On Friday, TSN's annual "Offseason Game Plan" for the Hurricanes was published by Scott Cullen. The article spoke in depth about the Canes and included some ideas of what the team needs along with possible suggestions on how to improve things.
At the beginning, Cullen does a pretty good job of pointing out Carolina's strengths and weaknesses.
It’s not a given that the Hurricanes will continue to improve, but there are pieces in place. They have some good young players around which to build, but need to acquire some scoring and goaltending if they are going to take the next step towards being a playoff team.
The blueline is very much a position of strength for the Hurricanes. After a season of playing three rookies regularly, they look like one of the best young groups in the league moving forward, and their relative strength in this area does give them options when it comes to making offseason moves.
Goaltending has been an issue for the Hurricanes for years, mostly because they invested in Cam Ward and Ward has frequently been a below-average starting goaltender.
I agree with what Cullen has to say here. Also, the Canes certainly do need an upgrade in scoring and in goaltending.
While Cullen called Jordan Staal an underrated "elite two-way centre" because he put up elite possession numbers despite playing on a line with Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom, I would have to say that Nordstrom and Nestrasil are underrated as well, which is probably not a bad thing. It is good they stay under the radar for now.
That line, the entire line, was excellent for the Hurricanes for much of the season.
Toward the end of the article, Cullen offers up line suggestions on his projected depth chart and here is where I start to disagree.
Nash - Staal - Lindholm
Skinner - Rask - Aho
Nordstrom - Helm - Nestrasil
DiGiuseppe - McClement - Grabner
While his additions of Darren Helm and Michael Grabner might be realistic as to whom the Canes are actually able and/or willing to sign in free agency this summer, in my opinion that is not enough of an upgrade to make a difference.
Helm would be an upgrade as fourth line center but I'm not sure his 13 goals from last year would be enough to improve the third line. Grabner's production has been slipping each year and he is not the same speedster who knocked in 34 goals for the Islanders in 2011. Last season he had nine goals in 80 games for the Leafs.
It's also time this franchise stopped signing leftovers from the Leafs.
I would reunite Nordstrom and Nestrasil with Staal, at least to start with. I would experiment with Skinner, Rask, and Lindholm together, although DiGiuseppe worked very well with Skinner last season, so I would slip him in there as well.
Sebastian Aho certainly needs to be given top nine playing time, but who will fit with him? True upgrades on offense would be free agents like Kyle Okposo or Loui Eriksson, but will they would sign here?
Ron Francis will also be trying to bring someone in here via trade, but those deals are not easy ones and they are hard to predict.
Cullen has the defensive pairings pretty much like they were last season, so there is nothing much to discuss there.
As an upgrade in net he has Jhonas Enroth, a backup for the Kings last season. Again, I would like to see the Canes shoot a bit higher here and try to acquire someone via trade. Enroth had two shutouts and a .922 save percentage but he only played in 16 games last year.
In my opinion he would be a better signing than Ward though.
As always, this is an interesting article by Cullen which should lead to good discussion. Another article by "notopie" is coming up soon here with more free agency ideas. Stay tuned.