I wanted to go back to see where the Hurricanes were in terms of fixing what I was convinced were some of their weaknesses; and particularly weaknesses that led to the disastrous first 27 games. The Hurricanes 4 wins in the first 27 games crushed the team.
The Hurricanes needs included: (1) adding a defenseman to run the power play; (2) adding some size, speed, and physicality at forward, (3) finding a big, fast scoring wing to go with Staal and Jokinen on the first line (or perhaps Staal and Whitney), (4) jettisoning some highly paid, under-achieving veterans, (5) adding a cannon defenseman to scatter pigeons in front of the net, particularly on the power play, (6) finding a third line center, and (7) buying out Brind'Amour.
FINDING THE QUARTERBACK ON THE POWER PLAY
In my view the Hurricanes season could be summarized as "It's the power play, stupid." All things for the Hurricanes ultimately rose or fell on the power play. The Hurricanes power play killed them time after time during the first thirty games. A glaring need for the road to recovery was having a quarterback on the power play who could get the puck to the net and who could make crisp, preferably no-look, passes to open men. Once McBain came onto the ice for the Hurricanes, the power play instantly improved. McBain did a remarkable job and it was particularly impressive because he had zero NHL experience prior to the end of this season.
I also think the Hurricanes will want to see if Staal can quarterback the power play for one of the units. He has a beast of a shot and if he is on the power play unit with Babchuk, Staal should have space to cut through the slot. Boychuk has the hands and vision to work as quarterback if he comes to camp stronger and more confident in his decision-making.
McBain's emergence is a very significant positive development for the Hurricanes power play. Accordingly, one has to be hopeful that the Hurricanes power play in 2010-2011 will meet or exceed 20% efficiency.
ADDING SIZE, SPEED, AND PHYSICALITY TO THE FORWARDS
Given the tight financial constraints, size, speed, and physicality will need to come from within the organization and not trades or UFAs. Tlusty has received a one way contract, so he will be playing on one of the lines; and I believe he will begin as a the second line wing. He brings size, speed, and intelligence. He will take a hit and will give a hit to make a play. He doesn't have the inner rage of a Ruutu, at least as of next season; but perhaps he will take stock of his situation and realize that with a 20% increase in bone-jarring hits, he can have a long and successful career at Carolina. Bowman adds reasonable size and physicality. Bowman has a quiet meanness that is hidden beneath his what can only be fairly called his youthful innocence look. He is not a giant on the ice, but at 6'0 or 6'1" (depending whose measurements one believes) and around 190 lbs or more, he adds a physical element to the team - although he is largely viewed as a natural scorer. Osala at 6'4" and 225 lbs (I happen to think he weighs more than that), he brings a freight-train frame to the ice. At the World Championships, Osala was a physical beast for Finland and perhaps the message became clear to Osala that he could hit his way onto a permanent position on the Canes roster. Samson at 6'0" and 195 lbs also brings physicality and intensity. Although Jared Staal seems to be at least two years away, at 6'3" and 195 lbs, he brings size and meanness to the team.
The 2010 draft hopefully will include a #7 first round pick such as Connolly, Johansen, or Niederreiter who can add speed, size, and physicality to the system. Connolly by virtually all scouting reports seems to be closer than Johansen and perhaps Niederreiter to being able to have an immediate impact. I remain hopeful that the Hurricanes will use their phletora of second round picks to add players like Kabanov, Culek, and Shipley to the system. Telegin also seems to be a player available in the second round.
In summary, although the Hurricanes made progress with the size, speed, physicality area, unless some of the young prospects are added to the roster, it remains for 2010-2011 an area of relative weakness.
FINDING A FAST, BIG, SCORING WING TO GO WITH STAAL ON THE FIRST LINE
On this need, the Hurricanes seem to be dependent on the draft in terms of adding a player. Some people had hoped for a UFA to fill this spot; but given the finances that approach seems unavailable. In the 2010 draft Connolly, Skinner, and Etem seem the best options available; and it is being highly optimistic to pencil in Connolly, Skinner, or Etem on the first line. Less likely, but still theoretically possible, alternatives within the system could be Boychuk, Bowman, or Dalpe. If any of those three players had a Sutter-like improvement over the off-season, they have the athleticism and skill sets to move up. Absent such a major step forward by them over the off-season, it looks as if the first line will continue to vary from game to game. Also, whether Whitney re-signs will have a major impact on the composition of the first line.
First line combinations might include:
In summary, this need seems quite up in the air to me.
JETTISONING UNDER-ACHIEVING VETERANS WITH HIGH SALARIES
The most important improvement in the team from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011 was jettisoning aged, uninspired, and under-achieving veterans. The unloading of A. Ward, Wallin, and Yelle for draft picks was a masterful job by Jim Rutherford. The departure of Walker and Alberts also opened roster spots and reduced salary. Cullen and Corvo were both excellent NHL players, but their skill sets were not ideal for the Hurricanes and they were not likely to be re-signed by the Hurricanes. I was interested that Corvo was not going to be re-signed by Washington. I found that odd because Corvo did bring a lot of offensive skill with him. Cullen I believe is slated to re-sign in Ottawa from what I can tell.
In summary, the Hurricanes did a great job of trading veterans who no longer fit the needs of the Hurricanes for draft choices. The issue of Whitney is more complex; and the opinions on what happened factually is quite varied. I had assumed the Hurricanes would trade Whitney as a rental and get a #1 draft pick. I wonder now if the Hurricanes will be able to re-sign Whitney given the financial constraints that exist as the Karmanos seeks to find a local investor.
ADDING A CANNON FOR THE POWER PLAY
I have been a strong proponent of the Hurricanes having a cannon on the power play who can fire 100 mph rockets at the net. That kind of player creates space for the forwards and keeps the defensemen having to look over their shoulder. In addition, only a fool would try to block those kinds of shots more than once. Babchuk seems to be on the same page with the Hurricanes, perhaps in no small part due to his agent, Jay Grossman. If Babchuk can add 16 goals or more to the mix, the Hurricanes are in much, much better shape on the power play.
FINDING A THIRD LINE CENTER
Dalpe is an extremely talented and mature player; but he has not played a single game in the NHL. Unless he has a tremendous camp, the Hurricanes are going to need to be creative to figure out whom to play as the third line center. I assume that Dwyer is slated for that position. I like Dwyer, but I prefer him at wing or as a fourth line center. I have felt that Johansen would be a great first round pick for the Hurricanes; but it is quite optimistic to project Johansen as starting as the third line center in 2010-2011. Jokinen does a great job at center, but given his thirty goal season, he needs to stay on the first line or second line. Boychuk can play center and did play center on the fourth line during some shifts in 2010-2011.
In summary, I think the third line center position is an open issue for 2010-2011.
BUYING OUT BRIND'AMOUR
To me, buying out Brind'Amour is a no-brainer in terms of logic. His deterioration as a player in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 was dramatic. His plus minus minus 52 hardly touches the surface of his on ice difficulties. For those wanting to see the issues of his ineffective play, go to the March 11, 2010 game at the RBC against the Penguins. With less than two minutes gone in the first period, Brind'Amour blows an assignment and the Penguins score. On the Penguins third goal, Brind'Amour again blew an assignment. The Hurricanes wound up winning 4 to 3 despite Brind'Amour's difficulties in handling the physicality and speed of the Penguins.
If the Hurricanes organization decides not to buy out Brind'Amour, hopefully they will add an extra forward and will healthy scratch Brind'Amour basically every other game. Under this approach, Brind'Amour can have his farewell tour of the NHL; but he will have fresh legs.
It's really unfortunate that the Hurricanes fan base has not developed to the point that the Hurricanes have 4,000 to 5,000 more STHs. The Hurricanes are very, very close to being a top six team on a consistent basis; but without the steady and predictable income from increased STH participation, the Hurricanes organization can't spend the additional $5,000,000 to $8,000,000 (depending on the self-imposed budget) that it would take to bring in another young but veteran player or two.
In my view, the Hurricanes team in 2010-2011 will be a better team; but how much the veteran presence will be missed is not known. The Hurricanes seem to still have question marks in terms of a fast, big, scoring wing to go with Staal and Jokinen on the first line. The third line center spot also seems to be an open issue. On defense, the Hurricanes might well need another strong, big, fast defensemen; but Carson's consistency goes a long, long way toward fixing the top four or top five defensemen, so that Gleason, Pitkanen, McBain, Carson, and Babchuk seem to be a fine group of defensemen. Harrison has his one way contract, so he is clearly intended to be on the roster.
All in all, I feel certain the 2010-2011 Hurricanes will be highly motivated and will begin the year much hungrier, faster, and more physical than the awful start of 2009-2010.