Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Putting the Winds Back in Carolina

The Carolina Hurricanes were widely thought to be in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes prior to this season.  Five games in, and they're proving just about everyone correct in that assessment.  Given the team's penchant for underachieving, this year is actually not bad in comparison when looking at this year's expectations (read: none).  This is where I get to put on my General Manager's hat and take a look at possible ways that the Carolina Hurricanes can be fixed.

In goal, the Hurricanes have quite the predicament, as Anton Khudobin is currently sitting above Cam Ward on the depth chart.  The problem?  Ward is making starter's money, and right now, Ward has a GAA of 3.87 and a save percentage of .846.  Throw in his history of being injured, and you can see why he's been difficult to move.  His current contract is up after next season, and even without the injuries, he has been nowhere near the player that he was in the mid to late 2000's.  How to fix the goal problem?  Find a team that constantly fights to get to the salary cap floor and is willing to gamble on a goalie who used to be good, and those teams are scarce at the moment.

Defensively, they're not in the worst shape.  In fact, this is probably the most stable unit on the team.  Players slated to be free agents after the season are Tim Gleason, Brett Bellemore, and Andrej Sekera, and it is entirely possible that only one of them could be resigned, and it is likely Sekera, who put up good numbers last season and is currently paired with Justin Faulk.  With Ryan Murphy waiting in the wings and Haydn Fleury developing, the Hurricanes don't look too bad here, as Jay Harrison is decent, and Ron Hainsey is fine as a third pairing player.

Forwards is where things get dicey.  Both Staals are out due to injuries, though Eric is slated to return soon, and Jeff Skinner just returned from a concussion.  Of the forwards, only Skinner has produced lately, and that's when he's actually been healthy.  Jiri Tlusty and Chris Terry lead the team in scoring, and that's not a good sign.  Tlusty can score goals, which explains his standing, but no one outside of Carolina has heard of Terry.  Alex Semin has yet to score, and given that his best numbers were when he was on a one-year deal in the lockout-shortened season, it's fair to wonder if Alexei Yashin changed identities.  Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm are some of the young players getting ice time, which is good.  However, neither have found their stride.

To fix the issues here, the first thing I would do is strip Eric Staal of the captaincy.  Since he became captain midway through the 2009-10 season, when he replaced Rod Brind'Amour, the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs every year, and though he has broken the 30-goal mark in 2010-11, he also has not broken the 80-point mark since the season he became captain.  A captain should be a reflection of the team, and since Staal became captain, it does not look good.  The Hurricanes should reassess who their real leaders are, which is why going with four alternate captains for a while is a good idea here, as you're making the players earn the right to wear the C.  As for trading options, Eric Staal could still fetch a decent offer, particularly since his current deal is up after next season.  Semin is another player I would want to move, but he has four more years (including this season), and his inconsistency would scare some teams.  Skinner would give the Hurricanes the best options in a trade, but he is also their best player at the moment, and injury issues aside, he still managed 30-plus goals last season.  However, the Hurricanes would be wise to listen to deals for him, as they need to replenish their farm system.

As you can see, the Hurricanes are a mess, and it's not going to be an easy fix.  Where they can start, however, is figuring out who their real locker room leaders are and go with four alternate captains until they know who's willing to step up.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Erie Examiner: Big Week Ahead

The Erie Otters head into the week with only one loss, and even that took an effort from the opposing team.  Wednesday, the Otters headed to London, where the Otters forced overtime, but could not close the deal, as they lost 4-3 in a shootout.  Friday, the Otters hosted Sudbury, and were able to hold off a struggling Wolves team for a 3-2 win.  Saturday was a day of vengeance, as the Otters rode a strong third period for a 6-2 win over London.

The Otters will head to Buffalo for a tilt against the Niagara Icedogs on Wednesday in what is likely the city's first look at a potential draft pick in Connor McDavid, as well as Dylan Strome, both of whom are eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.  The city of Buffalo is likely going to be playoff-free this season, as the Sabres are stumbling out of the gate (predictably).  The Otters will also hit the road for games at Sault Ste. Marie on Friday and Sudbury on Saturday.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Flames' Cornerstone D

Though the Calgary Flames are in the midst of trying to rebuild after years of holding off, today was a significant step in the right direction, as they gave defenseman T.J. Brodie a five year extension.  Dollar amount is not confirmed at this time, but the Flames did well to lock up the former fourth round pick in 2008, as he has found a home as one half of the team's top defensive pairing alongside Mark Giordano.  On a team that is short on talent, Brodie is emerging as one of the go-to players on the team, and given his chemistry with Giordano, it is clear that the top defensive pairing is the least of the Flames' problems.

Winterhawks Weekly: Search for Consistency

The Portland Winterhawks began a six game stretch where they enter the East Division road trip portion of their schedule.  Things got off on the right foot on Friday, as they rode a 3-goal second period en route to a 6-2 win over Moose Jaw in Nic Petan's first game as captain.  However, the following night was not so nice, as Brandon played the role of rude hosts, pelting Brendan Burke and recently acquired Bolton Pouliot for 10 goals in a 10-3 rout.

The Winterhawks continue the East Division road trip Tuesday in Regina, followed by a game Wednesday against Swift Current before concluding the trip Friday at Prince Albert and Saturday against Saskatoon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Still Not All There

The struggles continue for the Portland Winterhawks, as the Victoria Royals ran over them 6-2 in Victoria on Friday while the Seattle Thunderbirds took home a 3-2 shootout victory against the Winterhawks in Portland on Saturday.  However, the real loss of the weekend happened on Saturday, when Seattle's Evan Wardley put a big hit on Nic Petan that will sideline him for an indefinite amount of time.  Wardley was suspended seven games for the hit.

Portland begins their road trip through Saskatchewan and Manitoba this week, as they will take on Moose Jaw this Friday and Brandon on Saturday.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Erie Report: Double the Fun on Kitchener

The Erie Otters started last weekend's home and home against Kitchener with a perfect record, and they ended the weekend the same way, though it was a little harder than expected to get there.  Friday, the Otters traveled to Kitchener and put up an 8-spot en route to an 8-3 win.  The game also marked the first time the Otters scored first in a game this season.  Saturday, the Otters took on the Rangers at home, but needed a shootout to settle things.  Mason Marchment got the shootout winner and made a winner of Daniel Dekoning, who was making his first start in an OHL game.

The Otters travel to London to take on the Knights on Wednesday before coming home for games Friday against Sudbury and Saturday against London.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Red Deer Bound

This season's Memorial Cup is being held in Quebec City, QC, but that doesn't mean the Canadian Hockey League doesn't thing ahead to the following year's Memorial Cup.  Being that the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL rotate every three years, and given that last year's event happened in London, ON, 2016 is the WHL's year to host the Memorial Cup Tournament.  Red Deer, AB won the right to host the tournament in 2016, beating out Vancouver, BC.  Red Deer will be hosting the tournament for the first time since 1974 and it also means the Red Deer Rebels will be automatically qualified for the tournament for the 2015-16 season as the host team.  The tournament will be held from May 19 through May 29 in 2016, and will mark the Rebels' first time competing in the tournament since 2001, when they won the WHL and Memorial Cup championships that year.