Jordan Staal

Risk Factors: Carolina Hurricanes edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,”PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,”i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Carolina Hurricanes

Who will fill in for Jordan Staal?

We say fill-in because lets face it, no one currently on the Carolina Hurricanes roster is going to altogether replace Staal, who is expected to miss 3-4 months after undergoing surgery on his broken leg.

With the No. 2 center position vacant, the Canes appear to be heading into the 2014-15 season with Riley Nash pencilled in for Staal. Nash, originally a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (21st overall in 2007) has 110 career games under his belt predominantly in bottom six role.

“It’s a lot of minutes that just went down with that injury,” Nash recently told the Charlotte Observer. “There’s quite a few guys in here who are looking for that opportunity to fill a void and take on new roles they didn’t necessarily have last year.”

Nash set career highs with 10 goals, 24 points and 73 games played last season while averaging 12:40 in TOI. If he is the solution as Staal’s fill in, he’ll get a significant bump up in ice time. Being the second line center could also see his career highs take another spike in 2014-15 as well as he is likely to play between Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm.

Behind Nash is 21-year-old rookie Victor Rask, who has 86 games of professional experience under his belt all with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. Rask along with free agent signing Jay McClement, who spent last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, will also see an increased role without Staal.
“It’s going to trickle down through the lineup,” new head coach Bill Peters said.

The schedule makers aren’t doing the Canes any favors either. Carolina opens the season at home Oct. 10 against the Islanders, but six of their first eight games are on the road.

Rookie GM Ron Francis tasked with guiding the franchise in the right direction 

Ron Francis may be a hall of famer as a player, but as a general manager, he’s a fresh faced rookie and he’s been handed the daunting task of turning the franchise, which has qualified for the playoffs just once in the past eight seasons in the right direction.

Francis’ welcome moment may have come this summer when he tried, unsuccessfully, to deal goaltender Cam Ward and his  summer. Lets call the Ward situation Problem 2 after Staal complicated things at center for Francis.

Francis addressed the notion that the team needed a fresh start after he fired Kirk Muller in the offseason, but a quick look at the team’s projected lines for the upcoming season and the only thing that looks remotely fresh is the team’s fourth line. Zach Boychuk and Chris Terry only played 10 games each with the big club last season while McClemment was with the Leafs.

“I don’t foresee a major makeover,” Francis said in May. “We’ve got some pretty good pieces in place. I know it’s been frustrating that we haven’t made the playoffs in five years. … We believe we have a pretty good group here that can compete and win.”

A team which hasn’t qualified for the playoffs for five years needs to make some changes. Francis will be in charge of doing that.

According to CapGeek, the Hurricanes have over $5 million to work with and that’s before Staal goes on long-term injured reserve, which he will likely do this week.

There’s also the matter of owner Peter Karmanos Jr. listening to offers in an effort to sell the franchise.

It’s alot easier to sell a team when the product on the ice is heading in the right direction.

Peters behind the bench

The only thing fresh about the Hurricanes this season is behind the bench as rookie coach Bill Peters looks to swing the hammer and get the franchise back into the playoffs. Petters vows to use ice time as a motivator to get his team moving in the right direction.

The 49-year-old may be a rookie in the NHL, but he’s had success elsewhere.

He led the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs to the Memorial Cup in 2008. Peters then coached the Rockford IceHogs from 2008-10 and was responsible for as many as eight players joining the Chicago Blackhawks and winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 or 2013.

Peters has spent the past three seasons on Mike Babcock’s staff in Detroit where he was responsible for the team’s defense and penalty killing.

So his answer, when asked about his coaching style, should come as no surprise.

“I want to have the puck. … If you’re not good defensively in the National Hockey League and you don’t know how to play in your own end, you know what end you play in,” he said. “You never get out of your own end. And it’s that ‘here they come again’ feeling. … In order to be a good hockey team, you’ve got to be good in the defensive zone, you’ve got to be efficient, you’ve got to be able to get through the neutral zone, and go have fun in the offensive zone.”

Peters is saying all the right things, but like Francis, Peters is in the first year as the lead man in his position. It’s a lot different when you’re an assistant compared to the head honcho.

It’s going to be interesting to see if Peters can lead the Hurricanes, who finished 22nd in goals for (2.50) and 19th in goals against (2.76) per game last season in the right direction this season.

Carolina finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last season 10 points back of the Detroit Red Wings for the second and final wild card spot.

‘Canes ‘still don’t know’ who’ll replace Staal at center

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Sounds like the Carolina Hurricanes are still trying to figure things out in the wake of Jordan Staal’s broken leg.

Staal, who’ll be sidelined for the next 3-4 months, left a fairly sizable hole at center and now it’s up to first-year head coach Bill Peters to fill it — which, according to Peters, is a work in progress.

“Who we’re going to have in the middle, that’s the one thing we don’t know, just because we still have these (preseason) games left to play,” Peters explained, per the Raleigh News & Observer.  “Get Victor Rask there, see how well he does. Obviously we want to get (Riley Nash) in there.

“We still don’t know who’s going to play in that two-hole. But this week will be good to figure that out.”

Regardless of who gets the promotion, it’s clear Carolina is going to push someone into a bigger role than originally anticipated. Rask, the club’s second-round pick at the 2011 Draft, has never played in the NHL but could open in the top-six forward group. Jay McClement, signed from Toronto in the offseason largely for his penalty killing and faceoff prowess, could end up being the No. 3 center by default.

Then there’s Riley Nash.

A former first round pick (21st overall by Edmonton in 2007), Nash enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, registering career highs across the board: 10 goals, 24 points and 73 games played. And although Nash only averaged 12:40 TOI per game, it sounds like Peters is ready to give him an extended workload; Nash has skated in the preseason on a line with talented wingers in Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm and could be primed for another bump in production.

Whatever the ‘Canes decide, they’ll have to do it quickly. The team has just three preseason games left before opening the regular season on Oct. 10 with a home date against the Isles.

Penguins coach says Kapanen could crack opening night lineup

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We’re not that far from the beginning of the 2014-15 season, and it doesn’t appear that the Pittsburgh Penguins are any less impressed with 2014 first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

New head coach Mike Johnston said that the 22nd pick of this year’s draft has a solid chance of playing in the team’s season opener on Oct. 9. The original plan was for the 18-year-old to skate with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis against the Columbus Blue Jackets today, but that didn’t work out for reasons beyond Kapanen’s control.

That didn’t stop Kapanen from finding the net against Columbus, as you can see in these full highlights:

The team’s shown a pattern of being quite excited about the skilled son of former NHL forward Sami Kapanen.

Days after he fell to them in the first round, the Penguins professed a belief that he might make the team right away. Bill Guerin provided rave reviews about his skill after seeing him early on, too.

The real testament will be if the Penguins believe that he’s ready for a full season of work. Pittsburgh can trot him out for up to nine regular season contests before “burning” the first year of his entry-level contract. They haven’t been shy about doing that in the past; Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal made immediate leaps while Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta were key players one season removed from their draft years.

With Beau Bennett out for about six weeks, it makes that much more sense for Kapanen to get an extended look. Perhaps he’ll play so well that they won’t be able to resist keeping him around?

Jordan Staal surgery goes ‘as expected’

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Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal underwent surgery to repair a fractured fibula Friday morning the club announced.

The recovery period for Staal, 26, remains three to four months.

Staal suffered the injury Tuesday night in Buffalo when he was tangled up with Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges.

The former Pittsburgh Penguins first-round pick had the procedure done at Raleigh Orthopaedic.

Related: Pondering Carolina’s outlook without Jordan Staal

Eric Staal says Carolina will deal with Jordan’s injury ‘collectively’

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On Tuesday night, PHT postulated that the Carolina Hurricanes would have to replace Jordan Staal’s versatile work by committee. It appears that’s the early plan, as his brother Eric Staal told the team website.

“We’re going to have to do it collectively,” Eric Staal said on Wednesday. “It’s not going to be one person because there’s not many that can do what he does. He’s a big, big man that’s tough to play against. We’re going to have to have other guys step up collectively to play those minutes and gain some experience from that.”

New head coach Bill Peters got a little more specific, noting that players like defensive specialist Jay McClement will probably carry a heavier burden that initially planned.

“It opens up opportunities for various players,” Peters said (also on Wednesday). “We need someone to take his minutes on the power play. We need somebody else to take his minutes on the PK. We’ll probably need Jay Mac (McClement) to take a lot more D-zone draws than we originally thought, but you know what? We have enough guys, and if we have the mindset that we can do it by committee, we’ll get the job done.”

These comments came a day before word broke that Jordan Staal is expected to miss three-to-four months and will need surgery, but it’s likely that the team was aware that it would be a tough situation even if there wasn’t a prognosis at that point.

One can’t blame Peters for being positive, but Jordan Staal was the rare player who could log about a minute and a half of penalty kill time, produce useful offense (even if his numbers were disappointing last season) and carry linemates like Nathan Gerbe (pictured with an agonizing Staal).

As you can see in this post, the players who might absorb some of that loss were highly specialized in their offense-heavy or defense-heavy roles last season, so Peters might face quite a puzzling game of Lineup Jenga to make it all work.

It’s quite a test for everyone involved, even if Staal comes back a little bit sooner than anticipated.