Canes’ nation got some shocking news yesterday when Captain Justin Williams announced he would be stepping away from the NHL. I’m bummed and it’s okay if you are too. The point that I don’t need to belabor is that this decision weighed on Williams mightily, and he made his decision with the best interest of the team in mind.
I’m not surprised that this was the conclusion at which he arrived. To me, the signs were there. I believe it was after the game 7 double-OT victory versus Washington that I first noticed change. There was a video of only the captain walking into the room to sit down at his locker. It was his body language and the manner in which he took his gear off that caught my attention. The fatigue and mental exhaustion in his eyes was unmistakable. Seeing Williams unguarded on camera like that had a feeling of newness for me. Postgame tired was normal, but this tired was not that. The second sign I noted was his snowballing penalties in the series against the Bruins. The timing and nature of those infractions was different. Not to blow minor penalties out of proportion, but Williams and a lack of mental discipline were two ideas that rarely, if ever, went together. Williams took hockey penalties from time to time, but not mental penalties, if you catch my drift.
Those are just some of the side notes I had taken in case some were seeking more explanation than Williams’ “I’ve decided to step away from the game,” quote. To me, there’s some nuance that goes along with this. We can read between the lines of his choice to step away. My thought is that there is assurance for the future if we step back and think about who it is that just made the decision, his thoughtfulness, and his track record. I think William’s choice says much more than “I’m done.”
We all know that Williams puts 110% of his energy into his play and leadership. I’d wager that he put 130% into this specific Canes team and that specific season. Not only did he have his best statistical season since 2011-2012, but also he rebuilt the bridge between the team and community. Indirectly and unofficially, Williams owns a part of what this team has become because he helped engineer its rebirth.
Think of all the character that has been added or re-signed to the room in Captain Williams’ image. Character became priority number one when the page turned over last summer. Ryan Dzingel, Erik Haula, Jordan Martinook, Nino Niederreiter, and Brock McGinn are all guys that might not be part of the “core,” but in one way or another they overlap with Williams’ work ethic, leadership, or skill. They are instrumental to the team’s success, and they’ll all play for second-year Coach Brind’Amour. This was always the image.
I’ve been saying Captain Williams because I don’t expect the Canes to name a new one until Williams officially retires. I still think Aho is set to be the next Canes’ captain, just not yet. It’s so clear that Williams has had an enormous impact on Aho’s attitude and work ethic. They had the lockers next to each other last season, and I think it’s because Aho is being groomed for the role. Aho has that same insatiable desire to win like Williams. Until a decision is made official on Williams’ end, I think a fair speculation would be two alternates in Aho and Staal. My thought in the long run is that Williams “stepping away” indirectly says, “He’s ready” of Sebastian, even if Williams himself is not ready to fully let go.
That would be a huge compliment of the future of the Canes’ franchise from one of the sport’s most consistent winners if you ask me. I don’t claim to know him, but Williams has never struck me as the type to leave something unfinished. If he’s stepping away, then to some degree, he must feel content with where the team is, where it’s going, and what he’s been able to do. The right people are in place, and he feels comfortable taking even more time to decide for himself because of it. That speaks volumes.
I can understand how this might feel like the final chapter for Williams. For him personally, it’s entirely plausible that serving as the guiding hand and ushering in a new era of Canes hockey was a much sweeter note to go out on than a 4th Stanley Cup. I’d wager more was asked of him this season than in any championship season prior. He served as captain for just this one season, but if he did it near flawlessly on his first try, would he really need to come back and do it again? We know Williams would say he could always do more and improve. But from a fan’s perspective, I honestly don’t know what else he can do for us as captain. Maybe he’ll return mid-season for a final victory lap as to add to his career point totals. Other than that, he’s done everything asked of him in this role and then some.
It’s a lot to digest, but I think the Canes are going to be just fine heading into this season. Physically, Williams won’t be in the room. Though, I get the sense that the impression he left in the locker room will have lasting effects. He’ll be there in spirit always giving the guys that something extra.
If this is indeed the end, thanks for everything #14. Thanks for being our rock in this time of organizational change. Thanks for helping rekindle that fire in the Canes’ community. Thanks for mentoring our rookies. Thanks for helping guide your old friend and our new head coach. Thanks for being the caniacs’ leader. We owe you big time. Hopefully, we’ll see you on the ice again very soon.
Well, I told you guys, didn’t I? I said to “buckle up for July 1st.” Yesterday, the Montreal Canadiens became public enemy #1 in Raleigh, North Carolina when they tendered an offer sheet to restricted free agent, and Canes’ franchise cornerstone, Sebastian Aho. I wanted to offer up some commentary on the whole situation because this is the first time in six years we’ve seen an offer sheet signed. Below is the offer sheet.
Aho Offer Sheet Breakdown: 5 Years, $8.454 Million AAV
Year 1: $11.3M SB, $700k salary
Year 2: $9.87M SB, $700k salary
Year 3: $6.95 M SB, $750k salary
Year 4: $5.25 M SB, $750k salary
Year 5: $5.25 M SB, $750k salary
It’s a shame that it got to this point, but it wasn’t totally unavoidable. Aho’s contract was never going to be negotiated mid-season because he wanted his ceiling as high as possible. It’s my opinion that Montreal, in a way, did Carolina a favor. With this offer sheet, the negotiation process was expedited. I happen to think that ongoing, natural negotiations would have yielded Aho an even better deal. But he gets the term he wants right now, so why not sign the offer sheet if you’re him? Get it over with, right?
My instant reaction to the offer sheet news was that there was no chance that it was enough to pry Aho away from the Canes. This was a simple opportunity cost in which you weigh Aho’s production against a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round pick in the 2020 draft. The answer is Aho, and it’s not remotely close from the Canes perspective. Why take the picks when you just crushed the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and your farm team just won the Calder Cup? It just comes off as a weak offer in my opinion. The general consensus shared in this sentiment, too. So much so that the Canes’ social media team had some fun with the idea that we wouldn’t match the offer sheet.
Are you ready for the good news? The Canes have announced that they intend to match Montreal’s offer sheet! Sebastian Aho will be staying a Hurricane for the next five years!
With the offer sheet drama behind us, I got to questioning Montreal’s motives for even tendering this offer sheet. An attempt was made, but was an attempt really made? The contract was front heavy with bonuses, and that’s what Montreal was banking on to deter the Canes. However, it was a bullet the Canes’ front office had to bite. The contract steadily gets more team friendly, so that’s good news.
Was the goal here just to be a thorn in the Canes’ side? I just don’t see how it can be interpreted as anything other than that because the monetary value wasn’t where it could and should have been in my eyes. Montreal could use a center like Aho, but come on, if you’re going to offer sheet a first-line center, offer sheet a first-line center. It felt like a slap in the face to our ownership, management, and fan base.
From Montreal’s perspective, an $8.454M AAV feels like an undersell of what Aho brings to the table. To me, it felt like Montreal general manager, Marc Bergevin, came up with an offer sheet that would be perceived in the public eye as something that could only work on the Canes and Aho. He wouldn’t dare put something like this in front of Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point, for example. He also had the nerve to say that Aho’s signing the offer sheet meant he “wanted to play in Montreal.”
It’s not that black and white, and that statement was a reach. Aho signed the offer sheet because he liked the terms, as any smart player would. Aho never gave any reason for Canes’ fans to think he wanted to go elsewhere. He has grown with this fan base. He just wanted his worth, and his signing the offer sheet said nothing more than he was willing to go to Montreal if that’s what it took. “Willing” is completely different from “burning desire to.”
There are certain aspects of this offer sheet that felt disrespectful, or at least I picked up on quite a bit of underlying animosity over the past twenty-four hours. A lot of tired narratives and old boys vs. new age hockey resurfaced yesterday. I know I’m not alone in the opinion that it felt like Montreal underestimated us. The Canes ran with it during the press conference. Canes General Manager, Don Waddell, joked that his summer got that much better with having one less contract negotiation. He joked that the Canes may wait the whole seven days to match just to keep Montreal in a financial bind like the one they perceive us to be in. But, they didn’t. They made their announcement just one day later. It might have been funny to keep us in limbo, but at the same time, it’d have stressed everyone involved too much.
Admittedly, I did worry that the Canes might drop the ball on Aho. Montreal was bold in tendering that offer sheet. If the Canes didn’t match it, everything built in the past year and a half was for nothing. The Eastern Conference Finals run, the Checkers’ Calder Cup win, the surge in youth hockey, the storm surges, the attendance boom, the incredible 2019 NHL Entry Draft performance, the new scoreboard, the new season ticket members, and all the way down to Tom Dundon’s initial purchase of the team. All of it would have been for nothing if they lost out on Sebastian Aho to a front-loaded offer sheet from an organization that thought they could submit a “small market” team with a singular, rare business transaction. The Canes knew this. Despite my concern on the surface, deep down I knew it would end up okay.
That sleep I lost while worrying about the doomsday scenario? I won’t get that back. The Canes, on the other hand, saved time and energy when Montreal decided to burst through the wall like the Kool-Aid man and interrupt seemingly normal contract negotiations.
In the end, it’s all evened out. The Canes will get to keep Aho. Stay buckled in, though. We’re only on day two of NHL free agency, and the Canes aren’t done yet. We’ve got a few other restricted free agents to take care of before next season rolls around!
With free agency right around the corner and the NHL Entry Draft behind us, teams are beginning to make moves to prepare for the heat of the offseason. Monday evening, the Canes struck a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks to send Calvin de Haan (D) and Aleksi Saarela (F) to Chicago in return for Anton Forsberg (G) and Gustav Forsling (D).
When this trade alert popped up on my phone, I was bamboozled. I couldn’t figure out why the Canes would make, what appeared to be, such a one-sided move without obvious and instant benefits. So, I screamed into the void and let it sink in for a while. Before I try to consolidate the reasons I think the trade was made, I just want to remind everyone to trust the process. We trusted the 3-5 year rebuild, and that got our Charlotte Checkers a Calder Cup. We trusted the Canes’ new management last season, and that got us an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Take a breath with me. We’ll be fine.
First and foremost, this trade was a cap dump. Calvin de Haan was a great addition to the Canes this past season, and I’m sure we’ll miss his consistent defensive prowess. However, he had a tough year injury wise, and is currently slated to miss the beginning of next season coming off shoulder surgery. For that level of uncertainty, the $4.5 million he was making on our 3rd pair looked rough. I’m not a general manager, but I know that’s not ideal cap distribution. This frees up some space for subsequent free agent signings. It also potentially opens the door to acquire a top-6 forward with term via trade (*looks in Nikolaj Ehlers’ general direction*).
Another ripple effect of this deal involves Haydn Fleury. I don’t know about you all, but I watched the entirety of the Calder Cup Finals, and it’s obvious Fleury is just too talented for the AHL. He’s an NHL defenseman, cut and dry. The swagger he was playing with in that series was impressive. His body language every time he took the ice was, “I’m the best player out here right now, and I know it.” His skating was simply smoother than every other player, and his breakout passes looked even better than during his recalls a few months ago. Regarding Fleury’s spot with the Canes, the door was always at least cracked. Now that de Haan is gone, that door has been kicked down. This is his top-4 role to seize, and I think the organization is saying directly, “You’re ready, and we believe in you. Let’s see you deliver.” I want this to be the narrative we push. The kid has been patient and earned every bit of it.
It’s not all positive though. Our left side depth has taken a hit, and there is some uncertainty there. We’ve got Slavin, Fleury, and then the third pair is going to be occupied by one of Forsling, Bean, or even Carrick. He (Carrick) has some fans that think he could translate to an NHL 3rd pair. I thought he looked good in the Calder Cup. I’m just not fully sold and think we’ve seen his peak in his NHL stints. It’s my opinion that Forsling still has some untapped potential that he wasn’t going to reach as a part of a rebuilding Chicago team. However, that’s not something you place bets on when you’re trying to follow up an Eastern Conference Final run. Bean, on the other hand, just led AHL rookie defensemen in points, and the team desperately needs a true powerplay quarterback. I think Bean’s offensive upside coupled with the progression of his own-zone awareness warrants an extended look. The trade opens the door for him to take on a 3rd pair/powerplay specialist role, and in my eyes, this is likely the next domino to fall.
Speaking of development, Aleksi Saarela’s 30-goal season with the Checkers in 2018-2019 was quite impressive. I really wanted to see him get a shot with the Canes. It was to the point I was sitting here scribbling down potential lines trying to make him fit. This is probably the aspect of the deal that bums me out the most. But to be realistic, he’s a left shot. I’m not sure where exactly he’d have fit into the lineup if we were going to get the most out of him. A 4th line role wouldn’t have played to his strengths at all nor would it have been enough ice time. A 3rd line, checking role would’ve been iffy since Saarela is more of an offensive glass cannon, if you will. It’s just a bummer to see that type of a prospect let go.
The goaltender that came over in the trade, Anton Forsberg, is an NHL backup. I know his sample size is still small, but he doesn’t strike me as anything more than that. The Canes’ goalie situation heading into next season has a lot of question marks, but here’s a snapshot. The Canes likely won’t get Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney signed before July 1. It’s still possible Mrazek returns as an unrestricted free agent later on, but he’ll certainly test the market it seems. There’s also the consideration that Alex Nedeljkovic is ready for his shot. His development has panned out right on schedule, and now he’s won tough games, tough series, and a Calder Cup. Furthermore, the Canes took the #2 ranked goalie in this year’s draft, Pyotr Kochetkov, 36th overall. He’s probably a year, maybe two, from making a dent in the NHL. The last time the Canes took a goalie in the second round was Nedeljkovic, and you don’t really take goalies that early on unless you think they have high floors and could be NHL starters. For me, acquiring Forsberg invites a feeling of uncertainty. However, drafting Kochetkov is reassuring in a way.
All this considered for the organization’s goalies, I just don’t see where Forsberg fits in long term. They’ll let him fight for a spot I’m sure, but a Nedeljkovic-Forsberg tandem makes me uneasy. I can’t be alone with that sentiment. I have to hope that they’re thinking about a different path. The only reason I see Forsberg as useful in the context of the trade is that his presence makes it so the Canes can complete the buyout of Scott Darling. They need to have three goaltenders under contract in order to buy out another. Forsberg, along with Callum Booth and Jeremy Helvig, makes three. The latter two are long-term projects, at different points in their development, and not yet directly impacting the Canes. At the very least, getting Forsberg in the deal provides some camp competition for the backup job while they search for a starter.
I’ve sat here and mulled over all the possible implications for the team’s future roster construction, and I have to say, I still don’t like the trade. I don’t feel the team is objectively better than they were before it. Calvin de Haan was a rock-solid, albeit injury-prone, defender and teammate. It sucks to see him go. I don’t like Saarela leaving simply because he was such an exciting prospect. It’s probably best for his future, for there could be a roster spot in Chicago. The trade just leaves me with more questions than answers, and that’s the best way to sum it up. All we can do is believe in the GM by committee. Trust the process, Canes fans. They’ve delivered thus far. Buckle up, though. July 1 is coming.
Well, here we are again! This Canes team just keeps impressing at each turn. No one was giving the Canes a chance to win the cup at season’s start, not even myself. But what once felt like a distant dream is now a realistic possibility. The Canes’ postseason success has been a combination of skill, luck, grit, and belief in one another.
I love that there are some things in life that are certain like death, taxes, and the Canes making it to at least the Eastern Conference Finals when they make the playoffs. In 2002, it was a loss in the Stanley Cup Final to the Red Wings. In 2006, they defeated the Oilers and brought the cup home. In 2009, the Penguins swept the Canes in the Conference Finals. 2019 results are to be determined. The Canes and Bruins present quite the interesting matchup, and both teams absolutely earned their spot in the Conference Finals. So, here’s what to expect!
I’ve always been a fan of the saying, “You have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good.” Both the Canes and Bruins embody that. Their work ethic is comparable and it earns them fortunate puck luck. Whether it was second and third chances on offense or opposition shots ringing off friendly goalposts, both teams saw plenty of good bounces leading up to this series. So, something has to give. Right? Luck can be earned but it is by and large out of a team’s control. What they can control though is how they implement a game plan.
It seems that no matter how the sport evolves, you can count on the Boston Bruins playing their style of hockey. Boston plays a heavy game. They love to hit, and they love to stir the pot after whistles. In a single word, they’re aggressive. Boston is a traditionalist team in that they haven’t fully embraced the new model of all four lines being skilled. They pair their defensive defensemen with their offensive and two-way defenders in order to achieve their perception of balance. They still love their grinders, but that’s okay because it clearly hasn’t hurt them. Boston’s forward composition is top-heavy. There’s a drop off in skill after their first line, but by no means does that mean it’s not a deep roster. David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk are solid forwards, and Marcus Johansson is one of the more talented 3rd-line forwards in the league.
In contrast, the Canes are quite new age compared to Boston. They accept that each line needs to be skilled, and they compose their lines in such a way that each one poses a scoring threat. I like the Canes bottom six slightly more than Boston’s on the basis that four of the Canes’ bottom six have 10+ goals. While the Canes might not possess much finesse beyond their top six, they make up for it with their tenacity and speed being spread evenly throughout the lineup. On the backend, most of the Canes defenders are two-way players. The exception is Dougie Hamilton who is more offensively minded. Their balance on the backend is what makes them so reputable league-wide. The Canes aren’t a team of pushovers like years past. They’ll stand up for themselves, but you’ll rarely see them using post-whistle antics to get into the head of their competition. What will be important for the Canes in facing off with a heavy team like Boston is their conditioning. Even if none of the games see overtime, this series will take its toll physically for both teams, and that’s a sure thing.
The great thing about the Canes so far this postseason has been their contributions across the board. Obviously, that’s going to need to continue. My opinion is that in order to win the series, Andrei Svechnikov will need to step up. He looked outstanding in games 3 and 4 last series, like he hadn’t missed any time at all.
Svechnikov can be a game-breaker with his rare combination of size, speed, and finishing ability. In practice this week, he was with Aho and Tervainen. That tells me that Brind’Amour is considering running his own most skilled line against Boston’s top line. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that of the forwards on the ice (Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, Aho, Teravainen) when they match up, Svechnikov can separate himself from the crowd as the most physically dominant and skilled. He is listed as the largest of those forwards and at only 19 years old, he can still grow even more. That’s absurd potential.
Don’t get me wrong. Boston’s top line is likely the best in the league when they’re clicking, but each player contributes to it in their own way. My take is that of all of the players’ individual skill sets, Svechnikov is the most complete. He can be a problem on his own. He has shown flashes of being able to control the game himself, so the Canes may try to isolate him should matching top lines not be the go-to plan. We could see him with Staal or Wallmark too at some point this series.
For the Bruins, it’d be too easy to say that their top line as a whole is the x-factor. We could also say that Tuukka Rask is going to be a brick wall in this series, which is very possible. What I’m anticipating though is two teams trading counterpunches in terms of attempting to shut down the opposing top lines. This opens the door for a middle-6 guy to emerge. My pick for the Bruins’ difference maker is Jake DeBrusk. He’s playing with a career playmaker in David Krejci, and he managed to pot 27 goals during the regular season. From what I’ve seen from him, he has a nose for the net and an edge to his game. If the top line is seeing mostly Slavin and Pesce from the Canes’ defense, that means DeBrusk and Krejci could see a fair amount of de Haan and Fleury. The door is open for DeBrusk to make his presence felt. Depth scoring will be a must in this series.
The Leadership Aspect
I think what makes this series much different than playing the Capitals and Islanders is that the Canes don’t have a decided leadership advantage in comparison to the Bruins. I’ve long talked about how great it is that the Canes’ locker room has leadership from coaches and players alike. The Bruins have that too.
Against the Capitals, the Canes were able to exert their willpower and get the Capitals’ players and coaches to doubt what they were doing in Games 3, 6, and 7. Their captain got tossed from Game 6. They lost their heart and soul guy, Oshie, to injury. Their coach, if you watched the interviews, just didn’t seem to be fiery like some of the players. The Canes never faltered in this regard. Everyone preached and practiced work ethic and sticking to their guns, even when they fell behind 2-0 in the series and got walloped 6-0 in Game 5. They had a plan.
The Islanders had a brilliant system coach and proven winner in Trotz that managed to contain the Canes quite well. Where they fell short was in execution. When the Islanders’ skaters hit that rut, they didn’t have that voice or that superstar player to keep the morale high. They were also missing Johnny Boychuk, arguably their most significant veteran presence. For the Canes, they were no strangers to adversity and not being able to finish plays. The shooting percentage and regression stories from early this season are well documented. The stingy Islanders were just a surmountable bump in the big picture for Coach Brind’Amour and the team.
The Boston Bruins are different. They have a very strong leadership group that, like the Canes, extends from the coach down his entire bench. The Canes have Coach Brind’Amour who has his team preparing and playing just like he did. They have captain Justin Williams, and his winning, clutch pedigree. They have Jordan Staal doing a little bit of everything. Jordan Martinook is the locker room catalyst. Aho and Tervainen are the stars that are looked to for production.
The Bruins have a great coach in Bruce Cassidy. He always has his team ready to go, and he’s a clear motivator. They have Vezina Trophy winner, Tuukka Rask backstopping them. They have four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron. Captain Zdeno Chara is still massive, and he’s still an effective defender at age 41 despite his offensive numbers being down. On the fourth line, they have David Backes, former captain of the St. Louis Blues. To say this Eastern Conference Final matchup is a clash of winners would be an understatement.
Injuries and Suspensions
The Canes are expected to get Micheal Ferland back for this series. He’s been dealing with a recurring upper body injury. His physicality will be a welcome addition to the lineup, but just how physical he will be remains to be seen. He re-aggravated the injury after throwing a hit earlier this postseason. Saku Maenalanen injured his hand during the second round and had surgery to repair it. The initial timetable was 10-14 days, but his return is still up in the air. There’s also no promise he’ll have a lineup spot if Ferland and Martinook can stay healthy. Speaking of Martinook, he is figuratively glued and taped at the knee or ankle. He’s expected to play through his lower body injury. It’s clearly affecting his speed, and we’ll probably find out his ankle or foot has been broken. Signs are pointing to Petr Mrazek returning to the crease against Boston. Thankfully it wasn’t a serious injury, but I’m still a bit nervous if he’ll be able to settle into his groove again. On the Canes backend, Trevor van Riemsdyk had surgery on his left shoulder. He is done for the year, and Haydn Fleury draws into the lineup.
Boston’s most notable loss is that of Charlie McAvoy. He was suspended one game for an illegal check to the head of Josh Anderson in game 6 of the series against Columbus. The Canes will need to capitalize on this, for this is an opportune time to steal a game on the road. Noel Acciari didn’t practice on Wednesday and his status for Game 1 is still unknown. Behind center ice, the Bruins are without Kevan Miller and John Moore. Miller seems unlikely to play, and he is still out indefinitely with a lower body injury. Moore could draw into the lineup at some point this series, and his return would be a boost for an already steady Boston blue line.
This will be a battle of tyrants from a leadership perspective. Both teams have proven on ice systems, locker room identities, and rosters that can execute. I like that the Canes are younger and thus likely better conditioned. Both teams are fast, and I don’t see a significant advantage for either side in this regard. There will be times when each team looks quicker than the other. The Canes’ Finns have peppered Rask over the course of the season, but this is playoffs, and playoff Rask is an entirely different animal (Did you see the Columbus series?). A lot of focus will be on each teams’ top line and how the coaches choose to counter each other with last change at home. Give me the Bruins’ top line over the Canes, but give me the Canes’ defense over the Bruins. It’s for this reason that the series will come down to secondary scoring and, obviously, goaltending. I like the Canes potential to get scoring from their bottom 6 better than the Bruins, but I like Rask better than Mrazek/McElhinney. Especially considering Mrazek’s mojo could have been interrupted by his injury.
For me, Boston is the toughest and most complete test yet. What sets Boston apart for me is that they have the leadership and the speed. If they get fully healthy, they get a significant size advantage too. Their talent is refined and most of it is in their prime years. They are battle-tested via 7 games vs. Toronto and 6 vs. Columbus. They’ve had rest, but not down time, if you will. The Canes have had down time since the Islanders, which could be good or bad. Yes, the Canes have been tested in their own way this postseason. However, they didn’t line up against any true superstars last series, so it remains to be seen if they can reapply their system to Boston like they did to Washington in Round 1. Rest assured that the Canes will be mentally ready for this tilt. But, the emphasis of this series will be both teams trying to outmuscle each other. This is an area in which Boston has an edge. To win the series, the Canes need to take advantage of Boston’s missing players and win Game 1. I see this whole thing coming down to Rask putting on a clinic in game 7, and the Bruins advancing to play for the Stanley Cup.
The Canes made a mid-playoffs trade yesterday when they sent prospect defenseman Adam Fox to the New York Rangers in return for a 2019 2nd round pick (37th overall) and a conditional 3rd round pick in 2020. The conditions of the 3rd round pick are that it becomes a 2nd if Fox plays in 30 games in the 2019-2020 season. That’s incredibly likely given that he is expected to slot into their top-4 out of the gate. It’s pretty safe to assume that the 2020 pick will also be a 2nd rounder.
For the second year in a row now, the Canes have made a trade during playoffs. Only this time, they are currently competing. Playoff trading is an uncommon practice, but it still happens occasionally.
What’s the point of the NHL trade deadline if teams can trade after the fact?
In the NHL, teams may continue to move assets after the deadline, but the kicker is that those pieces aren’t eligible for the postseason. You rarely, if ever, see players being moved after the deadline for that reason. If a trade is made, it usually involves picks or prospects, assets not contributing right now anyway.
The Canes initially acquired Fox from Calgary at the draft last summer when they sent Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to the Flames in return for Micheal Ferland, Dougie Hamilton, and the rights to Fox.
The Flames drafted Fox 66th overall in 2016, but he wasn’t interested in playing for Calgary, so he opted for college hockey at Harvard. Upon acquiring his rights, the Canes thought they may be able to get the offensively minded defenseman signed, but again, he deferred. It was long speculated that he wanted to play for his hometown New York Rangers, but he would never publicly admit it.
It all works out in the end, though. Fox will see NHL ice much sooner with the Rangers since they are rebuilding and don’t have the defensive depth the Canes do. The Canes get more assets to work with this summer and rid themselves of a player that displayed signs of attitude issues. In addition to their own 2nd round pick, the Canes hold Buffalo’s 36th pick, which they acquired in last summer’s Skinner trade. To that, they add the Rangers’ 37th pick.
Holding 3 of the first 37 picks this summer presents the Canes with options. They could utilize all of the picks and search for another 2nd round gem. The Canes have made good on 2nd round picks before. Sebastian Aho says “hi.” Another option the Canes have would be to trade these picks to move up in the draft. However, I’m not a huge fan of either of those options since the general consensus is that this draft class weakens rather quickly.
What I’d like to see the Canes do is package one or both of the 2nd round picks along with one of their defensemen to land another top-6 forward. Preferably, it would be a right-handed forward with finishing ability and term on his contract. I’ll keep an open mind though since we do have a crop of righties with NHL potential developing in Charlotte. So, just give me the best bang for the buck if the Canes go the trade route.
Regardless of how the Canes decide to manage their draft picks this summer, one thing is for certain. The Fox trade, like previous moves, was a smart one made with the future in mind. The return was excellent considering they could have lost him for nothing had they continued to play hardball with Fox’s camp. Well done, Canes’ management.
Well, I’ll be honest. I wasn’t confident that I’d be back with a round two preview for the Canes this postseason. Yet, here we are! Led by a balanced offensive attack, defensive contributions, some unsung heroes, Petr Mrazek’s brilliance, and the undying willpower of Coach Brind’Amour and captain Justin Williams, the Canes dethroned the defending champs in seven grueling games. I was left looking skyward wondering out loud, “Did that really just happen?”
As I watched the beginning of game seven, I worried that we had run out of gas. But, this is the 2018-2019 Canes we’re talking about. This team is never out of it. They never quit. As soon as Jordan Staal beat Holtby high on the blocker side to tie the game in the third period, I knew the Canes were going to find a way. That’s how the game felt. Everyone watching knew the Canes were going to advance. It was just a matter of when they would seal the deal. They were hungrier, faster, and more determined to win, especially in the late stages, on Wednesday night. The Canes are going to have to carry that same work ethic and tenacity into round two because it doesn’t get any easier going forward.
Our opponents, the New York Islanders, swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one and have been idle for well over a week now awaiting their opponent. The Canes on the other hand just played on Wednesday. Some believe too much rest can be a bad thing, and I certainly think it can be for the Canes. They usually didn’t play well after having 3+ nights off during the regular season. So with the quick turnaround time for the players in mind, let’s do a crash course on what to expect for Canes-Isles in round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs!
Defense Wins Championships
It might sound insane if we consider preseason predictions made for the Canes and Isles, but it’s very possible that the winner of this series goes on to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final. These two teams share a calling card of strong defense. On paper, Carolina’s blue line is better than the Islanders blue line. The Canes have four dynamic defensemen that accrued 25+ points in the regular season, and are led by 6’ 3” Swiss army knife, Jaccob Slavin. The Islanders have a trio of promising 24-year old defenders in Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews. A lot will be asked of that trio since they will be without backend veteran Johnny Boychuk. He suffered a leg injury back on April 16 and could miss anywhere from half to the entire second round.
Defense isn’t just limited to defensemen, however. Forwards and their positioning play a key role in own-end efficiency. That’s how the Islanders so swiftly removed the Penguins from the postseason. The Isles play a suffocating defensive system and rarely, if ever, make mistakes in their own zone. Their forwards are always back checking, and they’re always supporting the defensemen by taking away opposing skaters’ time and space in the high slot and at the point. They are infuriatingly precise with their coverage and patient with the puck on breakouts. In the regular season, they allowed the fewest goals against (191, or 2.33 goals against per game). In their entire first round series, the Isles let up a total of six goals to an offense consisting of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. That’s absurd. If we view the defensive matchup in terms of offensive production potential, advantage Canes. If we view it in terms of systematic, defensive team play, advantage Islanders.
As for the last line of defense, Petr Mrazek has been nothing short of amazing for the Canes. There’s not much that needs to be said other than he’s clutch and in his zone of late. Don’t take the crease from him. For the Isles, it’s worth mentioning that Robin Lehner, their likely starting goaltender, is a Vezina Trophy finalist this season for the league’s best goalie. In 46 games played in the regular season, he posted 25 wins with a save percentage of .930 and a goals against average of 2.13. Those are excellent numbers. Pittsburgh couldn’t find a way to break him, so his confidence is flowing. Should the Canes manage to crack Lehner, the Isles have Thomas Greiss waiting in the wings. He has been very steady versus the Canes. Goaltending favors the Isles heading into round two.
Tight Checking Games
If you are a new fan, and you like high-flying and scoring affairs, this series is might be like having teeth pulled while playing chess to you. Neither of these teams dazzle offensively. They look to grind out wins and capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes. It will likely trend toward grinding, low-scoring outcomes. In the regular season, the Canes went 1-2-1 against the Islanders. Two of those games ended with the Canes on the wrong side of a 2-1 score. In the other two meetings, the victor potted four goals. So, offense is possible in this series. Especially if you consider that the Canes just never quit. The Canes won’t change their offensive identity of cycling and throwing a high volume of pucks on net. To that end, it will be exciting. It’ll just be waiting for one of those second or third chances to actually beat the brick wall known as 2018-2019 Robin Lehner. It’s going to be a fast, but also methodical meeting of ideologies that preach, “sticking with it” and taking care of their own zones first.
Canes’ Impact Players (My Top 3)
Warren Foegele (LW) – 4 g 2 a – The rookie has arrived. He thrives in big moments and will continue to do so. He’s shooting at 33.3% so far this postseason.
Jaccob Slavin (D) – 0 g 9 a – Slavin had himself a series against Washington. He is tied with Erik Karlsson of San Jose for the playoffs points lead amongst defensemen. He’ll continue to be a workhorse at both ends of the ice.
Jordan Staal (C) – 3 g 3 a – Watch out. Jordan Staal has tasted postseason competition again. His shutdown two-way game and knack for game-tying and go-ahead goals alike will be valuable.
Islanders’ Impact Players (My Top 3)
Robin Lehner (G) – When you type in “brick wall” on Google, a picture of this guy comes up. I don’t know if this is true, but let’s pretend it is. He had a phenomenal regular season, and it has continued into the postseason.
Jordan Eberle (RW) – 4 g 2 a – He’s got good hands and has found his scoring touch at the right time. He accounted for nearly one third of the goals scored by forwards in the Isles first round. The Canes will have to box him out at the front of the net.
Mathew Barzal (C) – 0 g 5 a – He’s fast, he’s crafty, and he’s the Islanders best playmaker. He’s also the reigning Calder Memorial Trophy winner for the 2017-2018 season’s best rookie.
The Islanders were able to break the psyche of a usually dominant postseason Penguins team with their nearly flawless defensive scheme. The Penguins showed signs of frustration, and ultimately, that led to fewer quality chances and the team mailing it in for the season.
The Canes are not the Penguins. This team has no off switch, and even in double OT on Wednesday night they weren’t showing many signs of slowing down. The Canes have proven to be a team that has only gotten better and more tenacious with each playoff game that passes. Of course, the Isles saw the Canes play style in the regular season, so they’re ready for the volume of shots. The question remaining for the Isles is if they can weather the storm that is Justin Williams’ will to win and his young guns that have completely bought in to what he and Coach Brind’Amour are selling.
It will be a matter of making the simple play and taking care of the puck for the Canes. They can’t afford to make mistakes in their own zone because the Islanders thrive off of and will convert on defensive zone lapses. The Isles aren’t an offensive juggernaut like the Caps, but they are the definition of opportunistic.
The Canes, having just taken down the defending champs, are battle-tested in the playoff atmosphere and growing in confidence. I’m guessing that two games will require overtime and neither team will score more than three times in any given game. I’m also calling at least one game-deciding goal for Canes’ defender Calvin de Haan against his former team.
For Carolina, the sky is the limit. Led by Justin Williams’ sheer willpower and old man strength, the Canes will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in 6 games.
Ten years. It was ten years of not being able to put all the pieces together. It was ten years of unfounded relocation rumors. It was ten years of attendance jokes. It was ten trying years that resulted in an acceptance of losing for some inside the organization. It was ten years of just general defeat.
These ten years tested the loyalty and fandom of many, myself included. Enter new owner, Tom Dundon, head coach Rod Brind’Amour, rightful captain Justin Williams, and with them, a revitalized hunger for success. They had a vision, they knew we were close, and they would be the ones to lead the rebirth of exciting hockey in Raleigh, NC.
On April 4, 2019, the Canes defeated the New Jersey Devils on home ice in front of more than 17,000 fans. The win clinched their first playoff birth in exactly ten years. You simply can’t make this stuff up. In game 82, the Canes defeated the Philadelphia Flyers and earned themselves the first wild card spot and a first round matchup with the defending champs, the Washington Capitals.
I think I speak for all fans when I say a tremendous weight was lifted off my shoulders when we clinched. FINALLY. I genuinely appreciate our first round matchup with the Caps. It’s going to be tough, and it sets the tone. But if we manage to upset them, it puts the rest of the playoff teams on notice. The series could get personal, and wouldn’t a rejuvenation of the Canes-Caps rivalry – from the Southeast division days – be fun to see? The Canes are the younger, faster team. The Caps have been there and done that. Without further ado, let’s break it down. What do the Canes need to do to take down the defending champs? What should we be watching for?
For the Canes to compete in this series, Sebastian Aho is going to need to be the impact player we know he can be. In all likelihood, he’ll be matching up against either Washington’s Niklas Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov. Who the caps choose to run out there against Aho will depend on where they take the faceoff. In my eyes, Backstrom and Oshie are two-way players and more equipped to defend Aho. But, that doesn’t mean Aho won’t see a steady dose of Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. He’ll have to best them all.
From the Canes perspective, the Caps don’t have a dominant defensive pair that I’d prefer Aho avoids when we get last change at home. Carlson is good, but I wouldn’t actively avoid him, especially if it’s an offensive zone draw and we can force him to play in his own end. I believe if Aho is given his share of favorable draws, there isn’t a Caps defensive pair he can’t out-work. The way for him to be most effective will undoubtedly be his skating. If he can get to top speed through the neutral zone, he’ll be in good shape. Unless Caps’ winger Carl Hagelin is on at the same time, Aho should be the faster skater on either side of the ice when he’s taking his shifts.
Despite putting up assists down the stretch, Aho concluded the season on a 14-game goalless streak. He missed the net on occasion, and he rang iron on others. General speculation was that he was just getting fatigued down the stretch. Undoubtedly, a lot was asked of him this season. He also had that inadvertent knee-on-knee collision with Niederreiter. That sort of close call is enough for anyone to take a breather. Against the Philadelphia Flyers last Saturday, Aho showed flashes of his usual elusiveness and speed, which was encouraging. He will break out of his scoring slump, without question. Here’s to hoping it’s broken on his first shift on Thursday.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Canes’ bread and butter is their speed and getting to their forecheck. To beat the defending champs, the Canes will have to push the pace from the opening faceoff. One obvious game trend from the home and home with Washington a few weeks ago was that the Caps were totally comfortable slowing the game down via resetting breakouts. You could feel their confidence and composure. If the Canes give Washington time to settle into the game early and reset plays at their leisure, you can forget about it. We won’t beat them in a game of trading quick strikes because that’s never been the Canes’ calling card. The Canes will need to be desperate from the opening faceoff. They’ll need to [shades on] capitalize [shades off] on their speed advantage and outwork the Caps in the corners.
The Canes know their strengths, though. They score more goals as a result of hard work by their cycling than they do gorgeous passing plays. I like to say the Canes have raw talent, as opposed to polished talent like that of the Caps. When I say “raw talent” I mean that there are occasions where the Canes’ strength on the puck outshines their handling of it. Sometimes we’ll see the Canes’ fighting the puck, where as with the Caps, it appears they’ve got it on a string at times. Give the Canes’ young guys two years to reach their prime and that raw talent will graduate to polished. In this clash of contrasting offensive styles, it will be best for the Canes to keep things simple.
One last thing I want to group with the forecheck is how the Canes can beat Braden Holtby. Go to the net. Create chaos. Just by the eye test, Holtby relies on his tracking more so than his reflexes or recovery in the crease. No goalie can stop what he can’t see, so disrupt his field of vision. Like most goalies, Holtby’s glove is stronger than his blocker. Favor the blocker side, and instead of always shooting for tips, try shooting for rebounds off his pads too. It’s going to take second and third chances to beat him.
Blue Line Contributions
On paper, the Canes have the advantage on defense this series. The Canes allowed fewer goals (221) this season than the Caps (248). In addition, the Canes allowed an average of 28.6 shots against per game, which was good for third fewest in the league. With 31.5 shots against per game, the Caps ranked 15th in this regard. The Canes top-4 is very balanced, for they all secured over 25 points on the season. Dougie Hamilton turned out to be the guy we thought he was, but that was expected. The most pleasant surprise was Brett Pesce discovering his offensive flare in the latter half of the season. Generally, Hamilton and Faulk are the two defenders who shoot to score. Meanwhile, Slavin and Pesce are more likely to shoot for effect in search of a deflection or rebound. To beat the Capitals, point shots from all four of them will need to be plentiful and through traffic in front of the net. Don’t just fling it into the Caps wingers’ shins, obviously. But if there’s a lane, get the puck toward the net. For the Canes, it’s a luxury that they have two pairs with which they can effectively create offense. Use them. Show why our blue line carries our team.
When it comes to matching up against the Caps offense, I have two primary concerns. To the best of their ability, the Canes need to have Hamilton and Slavin out against Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. That leaves Pesce and Faulk to take care of Backstrom and Oshie. What we want to avoid is Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury out against Washington’s top players.
Unfortunately for the Canes, it seems Calvin de Haan may be unavailable for the first round. We haven’t gotten a clear update on his status, but it sounds like it’s possible his timetable may even extend beyond the first round should the Canes advance. Enter Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean. Fleury is still looking for his first NHL goal, and this would be an opportune time to do it. Jake Bean had a killer season with the Charlotte Checkers in which he led rookie defensemen in scoring (13 g 31 a). He looks like he has legitimate top-4 offensive defenseman potential. He’ll serve as the 7th defender/healthy scratch, and despite his inexperience, I wouldn’t rule out him seeing the ice this series if one or both on our suddenly questionable third pair underperform.
At 17.8% efficiency, the Canes power play ranked 20th in the league this season. Their penalty kill is at 81.6% and that’s good for 8th in the league. For the Capitals, their power play sits at 20.8% (12th) and their penalty kill at 78.9% (24th). Despite the numbers favoring the Canes, I’m positive I’d rather have this series played at even strength as much as possible. Though the Caps aren’t innovative in trying to isolate the weak side one-timer, Ovechkin’s shot alone makes it an effective strategy for them.
You know the shot is coming. Everyone says, “Just cover him.” The thing about defending Ovechkin is that you can’t glue a defender to him on the penalty kill. That opens up too much space for the Caps’ other skilled players. They have two first power play units. I trust the Canes’ penalty killers, but the fact of the matter is if they crack for even a second, Ovechkin will make them pay. If it’s not Ovechkin, it’ll be Oshie, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Wilson, etc. All you can really do is shadow No. 8 and anticipate his one-timer. No one has figured out a foolproof way to stop him yet, but if you do, let me know.
Though the Canes power play has been better of late, I’m still very opposed to getting into a special teams battle with Washington. Generally speaking, the Canes second unit hasn’t been as effective as their first unit. As good as Mrazek has been, lackluster special teams were what tanked his numbers early on in the season. Discipline will be the name of the game for the Canes because the Capitals can hurt you in many ways on the man advantage. The best penalty kill strategy is to not take unnecessary penalties at all.
Micheal Ferland vs. Tom Wilson
Tom Wilson is very well known for his numerous suspensions for bad hits on unsuspecting players. Having a player like Ferland in the Canes’ lineup will help keep Wilson in check. I’m not saying a Ferland-Wilson fight is a sure thing to occur at some point this series, but with how both of them play the game, it’s something to watch. Ferland and Wilson have near identical skill sets. They are the respective centerpieces for their teams’ physical identities.
There are certain players that elevate their game to a whole new level in playoffs. Ferland is one of them. There has been a YouTube video circulating on Canes Twitter that I’ll link at the end of this section. It’s Micheal Ferland versus the Vancouver Canucks from 2015. If nothing else, it will kill a few minutes of your workday and get you pumped up. You’re welcome.
Other than Ferland, the Canes will have to match Washington’s physicality up and down the lineup. That means Staal, Martinook, Foegele, and McGinn will need to throw some hits to make their presences felt. If it happens to turn into a grind, I could see Saku Maenalanen drawing into the lineup. He is 6’ 4” with a little nastiness to his game. Though he’s not been in a fight this season, he just strikes me as a guy you don’t want to mess with. The potential for bad blood in this series is higher than I think most people realize.
This is the time of the season where players you wouldn’t normally expect to emerge and make an impact do just that. Last season for the Capitals on their cup run, it was Devante Smith-Pelley. He played a 4th line grinder role, but suddenly he was scoring clutch goals in bunches.
Every contending team needs their own unsung hero, and it’s no different for the Canes. As much as I want it to be Haydn Fleury suddenly scoring his first goal in dramatic fashion, it probably won’t be. While he’s looked good, he still has occasional concerning missteps in his own zone. I expect the Capitals to attack his side when he’s on the ice. Lucas Wallmark could be the guy to step up for the Canes. He plays a low key, but steady two-way game. He’s played as high as the second line this season. To make an impact in this series, he needs to take advantage of his underrated shot. But, I feel he’ll be preoccupied with his play away from the puck and in transition.
So, who could emerge for the Canes? Warren Foegele. Okay, so I’m sort of cheating with this choice since he started heating up last week, but whatever. The playoffs are about getting hot at the right time. Foegele has that work ethic that just can’t be taught. He is scoring big goals with more frequency. Look no further than his breakaway tally versus New Jersey. The kid never quits on a play, and he has the grit needed for the playoff race. He potted 28 goals in his AHL rookie season, so that scoring touch is there. It’s just been dormant. I think what would help with his consistency and finishing ability would be a shooting coach over the summer. I’m just speculating, but focusing on his shot will help transition his complete game to the NHL level. Foegele is a great example of the aforementioned “raw talent.” The good news is that talent doesn’t need to be refined to make an impact in the playoffs.
I wrote a longer article around the halfway point of the season that detailed how good Mrazek was despite his numbers. Now that the regular season is over, his numbers more accurately reflect how awesome he has been. I fully expect Mrazek to be named the starter for the series against Washington. For what it’s worth, Mrazek has a better save percentage (.914) and goals against average (2.39) than Braden Holtby (.911 & 2.82). They have different goaltending styles though, and Holtby has played more games this season.
If this hasn’t been made perfectly clear by now, Mrazek was made for this team. He knew he had something to prove, and he did that and much more. His enthusiasm is exactly what the fans and his teammates will need to feed off. Obviously no disrespect to McElhinney, but Mrazek is the guy for this playoff team. This team was built to grab this moment.
Prediction and Final Thoughts
All things considered, I expect this series to be competitive and a bit closer than the teams’ recent postseason histories suggest it will be. The Canes should be able to contain the Capitals at 5v5 for the most part. They are great at suppressing high-danger shots, and they keep their opponents to the outside while limiting slot chances. As mentioned before, the Canes’ goal should be to keep this series at even strength.
The Capitals will get good looks though, and that’s inevitable. As a team, they favor quality over quantity because they have several high-end finishers on their roster. Look for most of their chances to come off of weak side one-timers and high percentage slot wrist shots. As always, watch out for Kuznetsov’s sneaky little no-look pass from below the goal line.
The Canes will be more dependent on quantity of chances, as per usual. They’ll be looking for blue line activation off their initial rushes. Ideally, they’ll get down low and grind out a consistent cycle game. Since they lack seasoned finishers, it will be important for the Canes to get to the front of the net and generate second and third chances. It’s all about speed for the Canes.
While the regular season series favored the Caps, the Canes were never completely out of a game. If the Canes have shown one thing over the course of this season, it’s to never count them out. The race for the cup is a brand new season, after all. My heart is telling me Canes in 7 games. But, my brain is saying Caps in 6. Anything can happen, but the latter is a safer bet, if you’re a bettor.
Even if the Canes were to get swept by the Capitals, it’s not what I would remember most about this season. Our goaltending was finally the backbone we needed it to be. We got to watch Brind’Amour grow into the head coach we all knew he could be. Teuvo Teravainen signed a 5-year contract extension. Andrei Svechnikov carved out a second line role that he should find himself in next season. In landslide fashion, we won a significant player-for-player trade when we flipped Rask for Niederreiter. We brought in character guys like Jordan Martinook. We persevered when Jordan Staal battled through his concussion. Dougie Hamilton showed why he was the main piece in the offseason trade with Calgary. And for all of these awesome reasons and more, the team and its fans interacted in a way they hadn’t since 2009. The post-game celebrations got us labeled a “Bunch of Jerks” and we ran with it and expanded our fan base. Regardless of how it ends, this was a significant season for the Canes.
The Carolina Hurricanes are a visible and relevant playoffteam again. I’ve already secured my tickets for game 4 and, hopefully, game 6. Ten years, man. I have a good feeling that the next ten years will be defined by success for the team and more frequent playoff ticket purchases for myself. But for now, let’s focus on the Washington Capitals and round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. GO CANES!
Andrei Svechnikov is the most naturally talented and complete hockey player the Canes have ever drafted, in my lifetime at least. Even more so than Eric Staal. I still remember sitting and refreshing my phone every ten seconds as the Canes moved up in the draft lottery. It was surreal watching us move from eleventh all the way up to second overall. It was an incredible stroke of luck that helped solidify the 180 degree turnaround the franchise so desperately needed.
Svechnikov is the kind of player that the Canes have been missing for so long. He’s a game-changing power forward with a wicked shot, incredible vision and senses, and good defensive zone awareness to boot. Now, there are other rookies that have hit the ground running harder than Svechnikov. It seems every rookie is chasing Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson for the NHL’s best rookie this season. That’s totally fine. In the long run, I think Svechnikov will prove to be the best forward in this draft class.
After posting his seventh multi-point game (2 g 1 a) of the season versus Colorado last Monday, it became apparent that Svechnikov had arrived for good. He had been looking better all season, but in Colorado he was the best he’s looked all season, period. He needs to be talked about not because he deserves Calder Memorial Trophy recognition but because of the steady strides he’s taken to improve his game.
His steady improvement hasn’t gone unnoticed by Coach Brind’Amour. While Svechnikov is only averaging 14:35 of ice time a game, those minutes are becoming increasingly important, and he’s being placed in situations to succeed. Look at the timing of the goal he scored Saturday night against Buffalo. It’s 1:07 into the second period, the time when you need to set the tone. Now look who assisted it; Teravainen and Aho. When I saw Svechnikov hop over the boards with those two, I cried tears of joy. It’s something I could get very used to seeing.
Coach Brind’Amour had this to say about Svechnikov in his post-game presser on Saturday night.
“We’re relying on him a lot and he’s playing big minutes. You can’t rely on a player unless he’s going to be responsible, and he has been.” He said. “He’s still learning every day, but he’s going to be a really really good player in this league for a long time.”
I’ve seen some incredible displays of talent out of Svechnikov this season, and the timing feels right to reflect on his growth and why Canes fans should be excited for the foreseeable future.
Before showing off his skill while he has the puck, I want to highlight what I think is his greatest improvement, staying out of the box. At one point earlier this season, he was one of the top 5 most penalized players in the league. To date, he has 56 penalty minutes (PIMs), all in the form of minor penalties. It is my opinion that his discipline saw the most improvement after the all-star break, so that’s where I’ll do my splits.
Before the All-Star break, Svechnikov had accrued 46 PIMs (23 minors) in 50 games. That was good for 0.92 PIMs (or 0.46 minors) per game. After the All-Star break, Svechnikov turned the tide dramatically. Since then, he only has 10 PIMs (5 minors) in 21 games. This translates to 0.48 PIMs (or 0.24 minors) per game. Additionally, for Svechnikov, minor penalties would come in bunches. Before the break, he had 5 games in which he took multiple penalties. Since the break, he has only 1 such game. 1 multi-penalty game in 21 tries is a much nicer ratio than 5 in 50.
What I’m getting at here is that Svechnikov has taken his coaches’ lessons seriously. His problem earlier in the season is that he wasn’t keeping his stick on the ice, which led to lots of stick infractions. Being a rookie, he’s going to get the “rookie calls.” Anything close and he’d find himself in the sin bin. Because he has learned to keep his stick on the ice, he is more frequently on the ice and in position to take advantage of his rare combination of size, speed, and hands. So, let’s get into that.
Just to remind you, this kid is only eighteen. Let’s start with his shot. Svechnikov has a lethal wrist shot. The specific shot below is one with strength you would expect from a 24-year old NHL pro, not an 18-year old. Watch his hockey IQ take over as he crosses over with Wallmark. That subtle cross over creates the shooting window by enlarging the gap separating Svechnikov and the defender. Svechnikov then has the presence of mind to use the defender as a screen, thus making the shot harder for the goaltender to track. Svechnikov saw the slightest of windows and he placed his shot through the defender’s legs and under the cross bar on the short side. Perfection.
Next, let’s look at his skating ability. What makes Svechnikov so dangerous is his strength and balance while driving the net. It’s something he does many times per game. He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder to take the puck to the house, or go to the dirty areas. Here, he burns Shea Weber (defender) and Carey Price (goalie) in the same play. They’re both considered great at their respective positions. As if the speed and edge work wasn’t enough, the puck control and backhand finish in tight quarters complete this clip. It’s just nasty. You can tell he knew he was taking it all the way to the house while he was still at center ice. He was (literally) two steps ahead of Montreal’s back end.
It’s not just his wrist shot that’s good. Though we don’t see it often, he has a heck of a slap shot too. Check out this clip from preseason where the shot velocity nearly knocks the net off its moorings. Svechnikov has the senses to jump in on Wallmark and Di Giuseppe’s (now with the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)) cycling play. Tampa’s goaltender expects Di Giuseppe to finish the play, but the puck is dropped to Svechnikov for the one-timer. He makes no mistake. I mean, just look at that leg kick! I love this shot because it strikes me as an utterly disrespectfulcannon from 5 feet away, just like you would in EA Sports NHL 19 to assert your dominance.
And finally, take a look at this play he makes in transition. It starts inside his own blue line where his presence on the back check aids in causing a turnover. He picks up the loose puck and has the acceleration needed to generate a threatening three-on-two. He looks Wallmark’s way, but has the vision and senses to know that Martinook is joining the play as the trailer and puts the puck right in his wheelhouse so he can rip a dangerous shot from the high slot. This pass isn’t even close to Svechnikov’s best this season, but it was his first NHL point, and it showcases his ability to play in all three zones.
The Hurricanes are incredibly lucky to have been able to draft Svechnikov. He’s going to be a key part of the franchise moving forward. What should scare the rest of the league is that he is growing game by game, in all areas. He may not have exploded on to the scene like some were expecting, but let’s remember that he is playing under a rookie head coach who was also learning alongside him at the start. Over time, Svechnikov has only earned more trust and and ascended up the depth chart. Right now, he’s listed on the second line with Teravainen and Staal.
Svechnikov has 33 points so far this season, and his 18 total goals is third among rookies behind Vancouver’s Pettersson (27) and Toronto’s Johnsson (20). With 11 games left to play this season, I think a 20-goal rookie campaign is absolutely in the realm of possibilities for Svechnikov. I also think 20+ will become a norm for him as he continues to improve.
Steady improvement has been the Canes’ calling card this season, and Svechnikov has epitomized it. I can see it now. Some day, I’ll be sitting down eagerly refreshing my social media and waiting for the announcement.
“And the winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy for the player most valuable to his team, from the Carolina Hurricanes, Andrei Svechnikov.”
The month is January. There’s a light breeze and clear night skies. Carter-Finley’s lights burst down on the temporary ice rink. The stadium is at max capacity; everyone is rocking back and forth causing tremors in the bleachers. Amidst the hurricane warning siren blaring over the PA system, the Carolina Hurricanes emerge from the end zone tunnel to meet the Nashville Predators. The siren gives way to The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” In this moment, where the cardiac pack loyalists of N.C. State meet the fresh and growing #TakeWarning crowd, you realize it. Raleigh, North Carolina is absolutely a hockey market.
Last week, NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, visited Raleigh. Part of his visit was touring Carter-Finley Stadium as a potential outdoor game location. I’ve seen articles talking about the logistics of planning an outdoor game in Raleigh. What I haven’t seen much of is the local fans themselves talking about all of the reasons it would be a giant success. Southerners know how to host an event, and they know how to have a good time. We know best why our city is suited to host an outdoor game, so why not brag on it a little? I’m convinced it would be the best live sporting event I’ve seen, and I haven’t seen it yet. What I’ve got is a list of nine reasons why this game would be great for Raleigh and the NHL as a whole. Let’s get to it.
The Hurricanes are simply exciting to watch. Sebastian Aho is electric, and undoubtedly, and elite player in the NHL. Teuvo Teravainen is proving he’s much more than just Aho’s sidekick. Justin Williams has taught the team how to balance compete and fun again. Players such as Brock McGinn and Micheal Ferland are hitting everything in sight. The young defense is proving they’re one of the deepest in the league. The story of Mrazek and McElhinney, two supposed backup goalies, coming together to be the backbone of the team is great. Andrei Svechnikov, despite his ups and downs, has shown that he’s the most naturally talented and complete player the Canes have ever drafted. Give him a year or two, and he’ll be terrorizing the league. Put this team on the national stage for all to see, and let the “Wows” commence. Fans love an underdog story, and they also love when a team shows the ability to disturb the status quo.
Growing youth hockey in the south. The Hurricanes have been doing great work in the community. The most recent event that comes to mind is having 9,000 Wake County Public School System students at practice for the second year in a row. Interactive practices? You can bet good money that a lot of those kids ran home and asked to go to a game or buy their own gear. For me, I was already captivated prior to seeing the Hurricanes win the cup in 2006. The extra events in the community can get kids hooked for good. I can only imagine being eleven again and the excitement of seeing two non-traditional hockey markets on the big stage. It’s a big opportunity for the NHL to grow its brand and reach a larger target audience. It’s one they should work with the Canes to make happen for the sake of the longevity of the sport.
Hockey culture is changing. May as well embrace it. The days of the true enforcer are long gone. In the game itself, it’s all about speed and finesse nowadays. In terms of business, the NHL will have its loyal “good old boys.” But to maintain and increase relevancy, the NHL has to shift along with culture and society at large. What I mean is, just like the NBA allows for more player personality, the NHL should embrace it too. Why not put two southern-based teams on a pedestal for a night? Both Carolina and Nashville play a fast-paced, new age style of hockey. Both teams have unique personalities. Both are winning now, and thus entertaining. I hope I speak for many when I say that I get it. I get where hockey comes from, and I have a great appreciation for the original six and tradition. No one is attacking sportsmanship or decency. But, let’s do something different. What could be more entertaining than P.K. Subban’s charisma and the country music-embracing Nashville Predators versus Justin Williams’ “Bunch of Jerks?” Not to mention, Williams and Subban are probably the ideal guys to have on the national stage. Williams has been an honest professional (and still is), and now he’s leading and innovating for the Raleigh market. Subban is very active in his community. Most notably, he donated $10 million dollars to a Montreal children’s hospital a few years back whilst playing for the Canadiens.
A meeting of unique traditions. Country music and hockey don’t really go together, but that didn’t stop Nashville. Choreographed team celebrations and hockey don’t really go together, but that didn’t stop Carolina. Innovation is good. Relating to your own unique fan base is good. It puts butts in seats, and increases brand awareness. It just seems like with how similar, yet unique the Canes and Predators are, there should be a rivalry. They’re cross-conference and only play each other twice a season though, so it’s hard for it to be naturally occurring. May as well turn it into an event! Can you imagine a jam-packed Carter-Finley field doing a storm surge in the event of a Canes win? I get chills just imagining it.
Carter-Finley would probably sell out. If there’s one thing that Triangle residents know how to do, it is fill up a college sports venue, no matter the event. Carolina versus Nashville is different and intriguing enough to sell a lot of tickets. NC State’s home football field is perfect for an outdoor game. The ice rink would take up two thirds of the football field. Carter-Finley doesn’t do track and field, so predictably, there’s no track separating the ice and the fans. I’ve been inside Carter-Finley many times, and there’s not a seat in the house that’d be too far from the ice, which can be a problem for a baseball field hosting this type of event. Most sight lines would look down onto the rink as opposed to across it. It would feel quite similar to a hockey arena’s lower and upper bowl layout. The size of the venue is about three times that of PNC, and it makes perfect sense.
NCSU getting national publicity. Okay so obviously NC State doesn’t need any help getting national recognition. They have a well-documented reputation as an engineering school. Exposure is still a positive byproduct of having an outdoor game in Raleigh. NC State does have a club ice hockey team, and any publicity for them is great since the school is better known for its football and basketball programs. Did you know the Icepack went undefeated this season? It’s quite the story. We’re trying to grow the game, after all.
The weather would likely be tolerable. It wouldn’t be so warm that the ice would be in unplayable condition, but it wouldn’t be so cold that nobody would buy tickets. The odds of facing something like freezing rain are pretty low. Think of one of the colder game days you’ve attended at the tail end of college football season. In Raleigh, NC in January, it’s probably in the low to mid 30s and overcast. That’s ideal outdoor hockey weather. Bundle up, bring a blanket, buy some hot chocolate or booze, and get ready for a show!
The greatest pre-game tailgate in hockey history. Tailgating is more so associated with football than hockey, but that doesn’t mean we can’t show the hockey world what’s up! NC State fans and Canes fans alike know how to tailgate. If tailgating is unfamiliar to you, allow us to introduce it to you during peak sports season. The timing of the outdoor NHL game would coincide with the college football and NFL playoffs as well as the college basketball season. That’s a lot of passion for sports in one location at one time. Think of the interviews the news crews could get from the fans. Think of all of the different types of food. Think of the corn hole tournaments and the street hockey. But most importantly, think of the sense of community that gets built around these types of events. Our reputation is as a college sports market, but a Carolina-Nashville outdoor game would be a great chance to show the world that we love hockey too.
Canadian kindness = southern hospitality. Despite the differing accents and mannerisms, at their cores, these two concepts are the same. The only reason that some Canadians act like hockey doesn’t belong in the south or that southerners make fun of Canadians for being too nice is the geographical distance between them. Culturally, both Canadians and southerners care about being warm, welcoming, and good hosts. Regarding hockey fandom, not much is different about us other than rooting for our respective teams in different climates. To me, it seems like we should be striving to build bridges and connect fan bases to grow the game as opposed to feigning superiority based on location.
Give Raleigh a chance to have an outdoor game, and we’ll show a passion for hockey like it’s 2006 again. We’ll bring the same energy and excitement (if not more) as any other hockey city in North America would. We’re eager and ready for it. The puck is in your ice, NHL.
I tell you what; this world can be cruel (in a funny way). I’ve been guessing Lucas Wallmark all season long for the first goal contest for two reasons. First, he has a great first name. Second, on the off chance he does score first, my odds of winning the signed puck are just a little better than most. Low and behold, the one night I’m late to submit my guess, Wallmark is the one scoring first. Talk about bad luck. I like to think the world exists in a balance though. The Canes’ good luck in the trade market dating back to last season’s playoffs (minus the Skinner trade) has to be evened out somehow. I’ll take this one for the team this time, guys.
The trade deadline passed us by again, and the Canes didn’t make any big moves. That’s not necessarily a bad thing like it was in years past. The big splash that was the Nino deal made our need to acquire a top-6 forward much less urgent. Also, let’s not forget about the trade with Calgary that got us Ferland and Hamilton. They have both been as advertised, even if it took the latter awhile to adjust. They’ve both been equally as important to the changing culture.
Furthermore, you didn’t forget that we flipped Marcus Kruger for Jordan Martinook did you? Martinook has exceeded expectations and been a great mentor to Andrei Svechnikov. All of this considered, the team’s current positioning in the second wild card spot set them up as not a true buyer and not a true seller. Staying quiet today was a totally acceptable course of action.
Instead of making another contender even better, the Canes elected to hold on to pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) Micheal Ferland and use him as an “own rental.” I’m not a fan of this term because it’s just trying too hard. An “own rental” is simply holding on to a contract that expires at season’s end. It’s nothing more than him still being a Hurricane and helping our playoff push. Somewhere along the line, a concept was conceived that seller teams must offload their pending UFAs to contenders for draft picks or prospects. This is so they don’t “lose him for nothing” to free agency. As mentioned before, the Canes aren’t sellers this season. They just play in a loaded eastern conference. Every team will have a shot at signing Ferland this summer, including the Canes. But if we get the most out of him right now, do we actually lose him for nothing come July 1? No.
Something else the Canes didn’t do today was move one of their right-handed defensemen (RHD). All of that speculation leading up to today was for nothing. Time to crawl back under our rocks. Rest assured, the Canes will likely move one this summer, just not now. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Just to make room on the roster for Adam Fox once he signs? There’s a spot. Don’t worry.
Fox is our highly touted right-defense prospect that has said he wants to play in the NHL as soon as possible, and rightfully so. He can sign once he finishes his season at Harvard, which will be soon. The general idea floating around was that we had to move one of our RHDs to give him a roster spot immediately and not risk him not signing. At one point I was worried about this, but a real quick glance at our roster took care of that.
An NHL roster has a minimum size of 20 (18 skaters, 2 goalies) and a maximum of 23. With no one on injured reserve right now, the Canes have 21 players. They have the 20 who dress for each game and 1 healthy scratch. That leaves room for 2 more healthy scratches. They can sign Fox sometime in March, and add him to the roster. He can get a few NHL games under his belt yet this season, and on the other nights, he’ll be scratched. Better yet, the team chemistry doesn’t have to be affected by a trade. It’s a win-win.
While the Canes didn’t move Ferland or any of their RHDs, they did make a minor league transaction. It was designed to help the Charlotte Checkers’ playoff push and Calder Cup hopes. Officially, it appears as two separate trades because you can’t trade NHL contracts for AHL contracts. The Canes acquired Tomas Jurco from the Florida Panthers, who is signed to an AHL contract. The Panthers received Cliff Pu, who is on his NHL entry-level contract (RIP the Canes Cliff Pu era, it was a legendary 6 months). On the other end of these “separate” deals is the term “future considerations.” The future considerations are those two players themselves, but because it was an NHL-AHL deal, the phrase has to be there to be league compliant. Though insignificant for the Canes, this deal repays the Checkers after the Canes called up Greg McKegg earlier this season.
You know what is significant for the Canes? Jordan Staal is back. No, he wasn’t the subject of a trade, but we can view him as a major re-acquisition based on the timing of his return. He had missed 32 of the last 34 games with concussion symptoms. When he returned to play against the Dallas Stars last Saturday night, his impact was immediately felt. Dallas was held to 4 total shots almost halfway through the game en route to a 3-0 shutout win. Staal’s presence in the lineup is a big confidence booster for the guys, and his ability to shutdown other teams’ top lines going forward is a welcome addition (back) to the Canes.
I’m of the opinion that the Canes were smart to hold tight regarding the deadline this season. They’re one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, and it’s clear something special is being built in the locker room. While trade deadline day itself was largely uneventful, the Canes have had their fair share of good luck over the course of the season. In a way, not having to lose our minds while the rest of the contending teams did may prove quite beneficial. The Canes are playing genuinely meaningful games post-trade deadline for the first time in a long time. Holding on to the wild card spot will be tough, and the final 20 games are going to make for one heck of a horse race in the eastern conference.