The new GM has been hired, the new coach is behind the bench, and the 2014 NHL Draft is now complete. One week of free agency is now behind us. All of those changes beg the question: Is the 2014-2015 Carolina Hurricanes a playoff team as now constructed?
This staff has a difference of opinion, so we jumped in Google docs and discussed our differences in real time. On the cup half full side will be our resident optimist, Mike Flanagan. On the side of evil will be native Buffalonian and new to the site curmudgeon, Dr. Driftwood. TO THE CLOUD!
Mike Flanagan: This Canes team had a lot of bad breaks last year. Given some health, good coaching, and dare I say a little bit of puck luck, this team is situated to slide into that 4 spot in the Metro with ease.
Doc Driftwood: The Canes didn’t do anything this offseason to better themselves. Granted, they weren’t in the market for one of the premier signings in FA but they’re still looking at basically the same lineup as 13-14. I think that we can all agree the Metro is a two-horse race between Pittsburgh and New York, Philly will be there and Columbus will remain extremely pesky.
MF: I can’t disagree with you that there are teams in the Metro that will be a tough out. That said, NYR will be hurt from a long spring and losing some key depth. Philly is one sexual assault away from losing their captain, and Columbus is the little brother that we want to be good, but just keeps getting dirt tossed in his face by the school bully. In this case, that bully is Geno Malkin.
But back to the Canes: As Peter Karmanos keeps harping on, this team was with its 3rd string goalie for a large part of the season in Justin Peters. Given two healthy NHL caliber goalies, that has to be worth 5 points alone. Toss on top of that a full season of a healthy Eric Staal and Alex Semin, and that has to account for 4 more points alone. If the coaching is an increase in as little as 3 points, this team is in the playoffs as constructed last year. Can you disagree?
DD: Well, since you brought up Eric Staal, yes I can disagree. I’ve said for years that Staal is one of the most overrated players in the league. He’s a fine player to have on your team but to have him as your “go to” for almost every situation is a complete farce. He’s a smoke and mirrors type player. To touch on your goalie situation I know that everyone in Carolina has been fed up with Cam Ward for the last few seasons and the hopes are that Anton Khudobin is your the answer moving forward. Everything is unproven in Canes Country right now and that is why my optimism is basically pessimism.
MF: HOW DARE YOU SIR BESMIRCH THE NAME OF ANTON KHUDOBIN? Need I remind you that aside from a single short stint with the Houston Aeros, Dobi has yet to post a season save percentage below .907 and last season was top 5 in the league with a .926 sv %. On a decent team, a .926 will get you in the playoffs more often than not, and with him coming into the season as the incumbent number one, if he can avoid injury, I would expect he solidifies himself as a top 5 statistical goalie in this league.
Now, Staal… I’ll give you that one. He’s not the leader that this team needs and his contract is outrageous. That said, as someone who has seen him go thru new coaches like Buffalo goes thru wet naps, I can guar-un-damn-tee that he will come out balls of fire and set the league on fire for the first 2 months of the season. If the Canes can avoid our normal horrendous start, we are in the playoffs.
DD: 2 months? You’re dreaming buddy, I’ll give you the first two games, maybe. As for the statistical side of Khudobin the sample size on this guy is WAY too small to start anointing him as a top flight goalie let alone a full-time starting goalie. We’ve all seen journeymen have their moment in the sun while enjoying a cup of coffee with a team. Lets not get ahead of ourselves with “Dobi.”
MF: You do realize Khudobin has spent time in the NHL since 2009, right?
DD: 4 games with Wild in 2 years and 16 games with Bruins in 2 years. The sample size is too small. I will give you that I do like your front 4 defensemen. I’m fine with Faulk, Gleason, Hainsey and Sekera, it should help but with little offensive support whomever is back there could turn into Red Light Racicot.
MF: Shockingly, we disagree here as well. Faulk and Sekera are a top tandem worthy of most teams. Hainsey is best suited as a 5-6 d-man on a good club. Gleason has lost so much footspeed that Keith Tkachuk thinks he might want to hang the skates up. Ryan Murphy is young but potentially could be the key to a revived power play. While I’ve made most of my points around injuries, if we can revive a power play that has been anemic to say the least, we can make huge strides in the East, which lets be honest, is a wide open league that will be sacrificed to the West.
DD: No doubt! The East is looking up at the West, there is no question about that. Let us be honest. The way the Canes are currently constructed that lineup isn’t scaring an AHL team let alone your foes in the Metro. They’re going through a half-assed rebuilding stage that needs to be completed properly. If the season starts off the way that I think it will for the Canes, a full blown rebuild will commence which would be better-meant for the team. You can talk about gaining 4 or 5 points here and there but you can’t milk a dead cow.
MF: Hey, I’m not putting this team in a contending position to win the Metro. I’m simply saying that I have faith and trust in the new management team in regards to team construction. If injuries were as bad as we’ve been told, and the coaching was as bad as intimated, I’m simply saying the math is there for this team to be in the hunt come mid to late March. Now, the front office is basically asking for Coach Peters to perform miracles and get a squad which has underperformed to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, but there should be hope in the Caniac Nation.
DD: If you want faith in new management they would have to show some serious signs of movement. There are two guys on that lineup that have NO business making the cheddar that they do, I’ll give you a hint: They share a last name. That’s all well and good that you think injuries and coaching will put you in contention after the trade deadline but then what? Where do you go from there? It’s better to clean house in the beginning then try to build by being a mid-major at the end.
MF: Oh, here we go with the your guys underperform argument and don’t deserve their contract. Their contract is what it is, and what they make is irrespective of what they do on the ice for the purposes of this debate. If they earn the contract, there is NO CHANCE we miss the playoffs. This team has done itself a terrible disservice by trading pieces at their low point. Let’s be honest, no one is taking on a Staal or Ward contract right now and it takes two to tango. So, let’s give Coach Peters a chance and see if he can work some Babcockian magic on their game.
DD: So, you’re telling me that Jordan Staal is going to EVER be capable of living up to that contract? That’s a Ville Leino type of a contract, you’re reaching for the moon on that one. Fans also put way too much onus on the head coach to win games. He can put together lines and build chemistry but when Peters is playing with a losing hand and doesn’t fold, he’ll be out of chips in no time.
MF: I’ll counter your coach argument by leaving Patrick Roy in Colorado or your beloved Lindy Ruff in Dallas right here on the doorstep. Dat cool?
DD: And you’re right, not much change was made to either of those teams and SOMETIMES a coaching shakeup is exactly what the “doctor” ordered but I think that we can agree that both of those teams at least had a solid foundation. Plus, let’s not forget that Patrick Roy is a top 10 NHL player of all-time and nothing bad can happen from him being behind your bench.
MF: Absolutely. That said, I think Staal, Semin, Skinner, Faulk, and Khudobin are just as solid a foundation to build around. Let’s not forget all those Jack Adams Awards that Gretzky won as a coach as well… *eyeroll*. In the end, this team needs to stay healthy, get a few good bounces, and have one of the young guys, whether it be Boychuk or McGinn or whomever, make a substantial difference at the NHL level.
DD: All of this talk about injuries, injuries, injuries. You’re tiring me out. The Buffalo Sabres were the most battered team in the league last year, did they finish in last place because of injuries? No! It was because they had a piss-poor lineup. Anyone who talks about injuries playing a factor in the future of a team’s success sounds like a pessimistic fantasy owner.
MF: Well, I’ll close with this. The Canes start the season with one of the easiest road trips in quite some time. If we can start the season as a cohesive unit that builds on a strong start, I am confident that this team has the god given talent to compete. If the coach can bring out enough passion to help them thru the tough times and keep a focus on improving a squad that has veterans on it, I believe that come late March, the Carolina Hurricanes will remain in the race to play for the Stanley Cup in mid April.
DD: For me, a strong start is the worst thing that can happen to this team. Hope you lose, hope you lose quick, get rid of some of this deadwood, get some high draft choices for the draft of the century and let the rebuild begin, Tim Murray-style!
So, what say you Caniac Nation? Is this team going to be in the playoff hunt, or is it time for a blow up and rebuild? Let us know your thoughts and use the hashtag #TeamMF or #TeamDD. Please follow our nemesis Doc Driftwood as well on Twitter @DocDriftwood.