canes have anything that LA might want in exchange for him? He wouldn't be an immediate help, but maybe he could crack the 3rd pairing in late December.
8. Trades - Now is still probably to early for a bunch of trades, but we need to start shopping. I know we are not going to go get a top line winger, so let's see what else is needed. I think we could use a physical forward, a low level faceoff man, and a defensive defenseman. We also need to open up some spots for the kids to come up, so we can guage their abilities at the NHL level. I think Samsonov, LaRose, TK, Tlusty, POS, Harrison, and Babchuk should be made available right now. These are players that IMO don't have much of a future in Carolina. Don't necessarily give them away, but see what their value is.
Sorry for the unorganization of this FanPost. I'm just trying to voice some of my thoughts and frustrations.