We thought this was a pretty good idea from those crazy Oil fans....trading 3 questions about each other's team in advance of Wednesday's tilt. Zach over at Copper & Gold came up with some pretty timely questions about the Canes. As I was put on the spot, my questions are a little less "this year" oriented and are more or less future-focused.
First, let's start with the questions we asked about the Edmonton Oilers:
1. The Oil has had a number of high draft picks over the last few years. How would you characterize the handling of those youngsters? Have they lived up to expectations? Has management and/or coaching been a net positive or a net negative?
The difficulty here is that the Edmonton Oilers have had five different head coaches, and three general managers come through town since the team drafted Taylor Hall first overall in 2010. Frankly, I call the handling of these players poor especially given the fact we have been unable to build around them but at the same time, our young players have excelled.
At the same time, it’s difficult to really call any of them "young" anymore. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are both in their fifth NHL seasons, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins his fourth.
Who is to blame? Who is the fall guy? It easily goes back to the fact that there has been no organizational continuity. It’s tough for any player, let alone players just entering the league, to play for numerous coaches and systems early in their career. I feel it has stunted the growth of the team, and historically awful drafting has left the Oilers in a poor position for a number of years.
All things considering, the right group is in place to grow this organization. Peter Chairelli, Todd McLellan and big boss of everything Bob Nicholson (formerly head of Hockey Canada) have already worked wonders on the team.
Despite the poor record right now, this is a completely different Oilers team and it is a group I see heading in the right direction.
2. Based on the defenders that are currently under contract and the fact that only two have played every game this young season, what is the near term future of your blue line?
The team’s defence has been a tire fire for years, and that’s the truth. The numbers have not supported Edmonton for some time, but look at some of the players who have ate large chunks of minutes over the last five years and you will be underwhelmed.
I firmly believe that it is a goal of the team to win in our new arena starting next season. This year - like the last few - can be chalked up as another growth and development year. Darnell Nurse, Griffin Reinhart, Brandon Davidson and Oscar Klefbom are all eating up minutes this year over veterans like Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin.
Surprisingly enough, they have not looked too bad. The thing to remember here is that they are still a young group. Nurse is 20, Reinhart is 21, Davidson is 24 and Klefbom is 22. I don’t think there is any denying that these three are the main components of the Oilers defence for the next years to come. Clearly the organization feels this way about them otherwise they would not be in the NHL.
Right now, this group is young and still trying to find their way. Soon enough they will be able to help lead this team.
3. Of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Leon Draisaitl, who has the brightest future and why (no need to comment on Connor McDavid. I think we all know what his upside is)?
This is a really tough question to answer. If you put a gun to my head, I would say Leon Draisaitl just based off of the amazing start he has had this year and the fact that he is the youngest of the three. Last season, he wore himself out early and ended up being returned to the WHL where he helped lead the Kelowna Rockets to a Memorial Cup Championship. At the same time, he won the Memorial Cup MVP trophy. This year, he has come back after a hard offseason of working out and looks like a new player.
He has a deadly combination of speed, size, skill and vision that is hard to defend against. His high level IQ allows him to see the game at a different level, and is looking deadly beside Taylor Hall. The pair are the hottest duo in the NHL right now, and the sky truly is the limit for Draisaitl.
Here are the questions they forwarded to us along with my answers:
1. As of today, the Carolina Hurricanes rank 3rd in the NHL in CF% despite sitting 25th in the standings. From the outside looking in, the Hurricanes are a tough team to read this year. How has their season been and where do you see it going from here.
This is an incredibly tough question for the resident optimist here at CanesCountry. Given that reality forces its way to the forefront based on Carolina’s play, you have to take the bad with the good. Most knowledgeable fans would admit that everything would have had to go perfectly and the bounces would all have had to go our way for us to even be a bubble team. Squeaking into the playoffs was, and continues to be, the proverbial pipe dream. With that said there are both glimmers of an exciting future and inexplicable disappointments. We feel, for the most part, that the coaching staff is or can be very good, but there still remain questions and growing pains: Peters’ propensity to constantly mix and match his lines, Brind' Amour’s power play remains near the bottom of the league, Smith’s penalty kill, which was so good last year seems mired in mediocrity or even worse. With that said, when the boys play well, the system is quite effective, very exciting, and fun to watch.
However, the results just are not there. There are bright spots - Victor Rask continues to grow and is fast becoming a very, very good hockey player. Noah Hanifin shows signs why he had such a high draft position despite the occasional gaffe typical of an 18 year old. Brett Pesce is a wonderful 21 year old surprise who plays calm and thoughtful hockey. He’s also got a bit of an offensive upside that some might have hoped for but few counted on. Kris Versteeg seems to be more than adequately filling his role as a "distributor" no matter which line he finds himself on. And John-Michael Liles is quietly continuing his very solid play (which surfaced at about the 60 game mark of last season).
There are also way too many low lights. Elias Lindholm, now on pace for a 16 point season, has seemingly disappeared. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation for the funk, nor is a solution apparent. Jordan Staal has lost any semblance of offensive output. On the scoring challenged Hurricanes his 6 points are good for 5th on the team in scoring but he’s a far cry from the 50 point scorer most of us fans expected or at least hoped for. Jeff Skinner is a very interesting story. He’s playing some of his best defensive hockey and even is passing more than in year’s past. But he is truly snake-bit, missing just high, just wide, or whiffing on open nets. Any hoped for secondary scoring from Nash, Terry, Nestrasil, or Gerbe (who is now hurt) hasn’t materialized. Even Eric Staal seems to be struggling with his accuracy.
As far as the rest of the season is concerned this is where it gets tough. The optimist in me sees just enough good things to think that there’s a potential turn around, a potential run in this team. But the realist (and probably most of the commenters on our site) in me sees us continuing to struggle all year, playing just well enough to pull down a high mid-round draft position (7-9). There are just too many games where we look out of sync and ragged. There are too many games where we don’t demonstrate enough heart to overcome our level of talent. In the end, the frustration that has been the hallmark of our season so far, seems to be honestly earned and sure to continue paying its ugly dividends.
2. Life-time Hurricane Eric Staal is set to become a free agent this offseason. Do you see the team resigning him and, if so, what will his price tag be?
This is the question that ties us Hurricanes’ fans up in knots. Even with the seeming decline in his play, he’s still a 1st liner on many, if not most teams. He’s still one of the two best players on the team (fast-rising Justin Faulk is giving him a run for that mantle). He has the potential to score in bunches, but more importantly he remains the focal point of most opposing teams defensive efforts. That helps all of the potential youngsters on this team by taking some of the pressure off. Personally, I’d like to see the team re-sign him to a "reasonable" contract because I think he’s got another 4 or 5 years of Top 6 play in him and top line centers are very difficult to come by.
The counter argument is that it is time to move on, not to mention that he’ll be one of the most sought after assets at the trade deadline. Some expect a kings ransom for him. Other’s think we’ll get substantially less. But with his salary and his no movement clause there are some challenges. If Eric is moved the Canes would likely consider retaining some of his salary, maybe even up to half. Or they would equally consider a salary dump coming back. Yet, those two scenarios mean better quality assets are returned to the Hurricanes. If Eric Staal gets traded, I think he will return a 1st rounder and a very good young player or prospect…perhaps even another B- asset too. If salary is retained or a cap dump comes back then there might be a pick or better prospect instead of the lower level prospect.
If Eric Staal is re-upped most would like to see it for not much more than $6 million per year and probably for not much more than 4 or 5 years. Again, depending on how this year plays out, I’d probably consider going as high as Spezza money, but I’d be in the distinct minority of Carolina fans. Ron Francis likely sides with the majority of the fans.
3. One of the surprises this season from Carolina has been the play of the fifth year defender, Justin Faulk, who appears to be in the midst of a breakout year. What has made this year special for him?
The premise of your question would probably spawn an argument from most Hurricanes fans that are more than just casual watchers of this team. We saw Justin come into his own two years ago as he started sniffing at his top pairing potential. He began asserting himself, began limiting his mental errors (which he is still occasionally prone to), and showing a glimmer of his offensive talents. Last season’s 15 goal, 49 point performance was his true breakout year. His defensive skills showed up nightly with him playing against the best opposing lines and players. His offense was something that we had hoped for, had heard about, but were really excited to see come so quickly and with such scope.
The summer before last season, Faulk attended a shooting camp (I believe it is the same one Zach Parise attends or has some affiliation with). He came into last season with an improved release, a better wrister, and his cannon of a slap shot became deadly accurate. All of that is proving to continue to get better as is evidenced by his league leading 8 power play goals. Much of his improvement can probably be attributed to his increased confidence as well as his growing leadership now that he wears the "A" for the team. Even when he makes a mistake, he seems to make up for it with a stellar follow up play, a score, or some other intangible event. Quite frankly, he might be neck and neck with Eric Staal as the best player on the team, but there’s not doubt, 21 games into the season, he’s this club’s most valuable player.
Thanks for the opportunity to shed some light on the Canes. We don’t get much love around the league and might have a bit of a complex about it. Regardless, even if it is hard being a Caniac, I don’t know many who’d trade in that moniker.