Despite climbing the standings, one must take into consideration the reality of where the Canes sit. If they hadn’t of won those three games, the Canes could be sitting with 49 points and would be the third worst team in the NHL. Obviously, the Canes won all three and now have 56 points, however, they still aren’t that far from the bottom of the league.
As of now, there are 17 NHL teams that have between 52 and 59 points. Eleven teams have more than 59 points (6 in the East) and the bottom two teams are Arizona (40) and Colorado (30). The only real chance the Canes have for a playoff spot is by clinching the final wildcard position. The reality is that another five-game losing streak (like the one before the All-Star break) would almost inevitably put the Canes in the bottom five or worse in the NHL.
If the Canes were to secure the final playoff spot, they would play the team in the Eastern Conference who won the division—as of now, that appears to be the Capitals. The Canes have played the Capitals strong this season and are 1-1-1; winning in a blowout, losing in a blowout and dropping another in a shootout. Despite that, I don’t like the Canes odds against the Capitals in the first round and am not sure the drop in draft positioning is worth the 8th seed either.
While fans would love the see the Canes return to the playoffs, I am not sure it is worth it if it sets the future of the organization back. Any trades that the Canes make need to be long-term solutions for the five-year rebuild (this is year three), not a short term playoff push rental. Given the amount of youth on the team and prospects developing, I think being conservative is their best strategy unless they get a brain-dead trade that helps the team for 2017-18 and beyond.
In my five-part series I ran in December/January, the first one looked at the common misconception that goaltending is the primary reason for the Canes struggles this season. The second article evaluated what I believed to be the most concerning issues surrounding the Canes this season. . Part III looked at the Canes roster, expendable components and what the expansion draft could bring. The fourth part took a look at how the second half of the season could be a bright spot for the Canes. Finally, the fifth part evaluated who I thought the Canes should target.
The one thing in that series that has changed some is that Cam Ward isn’t playing as consistently and reliably as he was in November and some of December. However, I still hold to my belief that Cam Ward is not the primary reason the Canes lose most of their games. The D break downs, the revolving door on the 6th D-man, not having a reliable back-up and the net front presence (offensively and defensively) are major issues.
If the Canes were to make a trade, they are in a great position with the Expansion Draft and wouldn’t have to worry about losing the newly acquired player either. The Canes have 5 players on their NHL roster automatically protected (Aho, Ryan, Pesce, Slavin and Hanifin) and actually have too few players to protect using the “7F-3D-1G.” If you look Part III, you will see they can easily add a forward, D or goalie and not risk leaving a valuable asset uncovered. Thus, there are three areas that I think the Canes could target which would make them better post-trade deadline and for the future:
1. A power forward (prefer RW, but LW works too)that is under 26 who has strong puck possession, size/strength with top-6 potential and is already NHL proven/ready—Players like Saad, Kreider or Niederreiter (not necessarily them specifically, just using them as an example).
This would greatly help the Canes right now with their net front presence and potentially help the PP too. The second or third line would easily improve if they were to add someone who can score goals and get dirty too. The PP has struggled much of the year because the Canes haven’t been willing to take away the goalies eyes for much of the season.
This type of move would also be beneficial for the long run because counting on Gauthier/Roy to be NHL ready for the 2017-18 season is risky. They both are great prospects but there is a major difference in the NHL and the QMJHL. While Gauthier/Roy definitely bring good size, bringing in an NHL proven PF gives both of them more time to develop.
2. A mid-aged, well proven, smart defensemen that is around 26-32 years old. It would be ideal if they were more of a defensive D, as the Canes are loaded with two-way and offensive D. The goal would be to get a positionally sound, shot-blocking, hard-nosed D who protects the net.
This would help the Canes now and for the future for a few reasons. Many of the Canes D Zone breakdowns have been with the third D unit—Hanifin has played as the uncontested 5th D most of the season, however the 6th D has been a revolving door. Hanifin has been partnered with Tennyson, Murphy and Dahlbeck throughout the season. While Hanifin has tons of potential and is only 19, pairing him with D that are “Depth D or 7th D” creates a major liability.
Many have pointed to Hanifin being a “bust” or “overhyped,” however, I believe he has been under-supported and partnered with cheap, “make-shift,” short-term solutions. If the Canes brought an experienced, mid-aged D it would allow Hanifin to have more support and create less of a liability with the 3rd D pairing.
In addition, while Fluey, McKeown and Bean are all great D prospects, they still aren’t NHL proven. Bringing in a solid D would mean the Canes have five NHL proven D for 2017-18 pending that GMRF doesn’t bring back Hainsey. The big question if they brought in a D is what to do with Murphy, Tennyson, Dahlbeck and Hainsey—especially since all of them except Murphy are UFA this summer.
3. The final component and probably the biggest overall need for the Canes is goaltending. Ward is aging and Lack didn’t take the reins like many thought he would. Unlike the forward and defensive depth, the Canes do not have strong goaltending depth. While they have Nedeljkovic, he doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to NHL ready based on his first season of AHL play.
Much of the problem this season has been that the Canes haven’t had a reliable back-up option which was compounded with Lack’s two concussions. Ward has already started 44 games this season out of 51. He has started 26 of the Canes last 27 games and will not be able to keep this pace up when the schedule picks up in late February extending through March.
If I were the Canes, I would target a team that is in a goalie predicament and aim for someone with strong potential to be an NHL starter and is around 22-27. I would prefer someone who has some NHL experience and has a proven ability to compete—most likely someone who deserves a shot to be a starter. Guys like Grubauer/Kuemper come to mind.
If the Canes want to make a run at the playoffs, they can’t afford to lose games because Ward is tired or Lack is struggling to find a grove. A young and reliable backup would push Ward for the remainder of the season and give Ward rest. This move is also about the future of the Canes—as Ward continues to age, the need for his replacement continues to grow.
As the trade deadline continues to approach, it will be interesting to see what the Canes decide to do. I still think they will play it relatively conservatively—the easiest and cheapest piece to target would be a rental D if the GMRF didn’t want to pay too much but improve the team and their playoff run.