JUST WHAT DID YOU EXPECT TO HAPPEN: A FLAWED PLAN THAT YIELDED A PREDICTABLE RESULT
As the Hurricanes now are in contention with for the lottery pick, the 2011-2012 season can be summarized as "Just what did you expect to happen" when (1) the owner scrimps on salary, (2) the General Manager does not either re-sign Cole as the first line Right Wing or sign a replacement, (3) when Kaberle is signed, and (4) where both LaRose and Dwyer are re-signed rather than creating a roster spot for Dalpe, Boychuk, Bowman, or Nash, and (4) when Maurice continued to over-slot LaRose in the top six and further weakened the team by splitting up Skinner/Jokinen/Ruutu. Staal's slump was also predictable given his perfectionist, highly competitive personality, and the lack of upper tier, compatible support on his line.
The problem with flawed plans with NHL teams is that they yield predictable and very unhappy results. If one had run a failure analysis on the plan as proposed, the almost certain conclusion was that this plan would fail and fail in a grandiose fashion. What perhaps was less predictable was that the team would be uncharacteristically splintered and that it would not gell at all. It's one of the rare Hurricanes teams where the sum of the team was less than the total of all its parts.
The team is reminiscent of the 2008-2009 team in that regard; but the 2008-2009 was undermined by the addition of aging retreads who were trying to hang on to their NHL careers when their bodies and will to win had faltered. The obvious danger in bringing back players over thirty-five with histories of injuries is that ultimately every NHL player has a time where skills slack off and their mind cannot will them to sustain the battle.
Most troublesome about the team is what has been called its "fragility." The 2011-2012 Hurricanes have run into wall after wall in the third period. It's been an ongoing issue for the Hurricanes since 2008-2009 and obviously transcends Maurice. We continue to see the propensity of the 2011-2012 Hurricanes to dissemble under the strain of tight games; and especially so in the third period, even under Muller. Given the fact the problem of being overly fragile continues, the solution unfortunately means the team's leadership needs to be revamped. Good leaders on athletic teams are the ones who step up their game when the game is on the line. With Skinner out with a concussion, the leadership on the team has not been strong enough to carry the Hurricanes to victory in close games.
Jim Rutherford references this lack of leadership in his characteristically direct but gentile manner by saying on quite a number of occasions that the 2011-2012 Hurricanes lack players who are willing to win at all costs. That statement perhaps understates the issue. This team has found ways to lose when victories were in hand. The same mistakes continue game after game. The energy level falls off following blown defensive coverages. Forwards cheat to the offensive end and fail to back check with authority. Pucks which could and should have been placed deep into the offensive zone instead are thrown blindly across the ice or backwards. Defensive zone coverages are lost when the puck is behind Ward's net. In other words very basic hockey concepts are not being followed far too often.
The good news is that in almost every game if one had the cosmic eraser and could erase two, three, or four plays, the Hurricanes would be somewhere between seventh and tenth in the Eastern Conference. There is a systemic problem, but the systemic problem is the bone-headed play at inopportune times.
Sadly, the Hurricanes require significant surgery to the roster. None of the players individually are wretched or so far below the NHL curve that they need to be banished to the AHL. Kaberle, the disaster on ice, is gone; and he was the one player who was so significantly below NHL caliber in his play, not his talent level, that he managed to drag down the entire team. On the other hand, the Hurricanes are in the 28th spot in the entire NHL for a number of reasons. The team has a flawed construction at present which has to be fixed and fixed now.
Jim Rutherford is at a crossroads. He can either rework the team significantly by trading some fan and team favorites or he can jettison some new faces. Analytically, the new faces cannot be the cause of fragility in Hurricanes teams on which they did not play. Similarly, in order to change leadership on a team, some of the team leaders have to be unloaded. There is only so much room for leaders on an NHL team.
I believe Jim Rutherford should weigh the return in young prospects or draft picks for the UFAs as the first priority. The second priority should be to create roster spots for younger, more skilled, more talented, and hopefully hungrier players. The message has to be if the team is losing badly, we will make significant changes; so if you want to stay on the Hurricanes team, you need to contribute to a winning team. As such, I believe Jim Rutherford should trade Tim Gleason and Chad LaRose. Gleason has been outstanding, but is coming off one bad year due to injury and an uneven performance this season. He is an excellent leader and role model. He is also an UFA. He should command at the trade deadline a nice return. Chad LaRose is a team leader. He is 185 lbs of heart and desire. He is on his way to a 20 goal season. His plus/minus statistics are again disappointing. He is also a player whose role is difficult to determine. He is really not an elite scorer, and as his plus/minus statistics demonstrate, he is not an elite defender. His size is a detriment on a checking line; but more importantly, his lack of positional awareness at times is an issue in creating scoring chances against the Hurricanes. LaRose is definitely NHL caliber. On the other hand the three years in which he has played a more prominent role on the team than previously, the Hurricanes have performed poorly and have been fragile. His trade opens a roster spot for a more skilled player.
Ponikarovsky and Allen are UFAs. Ponikarovsky can be a twenty goal scorer if used correctly; but lacks the explosiveness to be a top six player unless he is paired with two other linemates with exceptional speed and passing skills. The Hurricanes desperately need size, which Ponikarovsky brings. I suspect Ponikarovsky will be traded at the trade deadline; but he is a player Muller can work with to make him an important part of the team. Allen, I think, has been outstanding; and has provided the bite and physicality the Hurricanes needed. If Allen could be traded as a rental, much as Corvo was, it would be ideal. Allen is an UFA and with the crowded condition at defense, odds seem to favor saying Jim Rutherford will trade Allen at the trade deadline.
Ruutu is the cream of the crop of the Hurricanes UFAs. Rumors are abounding that Ruutu will be traded. I really hope Jim Rutherford will resist the temptation to trade Ruutu. If people think losing Cole was a mistake, then losing Ruutu would be catastrophic. Without Ruutu, the Hurricanes will be one of the softest set of forwards in the NHL. Stewart is also a player the Hurricanes seem to be positioning to trade. I find the treatment of Stewart to be somewhat mysterious. Stewart is fast, has excellent vision on the ice for making centering passes, compared to his minutes on the ice he scores exceptionally well, and he is 6'3" and 230 lbs. What is there not to like? I have read and hear discussions that Stewart was not in Hurricanes fit condition when he arrived. Even if true, Stewart has too much potential and upper limit to trade for a low return.
Dwyer would be on my list of possible trade candidates simply because the Hurricanes need to get bigger and more skilled. Dwyer has exceptional speed, seldom is out of position, and has an excellent hockey mind in general. He is not ideal as a third line checking forward, but as a fourth line energy forward who can play all three forward positions he is excellent. I know the Hurricanes organization really likes how Dwyer plays, so unless Jim Rutherford is really cleaning house, I predict Dwyer will stay. On the other hand, given the fact the Hurricanes have Dalpe, Boychuk, Bowman, Nash, Rask, and the 2012 draft pick waiting in the wings, and given the need to increase the skill level of the team in general, Dwyer would find himself being traded.
To me it was painfully obvious that the Hurricanes were two top six forwards shy of being a good team. When Kaberle came into training camp overweight and uninspired, and with the absence of a Cole replacement, there was little to do other than wait for the stark reality to play itself out on the ice. At least this disaster of a year occurred with a very deep 2012 draft class. The hiring of Muller brings a new era to the Hurricanes. I hope Jim Rutherford will take advantage of the opportunity and remodel the team to play the kind of up tempo, physical, North/South game Muller has said he wants. To do so, Muller needs the horses to get the job done. He needs stallions to race. Some perfectly serviceable plow horses are going to need to be sent out to pasture.
To look at LaRose's consistent range of play here are the statistics for the past four years. These statistics are not intended to prove any one particular point.
Categories are :
Games, goals, assists, points, plus/minus, Penalties in minutes, power play goals, short handed goals, game winning goals, shots, and shooting percentage.
35 R Chad LaRose 9 10 19 -17 24 2 1 2 99 9.1 2011-2012
59 R Chad LaRose 82 16 15 31 -21 59 2 1 0 176 9.1 2010-2011
59 R Chad LaRose 56 11 17 28 -2 24 0 1 0 138 8.0 2009-2010
59 R Chad LaRose 81 19 12 31 6 35 0 2 4 171 11.1 2008-2009