The Carolina Hurricanes have had a decent season so far, but there are more than a few red flags showing up early on this season that need to be nipped in the bud immediately.
13-8-1. Not a terrible record 22 games in, right? Third place in the Metropolitan Division, and 9th place overall in the NHL. Not a bad spot for the Carolina Hurricanes to be in at the quarter-mark of the season, eh?
Both of those statements are true, and yet here we are, the day after the Carolina Hurricanes blew a game at home against a divisional opponent. I’m not happy about last night’s performance, and you shouldn’t be either, but the bigger picture shows a much more troubling problem: the Carolina Hurricanes are winning (for the most part), but by the skin of their teeth more often than they should be.
Of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 13 wins, three of them have been in overtime, and three of them have been won by a margin of a single goal. This might not seem too troubling, but when you realize that of those three overtime wins, two of them have taken place within the past eight days, it starts to become worrisome.
This trend of gaining an early lead, just to blow it and have to either chase the game or struggle to keep the other team out of the net is by no means a recipe for success; just look at what happened last night.
On top of their recent performances, the Carolina Hurricanes have quite a few underperforming players on their roster. Nino Niederreiter is one of those players, but he is very visibly trying to make a difference and should start doing so soon, so we’ll leave him out of this one, for now.
The glaringly obvious underperformers, at least to me, are Jordan Staal, Warren Foegele, and Jake Gardiner. Not to say that any of these guys should be put on the trade block or anything, but they need to figure their game out, and fast.
Let’s start with our captain, Jordan Staal. Staal is currently being paid $6M per year. Staal is very much a two-way forward, who has been solid defensively in the past, and has historically managed to put together some decent offensive numbers in seasons past. That just isn’t the case this season.
Jordan Staal, as of the writing of this article, has 3 goals and 4 assists, for a combined 7 points in 22 games played. Being that Staal isn’t typically an offensive powerhouse, let’s take a look at his defensive stats, shall we? 34 hits, 9 blocked shots, 8 takeaways, and 17 (!!!) giveaways in 22 games played.
Staal’s $6M contract could soon turn out to be a bad one, but I am by no means suggesting we trade him any time soon. I mainly feel like he is being utilized in a less-than-efficient manner. For instance, Staal is currently seeing time on the 2nd powerplay unit.
Why, you ask? Beats me. I’m not Rod Brind’amour, but you have to wonder why a guy who is good at winning faceoffs, yet not so great at generating offense is lining up on a powerplay unit to begin with.
Staal has been relatively solid this year on the penalty kill, and is very clearly rubbing off on Lucas Wallmark. Wallmark has been very close to every bit as solid as Staal defensively, and will be a great replacement for him if the Canes do, indeed, decide to try and move his contract in a year or three.
Now, we move on to Warren Foegele. I have a love/hate relationship with watching Warren Foegele. The young winger has flashes of brilliance here and there when you least expect it, but then turns around and whiffs on the most premium of scoring chances.
Again, by no means am I suggesting we move Foegele. But you absolutely cannot continue misplaying these scoring chances that his linemates are generating for him.
Foegele currently has registered 3 goals and 5 assists for a combined point total of 8 in 22 games played. Not terrible, if you’re a 4th liner. The only problem is that Foegele is consistently drawing into the 1st line with Jordan Staal and Ryan Dzingel. These lines need to be shaken up, badly.
Now, for the elephant in the room: Jake Gardiner. I will admit that I was (and still am) a HUGE fan of the Jake Gardiner signing. The guy has promise, and will deliver soon enough. The only issue is that, with the Carolina Hurricanes’ current schedule, we need him to come through sooner rather than later.
Jake Gardiner has a ton of potential, especially on the powerplay, but for some reason or another just hasn’t broken through yet. A big issue with his performance is that he is consistently paired with Trevor van Riemsdyk as opposed to Haydn Fleury. Gardiner plays much better with Fleury, yet Fleury has watched the past few games from the press box.
Gardiner isn’t necessarily ‘underperforming’, as much as the two aforementioned players, but his lone goal and five assists on the season so far are absolutely not indicative of the player he has the potential to be. All this being said, don’t even get me started on James Reimer. I covered exactly how I feel about him in a previous article.
This leaves us with some questions to be answered, but one above all else. What changes should the Carolina Hurricanes make, if any?
The first change that should be made is to shake up the lines. Foegele shouldn’t be anywhere near a 1st line in any team in the NHL, let alone this one. Staal should not be drawing into a powerplay unit. (To be fair on that last point, Erik Haula is out and the Carolina Hurricanes don’t have many options to fill in his spot on the powerplay, but still. ANYONE but Staal.) Fleury should be paired with Gardiner instead of van Riemsdyk.
Outside of just shaking up the lineups, the Carolina Hurricanes are in desperate need of a Top-6 scoring forward, and just so happen to have one extra defenseman. Bringing in a Top-6 forward that fits Rod Brind’amour‘s system for a player like Trevor van Riemsdyk (and a pick or two, depending on the return) could easily right the ship for the Carolina Hurricanes, and ensure that they have the offensive firepower to hang onto those early leads they’ve been getting.
Players like Ondrej Kase, Tyler Toffoli, and Kasperi Kapanen have been thrown around in the past, but I’m not entirely sure any of them are what the Carolina Hurricanes need or are looking for at the moment.
Of course, there are always players like Taylor Hall or Johnny Gaudreau that are ‘available’, but the Canes are nowhere near being able to afford either of them. This leaves the Carolina Hurricanes in a tough spot; they can easily move van Riemsdyk’s $2.3M contract, but finding a bona fide Top-6 (or even a Top-9) scoring winger for that price or less is a challenge, to say the least.
Maybe I’ll put together a piece on who the Canes should target in a trade scenario like that, but as for right now, all I know is this: the Carolina Hurricanes need a shakeup, in the worst way. The season is still young, and hope is far from being lost, but what exactly that shakeup is will be entirely up to Rod Brind’amour, Don Waddell, and Tom Dundon.
I have every faith that they’ll navigate these early rough seas just fine. They haven’t steered us wrong yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good measure. I promise, I’m not superstitious, I’m just a little stitious.
Question for CC Readers: What do you think the Carolina Hurricanes need to do to get back on track?