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Quick Whistles: William Nylander and the Struggling Carolina Hurricanes

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A winless week forces the Hurricanes to go back to the drawing board.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

A 2-6-1 record in their last nine games while scoring 1.78 goals per game.

The Carolina Hurricanes... are BACK!

Up to this point, the majority of the evidence suggested that the Canes were taking a step forward. They were different. Even if you weren’t going all-in on them, they, inarguably, had more good games and good wins than they had bad games and bad losses.

This past week turned the tables.

In falling back to NHL .500, the Hurricanes have learned a lot about what team they are. I think we’re finally getting a real look at what this team is and, right now, it looks like they’re somewhere in between the team that started 4-0-1 and the team that has since gone 2-6-1.

The source of my frustration is not the fact that the Hurricanes are losing. I didn’t think they’d be a playoff team this season, so seeing them at 6-6-2 doesn’t keep me up at night. What does bother me, though, is the way they are losing.

The losses against the Islanders, Avalanche, Golden Knights, etc. and the colossal failure of a first period in Arizona all felt like Bill Peters-era stuff. It felt like I was watching the same exact team that toiled their way to a 35-win season, followed by two 36-win seasons from 2015 to 2018.

They’ve looked sloppy, unprepared, and ineffective. To boot, they’re putting up NHL-record-pace shots on goal, but they’re still finding it impossible to score for a number of reasons.

It’s not time to throw in the towel, by any means, but they have to conjure up some semblance of success in the month of November to make up for what has been a dreadful couple of weeks for this club.

Last season, they went 6-4-3 in November. They have 13 November games again this season, and a repeat from last year would put them at 12-10-5 heading into December - an 88-point pace over a full season. That would be their highest point total since the 2010-11 season (the year they got blown out on home ice in game 82 and missed the playoffs because of it). 88 points is fine, but I think it would be viewed, largely, as another stagnant season.


Week in Review

A winless week has Carolina back behind the 8-ball, a place that they were hoping to avoiding after their torrent start to the season.

Tuesday’s date with the Bruins saw the Canes struggle and fail to hold on to a pair of one-goal leads on home ice en route to a 3-2 loss.

The silver-lining, if there was one, was the efficiency of Carolina’s power play. Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton both found the back of the net on the man advantage as the Canes finished 2-for-4 on the power play. Hamilton’s goal was nothing short of howitzer, a testament to why he was so highly-sought-after by Don Waddell and company.

Scott Darling got his first start of the year and performed about as well as you could’ve hoped. He was excellent early on, making a number of huge saves to keep the Hurricanes in front and in the game, but a weak goal that screamed of “knocking the rust off” broke the dam a little bit and he ended up allowing three goals on 31 shots in front of a team that wasn’t as sharp as they needed to be to beat a team as good as the Bruins.

The first two games of the Western Conference road trip weren’t any more fun, as the Canes dropped games in Arizona and Las Vegas on back-to-back nights. In Glendale, Petr Mrazek and his teammates had a wretched first 20 minutes. They did, however, storm back from down 3-0 in the final two frames at Gila River Arena (we’ll talk about that more later) and stole a point before seeing their offense really struggle to get going in Sin City.

The Hurricanes just didn’t look ready for either of those games. They were flat-footed from the start and they let their opponents take control of those games.


Blend-O-Matic

After not making any notable changes to the forward lines through the first month of the season, Brind’Amour and his staff really took a Bill Peters-sized blender to the lineup.

Down 3-0 to the Coyotes after 20 minutes, here’s how the Hurricanes’ forward lines looked heading into the second period:

Micheal Ferland - Sebastian Aho - Andrei Svechnikov
Brock McGinn - Jordan Staal - Justin Williams
Teuvo Teravainen - Lucas Wallmark - Jordan Martinook
Warren Foegele - Nicolas Roy - Valentin Zykov

As much as this was about just giving players different looks in difference places, it was also about sending a message. This team hasn’t changed anything despite their run of poor play, so you know it’s time to show out when these kind of on-the-fly changes are being made. The hockey that was being played by the Hurricanes was unacceptable.

Then, all of a sudden, the Hurricanes saw three different lines find the scoresheet at 5-on-5 after going north of seven games where a line outside of the Aho trio had only scored twice at 5-on-5.

I think it’s fair to assume that some of this was a product of score effects. The Yotes were running away with the game, they loosened up, and the Canes were able to take advantage of it.

The moment Svechnikov was bumped up to Teravainen’s slot on the first line, the rookie’s offense came alive. He scored a third-period goal (his first point since game four of the season) which pulled the Canes within one goal.

We saw the Hurricanes go back to a proven commodity, of sorts, with the McGinn-Staal-Williams trio. They accounted for the game-tying goal late in regulation time - the first goal scored by a Staal-centered line at 5-on-5 since October 13.

The bottom-six was a bit of an odd hodge-podge of forwards, with Teravainen skating on the Wallmark line and Foegele getting bumped down to the Roy line. So, essentially, Brind’Amour and his staff swapped Teravainen with Svechnikov and Foegele with McGinn.

After a pretty forgettable game in Vegas, we’ll see if the depth chart takes another trip through the blender. It’s difficult to envision the bottom-six (as currently constructed) providing consistent offense.


Trade Rumors...

Everyone and their mother’s childhood pet hamster has an opinion on this, so I’ll keep mine short and sweet.

William Nylander might get traded. The Carolina Hurricanes have been rumored to be involved. Nylander would be a great fit on the Hurricanes.

That said, you have to give value to get value. Brett Pesce would be an appropriate centerpiece of the package going to the Toronto Maple Leafs, but you’re not done there. You have to add more from Carolina’s side, be it a prospect, a roster forward, or a combination of the two.

Given that several Canes scouts (and VP of Hockey Operations Rick Dudley) have been frequenting Leaf games and Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas made it a point to be at PNC Arena for the Hurricanes-Sharks game a week or so ago, there’s reason to think that this deal could be more complex. Carolina isn’t sending their scouts to Toronto to get a look at Nylander when he is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. They’re looking at other players.

Regardless, this hypothetical trade would hurt just as much as it would excite, if not more so. It’s up to Don Waddell and the front office brain trust to determine how valuable Nylander is and whether or not they are comfortable giving up the value necessary to acquire him.

If they are, then they should make the trade and have confidence in their decision (and be sure that a long-term extension is in place and will be signed the second they acquire him). If they aren’t, that’s fine, too. Keep the assets and live to see another day because, yes, there will be more opportunities to acquire a high-quality forward.

The December 1 RFA signing deadline for the 2018-19 season is getting very close so, thankfully, we should be nearing the end of this saga.


Player of the Week

Jaccob Slavin

Slavin had just one point in these last three games (an assist on Svechnikov’s goal in Arizona) but he could have, very easily, had three or four. Per usual, he was a big-time difference-maker with the puck on his stick.

My lone complaint (if you can even call it that) about Slavin entering this season was that I thought he had more offense in him than he had previously shown. So far this season, he has proved that to be the case. He’s making elite-level plays with the puck on his stick, using his vision, skating, and smarts to create something out of nothing on a consistent basis.

Jaccob Slavin is a special player and one of the best defensemen in the NHL.