Rebuilding the Hurricanes the Right Way
Last night's loss to Winnipeg in overtime was merely the last nail in the season's coffin. The season was over in November, 2011. Hockey miracles occur once a generation at best; and other than a hockey miracle, the Hurricanes were doomed to being a non-playoff team before the season was a quarter over. There is no reason for despair as far as I am concerned because now the Hurricanes organization is rebuilding the Hurricanes team and organization the right way.
GETTING THE RIGHT COACHING STAFF
The firing of Paul Maurice and the replacement of Maurice with Muller is a crossroads, transitional decision for the Hurricanes organization. Muller is the right man, at the right time, for the right reasons. Players know that Muller has all the requisite skills needed to take a team to the Stanley Cup. He has credence in a way that Maurice never could have. Muller's message of personal accountability and his insights into way to best use players to emphasize their strengths while de-emphasizing their areas of weakness already produced results. Adding John Mclean was another significant move for the Hurricanes organization. McLean has the ability to manage forward lines in a way Maurice could not and would not. I want to be clear, I do not think Maurice is an awful coach. I think Maurice's flaws were magnified by the fact he was with a team that was never going to be built the way he needs a team to play to make the playoffs under his mindset. Muller and McLean see the game as it unfolds. They see the reality of a particular game with the ebbs and flows; and they respond to the game itself. This flexibility of mind and clarity of perception is a tremendous advantage for the Hurricanes. I also think Brind'Amour brings an important skill set and perception of the game. I look forward to Brind'Amour having more input next season.
GETTING OFF THE STARVATION DIET AS FAR AS SALARY BUDGET
The Hurricanes organization for whatever reason was on a starvation diet in 2012-2013 for salary. The Hurricanes clearly needed an elite forward to go with Staal. Instead, on the budget the Hurricanes organization authorized, Jim Rutherford wound up with Ponikarovsky and Stewart. Ponikarovsky's skills fit best on the third line on a grinding, methodical, frankly mostly boring, team identity. He's in the right role for New Jersey. Stewart has not developed his game sufficiently to play on the first line. I still think Stewart has the skills to be a top six forward; and given some patience and more hard work on his part, he'll continue to improve. Stewart was not at the time and is not now an NHL All-Star. Staal deserves a wing who is already an NHL All-star caliber player. From what is being written and said, the Hurricanes organization is prepared to spend more money on salary and is prepared to go after first tier UFAs or to make trades to bring in an elite talent.
FIXING WHAT IS BROKEN WHILE NOT BREAKING WHAT IS WORKING
The Hurricanes organization and coaches have done an excellent job since Muller has arrived of fixing what is broken while avoiding undermining things that are working well. Ditching Kaberle was a huge step forward. Kaberle's signing was a mistake. I am convinced if Jim Rutherford has traded for James Neal for example, and never uttered the work Kaberle, Maurice would never have been fired. The single best moment for the future of the Hurricanes this year was signing Muller. The second best moment was trading Kaberle. The Hurricanes started putting players, and especially forwards, in positions and roles in which they could succeed. The third line of Nodl/Sutter/Dwyer and with Nodl's injury, Bowman/Sutter/Dwyer has been a very successful defensive line. Skinner/Jokinen/Ruutu has been and will continue to be a very successful second line. Ruutu's return from injury has been less than spectacular; but he's a beastly player who will continue to be a critical part of the Hurricanes for years to come. Tlusty and Staal have been quite successful as a duo on the first line. The fourth line continues to need some work; but the pieces are in place. Defensively, the Gleason/Allen, Pitkanen/McBain, Faulk/Harrison pairings have fit together well. Next season, even if another elite defenseman is not added, Ryan Murphy will likely make the Hurricanes roster. Dumoulin probably will be pushing for a spot by mid-season, assuming he is signed after his hockey season ends. Sanguinetti has been on a scoring tear. Joslin has worked hard to stay on the ice; and he is likely to be looked at hard as a defenseman in the pre-season.
SPECIFIC STEPS AND THOUGHTS TO IMPROVE THE TEAM
By far and away the best step the Hurricanes could take is to sign Parise to a long-term deal, assuming he goes to free agency. It would be a next era for the Hurricanes organization to do so. Failing that, the Hurricanes have somewhat limited options. They need to avoid trading away their first round pick in 2012. They have some assets they could move in the form of prospects, but those prospects have some more potential than NHL performance at this point. There are some possibilities, however, that would require painful choices. I have identified the following players as players who could and likely would be future stars for the Hurricanes: (1) Johansen; (2) Couturier; (3) Zibanejad; (4) Connolly; (5) Van Reimsdyk; and (6) Armia. Peter Mueller is an RFA this season and due to his injuries and concussion history, he is likely to be available at a reasonable cost. Mueller is more risky, but given his elite skills, he's probably worth the risk. Trading up to draft Galchenyuk is a step Jim Rutherford should seriously consider. There are three potential elite forwards in this season's draft: Yakupov, Girgorenko, and Galchenyuk. If Galchenyuk had not hurt his knee, he'd be in the conversation as the lottery pick. As it is, the Hurricanes are likely to be picking 9th or 10th. Faksa is the player I personally like best at that spot, assuming nobody like Forsberg or Galchenyuk or even Girgorenko fall that far. Every season there is a player like Fowler or Rask who fall below their real skill and potential level due to cold feet from the scouts and GMs. Ryan Suter is the defensive gem UFA. If the Hurricanes were able to sign both Parise and Suter, the team would be a top six tier team immediately. The major foundational pieces are in place. It's a matter of giving Muller and the coaching staff more talent. In addition to talent outside the organization being brought in, the natural progression of talent in the organization is going to provide help to the team. Dalpe and Rask I continue to believe are at present the team's highest limit forward prospects. Rask may well join the Charlotte Checkers once his lower body injury heals. Boychuk has the ability and his situation has been well-discussed. Nash is a very solid, rapidly improving center. Dadonov is also improving; and he has a tremendous skill set. I'm looking forward to seeing how much Brody Sutter has developed. Hofmann, too, will be a interesting player to follow; and he may be the sleeper of the group. Shugg is a scorer; who has been very successful at every level, but always manages to be under-rated when he starts out. The future is bright. The Hurricanes organization is an organization on the rise. The Hurricanes coaches are superb. The Hurricanes team is young, talented, and determined. The Hurricanes organization has the most depth and talent it has ever had.
It's a great time to be a Caniac.