System v. Star

Obviously, I'm not a professional scout or coach or player, so some of this is going to come with a grain of salt.

Watching games between the Canes and the higher echelon of teams (Penguins, Blackhawks, for example), I see the main difference comes in with personnel. The Penguins have a lot of players who are very good at what they do, and they have the freedom to do it as necessary. If Crosby or Malkin or Letang are in a situation where they can drive the puck in, they are encouraged to do so and have the skill to follow through. If Toews or Kane or Hossa get a bee under their bonnet, their first decision isn't necessarily "Do I have the puck support to drive the zone?"

Star Players have the drive and the talent to push their opponents back on their heels single-handedly, if only for a second. Sometimes that's all it takes. Once the opposing team has taken that step back, they use the space they've created to hit a Jokinen or a Shaw in the open for a clear shot.

The Hurricanes, with the current mindset, have no Star Players. They have Star Talents, but the drive and willpower to push a team through an opponent is generally missing. Over the past few games, the closest we've seen to that as fans is Skinner's more mature, puck-sharing zone entry and puck battle. Instead, what the Canes are icing are System Players, which I have arbitrarily defined as a player who functions well within a designed play, but lacks the next gear in creativity/skill/speed to force a team back.

Over the past few seasons, EStaal's creativity has slowly decreased. His go-to scoring habit is to sit by the forehand post and wait for a rebound or pass to stuff in. Last night's game earned him an assist when he broke tendency and fired a slapshot at Crawford's pads. The resulting rebound was roofed by Semin.

Last season, Skinner's lack of creativity really killed his ability to not only produce, but also to avoid getting hit on his 'Skinneramas'. He has started to break from that.

Semin came in last year as the Star Player. He wasn't shooting as much as he had earlier in his career, but his creativity and drive opened up enough space to combine with EStaal's net-side presence for Tlusty to pot 20+ goals in 48 games. This year, we are seeing a regression to a System Player, where he is looking for shots, rather than using the playmaking ability he demonstrated last year. (Granted, the wrist injury plays into that as well, but his positioning is different as well.)

In my opinion, the management has failed - not in securing the appropriately skilled players, but in finding players with that extra mental gear to push the play beyond the X's and O's in a playbook. Another, more glaring example is the Edmonton Oilers. Top picks in 4 of 5 years, loads of talented young forwards, can't win games because the talent doesn't show up.

However, of greater concern to me is the regression of star players to system players once they spend time in Carolina. Maybe that's just me beating my head into the wall after losing again in a shootout.

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