The Carolina Hurricanes retooled the majority of their back end this offseason, with half of the blueline looking like it will be composed of new faces. This week we’ll be taking a look at those new faces, starting today with Ethan Bear and Ian Cole.
Carolina will be rehashing its defense not only due to the new personnel on the ice, but off the ice as well as the team still needs to replace former assistant coach Dean Chynoweth — who ran both the defensive side of the game as well as the penalty kill.
The Hurricanes have been a very aggressive forechecking team that has relied on their defense being able to jump into plays and contribute all across the ice, so it will be interesting to see if the new coach will employ a similar system.
But today, we’ll be taking a look at two of the new defenders in Bear and Cole.
Cole, 32, is a long-time veteran and two-time Stanley Cup champion that brings an element of toughness and dependability to the blueline.
The blueliner put up one goal and eight points in 54 games last season with 15:55 of average ice time per game.
He was eighth in the league among defensemen in shot blocks per 60 and while usually a heavy hitter, saw that side of his game fall with only 34 hits thrown.
Cole has been a dependable shutdown player for the majority of his career with a few flashes of strong offensive performance, although this last year saw a steep drop in his overall play and minutes.
According to NaturalStatTrick, at 5v5 last season, Cole had a 41.72 CF% — albeit not one of Minnesota’s defensive regulars had over a 50.0 CF% — and in fact, he did not have one single positive chance generation analytic other than High Danger Chances For % (51.56) — a stat the entire Wild blueline shared a positive score for.
But despite being horribly outchanced in all facets, Cole had strong actual results both in High Danger Goals For % (64.71) and actual Goals For % (61.54).
This could be in part, though, due to Cole benefitting from having the third highest on-ice shooting percentage (12.66%) and on-ice save percentage (0.931) among the entire team while he was on the ice.
The penalty kill, however, was not as kind to him as Cole was Minnesota’s second least used defenseman on the penalty kill last season, yet allowed the most chances against per 60 and third highest rate of goals against per 60.
Cole also did a rather poor job of staying out of the box, having the second lowest net penalty differential among defensemen (-14) and one of the lowest penalties drawn per 60 (-0.98).
Could it be different in Carolina’s PK system? Only time will tell.
The veteran blueliner also played mainly in a heavily sheltered role in terms of deployment with over 50% of his ice time being what PuckIQ.com classifies as ‘gritty’ competition, where he only controlled only a 45.3 CF%.
The sheltering is even more evident by the fact that only 15% of his deployment time was against ‘elite’ competition — the lowest among Wild blueliners — where he controlled only a 36.1 CF%.
But yet again, Cole had over a 60.0 GF% against all competition types, including ‘elite.’
So while Cole’s analytics sunk to new lows this season, his on-ice results did not mirror that fact. He did benefit from better shooting and goaltending than most of his teammates, but there’s something to be said about a guy that seems to be getting it done.
There’s no guarantee that his on-ice results can keep up against the chances he is surrendering, but it seems Carolina is willing to gamble on his experience and he will probably slot into the third pairing spot below Jaccob Slavin and Brady Skjei.
On the other side of the coin, Bear, 24, is a young, right-handed defenseman who brandishes a lot of potential as a top-four option with offensive upside.
Bear had two goals and eight points in 43 games where he averaged 17:58 of ice time per game.
He was very good playing alongside Darnell Nurse — his most common partner — on Edmonton’s top pairing as the pair had the highest xGF% (59.1) among all Oilers’ pairings according to MoneyPuck.com.
However, he sustained a concussion fairly early into the season after a puck struck him in the head and when he returned, he saw his minutes reduced on a lower pair.
According to NaturalStatTrick, Bear had the second highest CF% (50.53), SCF% (51.56) among Edmonton’s defensive regulars and the highest xGF% (55.36) and HDCF% (59.15).
Bear also had the second lowest on-ice save percentage (0.906) and on-ice shooting percentage (7.72%) with also the fourth lowest offensive-zone starts, so he was having to earn his numbers.
According to PuckIQ.com, Bear played one-third of his total ice time against ‘elite’ competition and controlled a 53.6 CF%, however his 25.0 GF% leaves much more to be desired.
There is also the case that Bear controlled a negative CF% (46.6) against ‘gritty’ competition, giving rise to a question on perhaps where Bear might struggle at this point in his career.
He seems to hold his own against skilled opponents, but has trouble with players that throw the body and are more of a physical skill set. Bear is 5’11” and below 200lbs, which is on the smaller side for a defensemen, but that isn’t too much of a worry.
But Bear also had struggles on the PK, having the second lowest chances against per 60 and goals against per 60 among Oilers’ defensemen who had at least 20 minutes of shorthanded ice time.
Perhaps getting a few lessons in the Canes’ excellent systems will help the young defensemen in that regard, but it’s important to note that he still has so much room for growth.
The real dark horse is Bear’s offensive abilities, which took a bit of a step down this season with his reduced ice time and injury troubles, but his stellar rookie campaign highlighted the player he can be.
The Canes are getting a defensemen with tremendous upside that has shown he can hold his own against ‘elite’ competition and can play up in the lineup with ease, something they were dearly lacking on the development front.
There could be a fit for him pretty much anywhere in the lineup, so whether the Canes want to warm him up on a third pairing or slide him up higher to a pairing with Slavin or Skjei to take on more responsibility.
It should be said that Bear has top-four upside, so the Hurricanes should do well to make sure he gets those opportunities to develop properly.
One last important thing to note is that Bear will be an RFA after this season with arbitration rights.
We’ll continue our look at the Hurricanes’ defensive additions with a breakdown of Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Smith tomorrow.