Nick and Connor recap and react to the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship so far, review the latest suspensions and injuries, look to the future of the NHL in 2019 and beyond, discuss 2019 All-Star Game captains, Jake Guentzel’s new extension and Jim Lites’ quotes on Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
37-35-10, 84 points, 5th in the Pacific Division
Offseason Analysis: Armed with one of the most potent top line/top defense pairing combos in the league, and with newly-acquired Mike Smith in net, hopes were high for the Flames to make some noise coming into the ’17-’18 campaign. Unfortunately, the noises they made were somewhat akin to a fish flopping around on the deck of a boat.
In a season that the term ‘streaky’ could possibly be defined by, Calgary often swung from appearing unbeatable to looking as if they had no idea what they were doing (and anywhere in between) on a game-by-game, week-by-week, and month-by-month basis. Managing to hang around in the wild card conversation through February, they’d finish the year with a dismal 6-13-1 record in their last 20 games, missing the playoffs for the seventh time in nine years.
Head coach Glen Gulutzan (along with assistants Dave Cameron and Paul Gerrard) was promptly sacked at season’s end and replaced with the newly-resigned Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. It wouldn’t be the only Carolina-linked theme of the offseason, either.
Faced with a draft stock that featured no picks until the 4th round, GM Brad Treliving had to use the phone at his table rather than his scouting staff to try and make an immediate impact on his team on draft weekend in Dallas. In one of the bigger trades in recent memory, Calgary dealt blue-chip defender Dougie Hamilton, hard-nosed winger Michael Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox to Carolina in exchange for young d-man Noah Hanifin and versatile scoring forward Elias Lindholm.
Now, I was one of few to take a stand in defending this trade as equal (most found it to be heavily in Carolina’s favor on face value). While I admittedly know little about Fox (I’m told he projects as possibly a decent complimentary player at the NHL level), everyone else in this trade is a fairly proven commodity. Hamilton is admittedly probably the better all-around defenseman, but Hanifin might be a better fit for Calgary, as his game is traditionally a bit more reliable. With Ferland’s departure, they do lose some grit and complimentary goal scoring, but they still have no shortage of snarl, and it’s doubtful his 21-goal, 41-point campaign last year will ever be bettered. Lindholm, while not a natural goal scorer, is a skilled playmaker and has already twice surpassed Ferland’s career-best numbers, while being three years his junior. His ability to play the right side if needed also bolsters a thin depth chart at the position.
Treliving would make another splash soon after the draft, snagging sniper James Neal on the opening day of free agency, and signing him to a five-year, $5.75 million contract. The contract is probably a bit long for a 31-year-old already showing signs of losing foot speed, and Neal’s production has dipped a bit in recent years, but he’s still a near-lock for 25 goals and 45-50 points. Plus, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau never hurt anybody.
The Flames would nab a few other pieces in free agency, in particular bolstering their center depth with adds like Tyler Graovac, Alan Quine, and Austin Czarnik. Perhaps their biggest under-the-radar move was acquiring another former Hurricane in Derek Ryan. The 31-year-old journeyman center finally found an NHL home in Carolina the past few years, blossoming into a solid 3C capable of consistent ~35 point production in addition to reliable PK work and a sublime faceoff record. With the departure of Matt Stajan, the Flames took advantage of Peters’ prior experience with Ryan to fill the hole. They also added some depth on the wings in Kerby Rychel (via trade) and Anthony Peluso, along with notable re-signings Garnet Hathaway, Morgan Klimchuk, and Mark Jankowski.
The prospect pool is a bit thin, but Morgan Klimchuk stands out as a threat to potentially grab himself a roster spot with a strong camp.
I have the forward corps looking something similar to this:
Gaudreau – Monahan – Neal
Tkachuk – Backlund – Lindholm
Bennett – Ryan – Frolik
Jankowski – Quine – Hathaway
Extra forwards Curtis Lazar and Austin Czarnik
On defense, things have shaken up a bit with the breakup of one of the league’s best pairings. Fleet-footed T.J. Brodie looks poised to grab the No. 2 defense slot next to captain Mark Giordano, though his sometimes-risky style of play could be of concern for top pair minutes.
Outside of the Hanifin/Hamilton deal, the Flames changed little about their defense corps in the offseason. Brett Kulak being awarded a one-year deal in arbitration was probably the biggest news. Longtime SHL stalwart Marcus Hogstrom was signed to a one-year, two-way deal to add some depth, and towering Viktor Svedberg, who saw some time with the Blackhawks last year, is heading to training camp on a PTO.
The defensive prospect pool is much deeper and more intriguing than the forwards. Juuso Valimaki is a highly touted prospect and Calgary’s ’17 1st round pick, but has yet to play North American pro hockey, so it’s likely he’ll spend the year in Stockton getting adjusted. Josh Healey brings a solid defensive game, but struggled to find the offensive touch he had at Ohio State in his first pro season last year. Oliver Kylington is a smart, if slightly undersized two-way defender that has shown well so far in the AHL. My personal pick to sneak his way onto the opening night roster, though, is Rasmus Andersson. He’s had no trouble adapting his offensive game to the pro level (nine goals and 39 points in Stockton last year) and his 215-pound frame bodes well for holding up to the rigors of the NHL. His right handed shot and offensive abilities bode well as a potential Hamilton replacement should the Flames find themselves in need of some extra defensive scoring.
The defense looks a little something like this:
Giordano – Brodie
Hanifin – Hamonic
Kulak – Stone
Extra defender either Dalton Prout or the aforementioned Andersson
In net the depth chart looks to remain the same as last year after the re-signing of backup David Rittich to a one-year deal. Calgary will likely just hope for steadier play from Mike Smith (really from the entire team in general) to improve their fortunes as they continue to groom all-world prospect Jon Gillies for the eventual No. 1 job. Smith will turn 37 this year and is in the last year of his contract, so expect another year in the AHL for Gillies before taking the reigns in ’19-’20.
Offseason Grade: C-
They made a coaching change. They fired the coach of their 21st-place team and hired the coach of the 20th place team. C-
They got Noah Hanifin. They probably gave up a bit too much to get him. C-
They signed James Neal. They signed him for too long. C-
They didn’t lose most of their expiring contracts. They were all pretty average players. C-
36-35-11, 83 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division
Subtractions: D Jake Chelios (signed by Detroit), D Klas Dahlbeck (signed by CSKA Moscow), D Noah Hanifin (traded to Calgary), C Marcus Kruger (traded to Arizona), F Elias Lindholm (traded to Calgary), F Andrew Miller (signed by HC Fribourg-Gotteron), F Joakim Nordstrom (signed by Boston), HC Bill Peters (resigned, hired by Calgary), C Derek Ryan (signed by Calgary), F Jeff Skinner (traded to Buffalo), G Jeremy Smith (signed by Bridgeport), G Cam Ward (signed by Chicago)
Offseason Analysis: I had the pleasure of composing Carolina’s season preview last summer, and let me tell you: I was super excited. I was convinced this team was finally going to cause some real trouble in the Metropolitan Division on the back of its excellent defense and formidable offense.
Instead we got the same Hurricanes we’ve grown accustomed to over these past few years: a team that, while it was among the better sides to miss out on the postseason, extended its playoff drought to nine-straight seasons.
After a busy offseason for the Canes, it’s safe to say that expectations for the club this season are nowhere near as high. Five forwards that played at least 41 games last season are not returning to Raleigh, not to mention defensive stalwart Hanifin and Ward – a goaltender that, while aging, is still capable of stealing a few games – taking their respective talents to Calgary and Chicago.
If any part of Carolina’s game won’t suffer from these roster moves, it’ll likely be the defense, as the Canes lost a great defenseman and replaced him with one just as good. de Haan played only 33 games last season for the Isles, but his 2016-17 campaign was excellent. He posted 5-20-25 totals in 82 games played with a +15 rating on a team that allowed 238 goals against – the eighth-most in the league that season – due in large part to his 190 shot blocks and 139 hits. Having turned only 27-years-old in May, I have no reason to believe de Haan can’t rediscover that physical form and continue to be an imposing force on the blue line.
Instead, it will be the Hurricanes’ offense that will take a more noticeable step backwards, specifically in the top-six. Assuming that Brind’Amour plays Svechnikov in that position (I think it’s a very safe guess), as well as probable fellow rookies Martin Necas and Valentin Zykov, it will be up to Ferland, Teravainen and Aho (who himself is only entering his third NHL season) to spearhead the scoring lines (You’ll notice I left F Jordan Staal out of that group. That’s because he’s never had any business playing first line center).
It’s not to say this group doesn’t have the potential to be lethal in a few seasons (I’d argue Aho and Svechnikov have a chance to become one on the best lines in the NHL someday), but I just don’t see everything coming together to make this campaign anything more than a learning experience.
To make matters worse, even if the offense can manage to be just average (scoring around 95 goals for the entire season, or over a goal per game), it won’t get very much support from the goaltending department. G Scott Darling posted a horrendous .888 save percentage in 43 appearances last season for a 3.18 GAA, and Mrazek wasn’t all that much better with his .902 save percentage and 3.03 GAA in 39 regular season appearances between Detroit and Philadelphia.
Both netminders will certainly be looking for bounce back years (especially Mrazek, who is in another contract season), but my faith in them has dwindled to the point that I won’t believe they’ve improved until I see it. If my doubts are proven, there’s real potential that rookie G Alex Nedeljkovic, the Canes’ second-round pick in 2014, could see some considerable playing time in the NHL instead of with Carolina’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte.
Offseason Grade: D
Especially after winning the draft lottery to pick second, I was surprised the rumors coming out of Raleigh were that the Canes were intending to gut their roster. Now that we’re only a couple weeks away from training camp, I find myself surprised that Carolina didn’t move more NHL pieces to fully invest in the future (perhaps those moves are being held for the trade deadline?). For not fully committing to either plan (keep the team together or blow it apart), General Manager Don Waddell does not get a passing grade from me.