Every team needs scoring balance in their forward corps. It's how teams like Washington, Detroit, San Jose, Vancouver, etc. manage to do so well during the regular season and it's why a lot of Canes fans want to keep Carolina's second line of Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner in-tact for at least next season. However, one thing the teams mentioned above have that the Canes don't is a top-six full of forwards capable of scoring at least 20 goals. This is why I am very tempted to make the case for placing Skinner and possibly Jokinen or Ruutu on the top line with Eric Staal because it gives the Canes that one big line that teams fear to go up against. There are A LOT of reasons why this shouldn't happen, though. Which is why we are going to weigh the pros and cons of placing Skinner on the first line in this post.
Continuing with our 2011-12 player projections, we move onto Jeff Skinner. He had a wonderful rookie season where he recorded 31 goals, 63 points and took home the Calder Trophy for his efforts. The general idea among fans is that he is only going to get better, build on his strong rookie campaign and shatter his point total from this year. In theory, yes but there's some things you have to consider about Skinner's 2010-11 season before we start talking about him putting up 80-something points.
One thing I have been looking forward to doing all off-season is individual player projections. I know that it's difficult to do this in hockey but us bloggers make use of player comparables, shooting percentages, a player's past history and how his scoring patterns have changed over time to give an idea of what to expect from him in a season. Also, a projection is not the same thing as a prediction. What we are doing here is using a player's career numbers, comparing him to similar players and use that information to come up with a projection for what this player's season may look like. A prediction would be more of a statement and is not always based on knowledge or past experiences.
We're going to start off this project by looking at Eric Staal since he is the best skater on the team and should be leading the Canes in goals and points annually given his talent. Some say that 2010-11 was a "down" year for him when in actuality, he had more goals and points than he did the previous season but he missed 12 games in 2009-10 so that has to be taken into account. You could say that every year has been a "down" year for Staal in comparison to his 2005-06 campaign where he scored 45 goals and recorded 100-points. Realistically, there is very little chance he is going to get back to that mark but he has been around a point-per-game player since that year and you can expect a minimum of about 70 points from Staal every year. Is there a chance he can go above an beyond that?
As most of you know by now, the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl was involved in a deadly plane crash which took the lives of nine players including former Carolina Hurricane Josef Vasicek. This just adds to what's already been a terrible off-season for the NHL after the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, Tom Cavanagh and Rick Rypien.This is the toughest NHL off-season that I can remember because regardless of what teams these players were on, the hockey community, as a whole, suffered thirteen big losses this summer.
The tragic events this off-season have really put things into perspective for me as a hockey fan. Every single player in the league constantly makes sacrifices not only to entertain us, but to make a living as well. Most of them are regular people like you or me. They all have family and friends who cared about them and were affected by these tragic events which makes looking at this photo of Pavol Demitra's daughter at the Olympics much more heartbreaking. It's not only that, but he has played on five different NHL teams and on the Czech National team, so he probably has friends from all over the league and his death has affected them. Fellow Czech teammate Tomas Vokoun could not even speak to the media after these events occured and he probably knew a lot of people who were involved in the plane crash.
Then you think about Brad McCrimmon who took the Lokomotiv job because he really wanted to be a head coach and he died before he could ever coach a game. Both him and Ruslan Salei were in the playoffs with the Red Wings only three months ago and now they are gone so this is just surreal to think about.
Vasicek's death really struck me because I mentioned him a couple of times in an article I wrote only two days ago. Before today, he was just a player who spent six years on the Hurricanes and was a good player for most of that time but I never thought much of him otherwise when I really should have. He was part of the Canes for six years and was on the 2005-06 squad who won the Cup, so his death is probably affecting a lot of guys on the roster right now as well as other players all over the league. He was never a top point-getter but he was a good teammate and there are probably a lot of people in the hockey community who are mourning his death.
I have said plenty of stupid things about athletes while watching games in the past and too many times I forget that these players have personal lives and people who care about them no matter how good or bad they are inside the rink. In the end, it's just a game. These guys are making a living by entertaining us as fans. The impact of whether my team wins or loses does not have any effect on my personal life and it's a real shame that it took the death of these players to make me realize that. I'm sure other fans are thinking about the same thing.
A couple of weeks ago, I added an organizational depth chart to the menu at the top of the page so that everyone can see how deep the Canes are at a certain position. Most of that is subject to change with training camp being just around the corner and there's a few roster spots which are up for grabs, especially on the wings. Which players have the best shot of starting the season in Carolina and who will likely see themselves in Charlotte? Who has the best chance of being called up mid-season should an injury occur? Let's find out. I will mainly look at players on the AHL roster as guys still in junior, college, Europe or the ECHL will probably not be on the Canes this year.
Generally, I think Jim Rutherford has done a good job as GM during his years in Carolina but I know a good number of fans who have been unhappy with him in recent seasons. Most of the complaints are related to him not supplying this team with enough talent, especially through trading. I will touch on how he's handled drafting and free agent signings in later posts, but right now we're going to see how effective Rutherford's trades have been since the lockout. It will be interesting to see which recent trades he "won" and "lost" but more importantly, it will be great to know just how much his trades have benefited the Hurricanes. I am mainly going to be looking at trades of significant impact here because going through every single one of them would be heavily time consuming.
We'll start with the first post-lockout season and work our way up:
Carolina's 2008 first round pick Zach Boychuk was quoted in a Canes Now article saying that this coming season is a "huge year for him" and that he wants to "make that next big step" by making the Hurricanes right out of camp and permanently joining the Hurricanes. Boychuk has played 56 games with the Hurricanes over the last three seasons and has accumulated only 7 goals and 16 points during that time. That isn't the best reflect of his abilities as he received fourth line minutes during a lot of those games but I do believe that this coming season could be what makes or breaks Boychuk in terms of how successful his NHL career will be.
Boychuk will be 22 by the time this season starts and most high draft picks who turn into great players make their leap into the NHL by that age or earlier so this could be "the year" for Boychuk to take that next step if the Canes want him to be the guy they drafted in the first round three years ago. I know a lot will say "but he has talent and will figure it out eventually" but you know what other high draft picks had talent? Zach Hamil, Alex Picard, Robbie Schremp, Mikhail Yakubov, Kamil Kreps and numerous others who did not turn into starts despite being hyped and drafted early. I am not saying that Boychuk will end up like any of these players, but I do think that this year will be the most important of his career to prove he can be a top-six forward in the NHL.
I'll explain why after the jump.
I've already looked at where Carolina's forwards and defensemen stand in comparison to their Southeast Division foes and determined that they sit at the middle of the pack in both categories. Goaltending should be a different story because the Canes rank near the top in this category thanks to Cam Ward's play over the last few seasons. In fact, if we're ranking goalies by how we expect them to perform this coming year, Ward could very well be the best in the Southeast even with Tomas Vokoun still in the division. It's a bold statement but I do believe that Ward will outperform Vokoun this season. Unfortunately, if we're ranking teams by their entire goaltending corps (which we are), the Canes won't be in the #1 spot.
We're going to go about this in a different direction than the last two comparisons. Instead of going through each team's goaltending corps and analyzing them, I am going to rank the top 10 goalies in the division, give an explanation why and determine a ranking out of that. Makes things a little easier.
I have already said a lot about Carolina's special teams and how they weren't good at all last season and I've focused a lot on the powerplay, mostly the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle but what about the penalty kill? You know, the one that was arguably the second worst in the NHL. I took a look at how the Canes PK unit did last year in terms of scoring chances and determined that a big problem was them relying on two defensemen to do about 35% of the penalty killing by themselves and putting too much of a workload on them. Chad LaRose and Eric Staal also did not have good seasons when it came to penalty killing, and Staal has never really been that great of a penalty killer anyway so there's another problem. What's been done to fix this, though? I said in my post on Southeast Division forwards that Carolina brought in a couple defensive minded players up front to help out but how much is that going to improve the Canes penalty kill? What about the defense? There's a few adjustments that can be made to hopefully fix Carolina's PK unit.
More after the jump...
I got the defensemen covered the other day, so now it's time to see how Carolina's forward corps matches up against the Southeast Division. The Canes have one of the best centers in the league in Eric Staal and an extremely promising rookie in Jeff Skinner but the rest of the cast looks kind of weak, especially compared to Washington and Tampa Bay. To compete in this division, you need to have top-level forwards up front and Carolina is kind of lacking in that area. Aside from Staal, Skinner and possibly Ruutu and Jokinen, most of the forward corps is depended on for secondary scoring, defensive forwards and unproven younger players. How does that look compared to the rest of the Southeast? Well, they might look weak compared to Tampa and Washington but the Canes should at least be a little stronger than Florida and Winnipeg for now. One thing the Canes forward corps has their their defense doesn't is a good set of young talent that should be ready to produce within the next year or two. The big question is whether or not some of those young, promising prospects will get their shot this season or not.
Comparing forwards is going to be tougher than defensemen because you have to consider the different roles certain players have, position changes (Tuomo Ruutu, Brooks Laich) and how a lot of goal-scorers are depended on for defense. In the end, I decided to separate the forwards by which ones get top-six minutes (aka guys who are relied upon for scoring) and those who are third and fourth liners who are generally depended on for defense, penalty killing, etc. It's a bit rough but I think it works.