James O'Brien

Edmonton Oilers v Carolina Hurricanes

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite changing their head coach and general manager, the 2014-15 season was more of the same for the Carolina Hurricanes.

For the sixth season in a row (and eight of their last nine campaigns), the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs. Much like 2013-14, they were in the cellar of the East.

Granted, there are murmurs of hope; the Hurricanes subtly improved toward the end of the year and Carolina showed some signs of defensive improvement under head coach Bill Peters. Such patter sounds like baby steps in the grand scheme of things.

Despite some significant expenditures on that side of the puck, Peters identified scoring as a particularly glaring issue.

“We like where we are in terms of being able to take a step forward; it will depend on us having the ability to score,” Peters said, according to NHL.com. “We have to find a way to score more at 5-on-5.”

Off-season recap

GM Ron Francis faces tougher decisions soon, yet he was fairly busy this summer.

It was costly, but the organization cut ties with Semin via a pricey buyout.

In trading Anton Khudobin to Anaheim and acquiring Eddie Lack from Vancouver, Francis gives himself flexibility with Ward, as Lack could end up the No. 1 or even combine for a platoon situation. Swapping with Anaheim also netted an expensive upgrade to Carolina’s needy defense in James Wisniewski.

Optimists may cross their fingers that the Hurricanes will opt for a youth movement. Blueline prospect Noah Hanifin joins Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, Victor Rask and Ryan Murphy as intriguing young talents who aren’t in limbo like Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner.

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This time it really does feel like a fork-in-the-road season for the Hurricanes, even if it also seems like the organization has been procrastinating when it comes to making difficult (yet crucial) decisions.

Will things finally start to turn Carolina’s way in 2015-16?

Can the Bruins’ defense get up to speed?

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It sounds like the Boston Bruins were taking notes when they watched mobile defensemen Duncan Keith and Victor Hedman square off in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

GM Don Sweeney isn’t asking his group to impersonate Bobby Orr next season, but it sounds like he’s asking for a more active approach, as the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa reports in this interesting piece.

Most obviously, he wants defensemen to skate a bit more with the puck in transition, easing things on the Bruins’ forwards.

“I think they have to,” Sweeney said. “At times, we probably got a little bit too stationary on our breakouts. We need to be in motion a little bit. That means our forwards will be in motion a little bit, because teams were able to smother the walls, pinch, and pre-pinch.”

Shinzawa provides a few additional sensory details about how such a modified scheme might work, at least ideally:

The tweaks are meant to shift the danger level away from the net. Defensemen will be more active, perhaps up the ice and closer to the walls. Forwards will not have to retreat as far to funnel pucks into favorable real estate. There will be greater challenges to zone entries, similar to how MBTA police close down on fare evaders. The goal, as Sweeney likes to say, is to create anxiety for opponents up the ice.

Let’s be honest, though: it’s reasonable to wonder if the Bruins really boast the personnel to make such a modernization work.

(This idea also turns the knife in a little deeper when it comes to losing Dougie Hamilton.)

Looking at the structure of this team, is it better to try to keep up with the Joneses or merely try to do what you do best? After all, there’s always the possibility that Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara and David Krejci will see better days after a bumpy season (which featured serious injury issues for Chara and Krejci).

Striving for a more modern approach is understandable, but sometimes sports teams lose their identity and gain little in return by trying to dance to the beat of someone else’s drum.

Either way, it’s an intriguing development to ponder in 2015-16. The full article is well worth a read, by the way.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner)

Here’s what people think about NHL 16’s EASHL beta

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After missing features left a sour note for many upon the release of NHL 15, EA Sports is bringing some key modes back to NHL 16.

That meant giving the popular “EASHL” a test drive this past week via a beta released for Xbox One and Playstation 4.

Here’s the short version for those who see EASHL as a garble of letters: the mode – which stands for EA Sports Hockey League – allows you to play as a single, created player (instead of a team) with other people online. You can be a forward, defenseman or goalie, with a few templates like “sniper” and “power forward” to spice things up.

If you get lucky, 12 humans could be controlling the six individual positions per team in a single game.

Considering the potential there, people were upset that NHL 15 didn’t include the feature, but it appears to be back. So what kind of feedback did this trial run receive? Let’s take a quick look.

Game Informer was pleasantly surprised by how well the artificial intelligence handled things when a full team of human players wasn’t available (which is most common):

These non-player skaters are better than we anticipated. Defenders skillfully patrol the middle of the ice, intercepting passes and denying easy entry to the slot. If you pair a CPU defender with a human, it is smart enough to stay back should the player pinch or join the rush. On offense, we saw a few A.I. players put home juicy rebounds and successfully dislodge the puck from a defender during a forecheck.

This Hockey Writers post praises the customization options:

Even the team you create in NHL 16 is given more uniqueness with the new system. Now Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk have the ability to say the name of your team that is given by you when you create your EASHL team. From standard team names to ridiculous ones you and your friends can get extremely creative when you create your team and team name, while at the same time getting the name recognition on-screen from one of the best announcers in the National Hockey League.

Fansided postulates that NHL 16 is already better than NHL 15, even based on what amounts to a dress rehearsal.

The Vancouver Province’s detailed write-up concludes on a down note for EA Sports:

The problem I have right now with EASHL is that it just wasn’t fun for me. Everything felt like a grueling game of old Minnesota trap hockey, where each game left me drained after it was over, instead of jubilant after having played a game with some friends. It might be an issue of a learning curve, and maybe after more time I will learn to adapt to the new NHL 16 way of life. It’s just adapting to a certain game play doesn’t necessarily guarantee a fun hockey game for me.

Ouch.

The beta is running through August 10, allowing the developers to make some tweaks before the game’s release in about one month. It sounds like there may still be some work to do, although there was plenty of positive feedback, too.

(EASHL logo via EA Sports.)

More forward depth: Flyers give Porter two-way deal

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The Philadelphia Flyers added yet another forward to their mix on Saturday, signing Chris Porter to a one-year, two-way deal.

The 31-year-old is one of those rare beasts: a ninth-rounder (282 overall in 2003) still kicking around the NHL and AHL.

He managed to play 24 games with the St. Louis Blues last season, giving him 173 career regular season contests overall, all with the Blues.

Philadelphia already boasted a lot of options at forward before this move, so maybe it’s a bit of a crowd now? (It’s tough to get too worked up about this specific deal, being that it provides flexibility with its two-way status.)

Senators and the ‘sophomore slump’

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As exhilarating as it may be to nail that debut album, expectations only build for the follow-up.

Let’s take a look at key Ottawa Senators trying to avoid the sports version of one-hit wonder status.

Dave Cameron – Plenty of coaches burst onto the NHL scene only to hit a snag after that “new car smell” wears off. (Guy Boucher is sadly nodding.)

Cameron produced dramatic results after taking over in Ottawa, most notably finishing last season with a 23-4-4 run to make the playoffs. Cameron received a contract extension for his work – and his role in the turnaround cannot be denied – but now he’s being asked to make lightning strike twice.

Unless, of course, this group is for real.

Andrew Hammond – Naturally, it’s no coincidence that the Senators were red-hot at the same moment that “The Hamburglar” became a secret sauce sensation.

The 27-year-old made history and a ridiculous amount of stops, going 20-1-2 with a remarkable .941 save percentage. Hammond may be at the greatest risk of a huge dive in production, as nothing about his numbers at lower levels really predicted a breakthrough.

Actually, Craig Anderson being the probable No. 1 guy could go a long way in helping Hammond ease into life as a full-time NHL goalie.

Mark Stone – The sixth-rounder (178th overall in 2010) seemed to swap bodies with another player when 2014 turned to 2015.

In 34 contests from October through December, Stone managed 8 goals and 17 points. From January to the end of the regular season, he scored 18 goals and 47 points in 46 games.

One can expect the 23-year-old to cool off a bit, as his 16.6 shooting percentage should subside. The key question is “How much?”

Mike Hoffman – His production came more steadily than Stone’s, yet the 25-year-old’s in largely the same situation. Both saw big upswings in their numbers, each has a bit more than 100 regular season games under their belts, and they likely should enjoy space to grow under Cameron.

It’s reasonable to anticipate a moderate dip, although his more consistent production (and a more moderate 13.6 shooting percentage) imply that he could be pretty reliable.

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Here’s the thing: all four Senators sophomores are vulnerable to a slump, especially in the eyes of those with sky-high expectations. On the flip side, those who give them a little room to breathe may find that the team made some lasting discoveries during that astounding run.