At the 19-game mark of the 2017-18 regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes had won five of seven and sat just one point out of a playoff spot with two games in hand.
The nine games that followed were heartbreaking. A team that was seemingly catching their stride suddenly wasn’t so good when their go-to trio wasn’t scoring three goals a game and their established elite goal scorer experienced a similarly untimely dry spell. The result of that epic collapse was a 2-4-3 stretch in which they weren’t able to win a single game in regulation. They will try to put an end to that slump tonight in Anaheim.
The Hurricanes are three games into a potential season-defining road trip. So far, in contrast to Luke Skywalker’s line in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the trip out West has gone pretty much the way we thought.
They are winless on the trip, and each game had its own unique flavor of pain - getting shutout by a goalie on the verge of breaking the league record for most starts without a shutout, blowing multiple three-goal leads in remarkable overtime-loss fashion, and erasing a two-goal deficit to force another overtime before losing in the fleeting moments of the 3-on-3 period.
What makes Carolina’s well-documented shortcomings so frustrating is that every minor move the coaching staff makes renders the same result. The same issues exist, regardless of what recycled line tinkering or starting goalie we see.
Indifference seems to be the most appropriate feeling right now. None of this is new. We’ve been down this long dreadful road before and we already know where it will take us.
Perhaps a big shakeup at the top could result in a trickle-down effect. Here are this week’s Quick Whistles.
Believe it or not, there was some good news for the Hurricanes this past week.
After being presented to the NHL’s Board of Governors in Florida on Thursday, the sale agreement of Peter Karmanos’ majority share of the Carolina Hurricanes to Texas billionaire Tom Dundon was officially announced by the club.
This is a pretty drastic change to the leadership of the organization, which is in the process of leaving the hands of an old, fiscally restricted hockey savant and entering the hands of a young billionaire just getting his feet wet in the world of owning a professional sports franchise.
This offseason should give us the first real taste of how Dundon will direct the team, even if Karmanos will likely be in the 45-year-old newbie’s ear.
With the likes of John Tavares, Jonathan Marchessault, Mark Stone, and James van Riemsdyk all in line to hit the open market, will Dundon let his GM roam free and make substantial offers to high-end free agents, or is expecting a drastic change like that just wishful thinking?
We won’t know for sure until the time comes, but in the meantime, there are topics of equal importance within the organization that will need to be discussed.
In the top leagues of any given major professional sport, especially North America’s core four (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL), when a team underperforms - to the degree that the Hurricanes are, for example - the universal first step to fixing the issue is firing the head coach.
The NHL, in particular, has fallen in love with this way of “problem-solving”. During the 2016-17 regular season, five teams fired their head coach - the Panthers, Islanders, Blues, Bruins, and Canadiens.
Much like those five clubs, the Hurricanes are underperforming.
Bill Peters has been in the eye of the scrutiny storm this season. Losing seven of nine games during a crucial stretch in what was supposed to be a breakthrough season has put a once highly praised coach into the fanbase’s doghouse in short order. With countless fans calling for Peters’ job, all eyes are looking in the GM’s direction.
Ron Francis has turned a dead end organization with a barren farm system into one of the league’s youngest, highest upside rosters with a prospect goldmine waiting in the wings, and he built that in tandem with one head coach.
With an 11-10-7 record and sole possession of seventh place in the Metropolitan Division, the ice Peters stands on is, presumably, getting thinner by the second. That being said, it’s incredibly difficult to predict his future.
This is new territory for Francis. His rebuild has been defined by patience, and while his patience has often led to immense frustration from the fanbase, it has paid huge dividends to this point.
I’m not at all convinced that Peters’ termination is set in stone or even written in pencil. Outside of speculation from fans and local media, no real signs have pointed to Francis being on the verge of firing his coach. The timing just doesn’t feel right.
With five of the Hurricanes’ next six games coming on the road, it seems like an odd time to pull the trigger. Four of the five teams that fired their coach mid-season in ‘16-17 did so ahead of a slate of home games, and the lone outlier featured Gerard Gallant taking a taxi to RDU. The Canes won’t play consecutive games at home until the end of December, and I find it highly unlikely that Francis would fire Peters in the midst of a road trip.
That end of December time frame could be a perfect storm. The Hurricanes have a three-game pit stop at home over the Christmas holiday, and Tom Dundon’s purchase of Karmanos’ majority share is set to finalize in the next couple of weeks. If the Canes’ struggles and Dundon’s official purchase line up just right, it might not be a happy holiday season for Bill Peters. That being said, it’s just as likely that the timing doesn’t line up perfectly, and even if it did, assuming that Dundon would call for Peters’ firing off the bat might not be correct.
While so much of this is still up in the air, one thing is certain - if you fire your coach, you better have a better replacement option.
There are guys out there. Dave Tippett, Bob Hartley, Darryl Sutter, and Dan Bylsma are among the top free agents with a wealth of NHL coaching experience, though almost all of them are considerably unlikely fits. On the other end of the spectrum, Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Marlies and Jim Montgomery of the University of Denver are guys who are on the verge of becoming first-time NHL head coaches. Kevin Dineen is an assistant in Chicago and has a history with the organization, and assistant general manager Mike Vellucci has done an impressive job in Charlotte thus far and has plenty of experience as a world-class coach in the OHL, but I doubt they’d be too eager to mess up a good thing in Charlotte.
There’s also an associate coach up in Montreal that could be on the verge of becoming an NHL bench boss... again.
Jokes aside, I don’t think Bill Peters’ seat is as hot as many would hope.
Based on Carolina’s upcoming schedule, the history of mid-season coaching changes, the team’s ownership being in limbo, and Ron Francis’ unwavering patience, a coaching change doesn’t look like a sure thing or anything close to it... at least not yet.
Whether that’s a good thing or not is a different conversation entirely.
Since we’re on the topic, what the hell is going on with the Hurricanes?
This team is watching their season slip away, and by the looks of it, no one really cares. You’d think that there would be some level of desperation, but their play as of late has been far from inspiring.
In years past, the Canes outworked teams, but they weren’t talented enough to get rewarded. This year, they have talent that, in combination with high-intensity play, should make them a legitimate playoff contender.
Entering the season, we were told that this team was good enough and that they’d break through the playoff bubble and play into mid-April, but so far, nothing looks special about this team.
A lot of negatives continue to stand out to me - Justin Faulk’s regression in all areas, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce’s fall from elite to a little above average, Scott Darling’s inconsistency, Lee Stempniak’s absence hurting more than expected, the Hurricanes’ inability to score consistently when they aren’t being carried by the TSA line or Jeff Skinner, and an overall lack of effort for long stretches of time on a nightly basis.
Something needs to give with this team. They are simply too good to be this bad.
Maybe firing the coach isn’t an option but, again, maybe making a trade is. I know, I say this every week, but if Francis has an opportunity to make this team better this season, he needs to do it. He has a multitude of picks and prospects to work with, and if those can be packaged for a player that can make a difference this season and even beyond, that’s a risk you have to take.
If Ron Francis is watching this team play and is content with their performance, he is absolutely one of the problems here.
At some point, patience has to wear off. I’m interested in finding out what needs to happen to cause the patience to fade.
In the midst of the sky tumbling down around the Hurricanes’ season, Elias Lindholm has experienced a quiet uptick in his production.
The fifth-year Swede has nine points in his last 11 games against teams that aren’t the New York Rangers, and the goal drought that haunted him through the first two months of the 2016-17 season has been avoided this time around. He has netted eight goals in 28 games, which is good for a 23-goal pace. That would be one more goal than his combined total from the two seasons prior.
It certainly helps that he is finally hovering around a league average shooting percentage. After shooting 6.7% the past two seasons, he is currently hitting twine on 13.8% of his shots.
Driving the net and converting on second chances also helps, and he did that late in the third period against Los Angeles.
Also, this behind-the-back pass to Victor Rask against the Sharks was rather disgusting.
Elias Lindholm needs to be a factor every single night, and that doesn’t mean he has to score 82 points. His two-way game, versatility, and ability to drive play are valuable assets. If he can pair those intangibles with a maintained level of confidence in his offense, he can be a real game-breaking forward.