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Carolina Hurricanes might be busy this weekend

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The Carolina Hurricanes could look a whole lot more different in the coming days than they do right now.

The ‘Canes, who own the second overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, are apparently open for business. They have a new head coach in Rod Brind’Amour, a new general manager in Don Wadell and they have a whole bunch of players they’re seemingly willing to move.

The team hasn’t made the postseason in nine years, which a lot for any kind of market but especially a non-traditional hockey one.

New owner Tom Dundon will want to get the ball rolling and the only way to do that is by making changes.

The team has two significant needs. First, they have to find a go-to guy that can shoulder the load offensively. Second, they need to find someone that can stop the puck consistently because Scott Darling‘s first year was mediocre at best.

Waddell has made it clear that winger Andrei Svechnikov will be the second pick in the draft unless they decide to ship the pick elsewhere for immediate help. The ‘Canes have some talented forwards like Sebastian Aho, Jeff Skinner, Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm, but, as we mentioned, they don’t have a game-breaker that can change the outcome of a game on a dime. Svechnikov can be that guy, or he can be used as a key piece in a trade for that kind of scorer.

If the Hurricanes absolutely want to keep the pick (they should), there’s other ways they can acquire a talented forward. Carolina has an abundance of quality defensemen, so there’s a deal that could be made around Justin Faulk or Noah Hanifin, too. Plenty of teams are looking for help on the back end, which means they could be interested in either player.

And of course, there’s the possibility that they could use some of their own forwards to fill their needs. Skinner’s name has come up more than once in trade circles. The 26-year-old is coming off a season that saw him score 24 goals and 49 points in 82 games. He’s also found the back of the net at least 24 times in four of his last five seasons.

The problem, is that Skinner only has one year remaining on his contract. He’ll make $5.725 million in 2018-19, but based on the numbers he’s put up over the last five years, he should get a raise. Are the Hurricanes comfortable giving him a long-term deal for that kind of cash? That’s a huge factor in the decision they have to make. The challenge is that Skinner has a full no-move clause in his current deal.

No matter what management decides to do, there’s no denying that this is a huge week for the Hurricanes. They’ve got cap space, assets to trade and some huge holes to fill. Getting that fan base excited again has to be a huge priority, and they have a good opportunity to make that happen with a couple of key transactions.

They can’t afford to whiff on this golden opportunity.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Trading Jeff Skinner would likely haunt Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes need to score more goals. You know what’s a bad way to do that? By trading away their best sniper.

More than a few rumors are swirling that the Hurricanes are shopping Jeff Skinner, a winger who easily leads Carolina in goals (89 versus 55 in second place) and points (163, with second coming in at 139) since 2015-16. Elliotte Friedman mentioned growing interest in Skinner in May 11’s “31 Thoughts” while Bob McKenzie opined that Skinner’s “days are numbered” during a recent podcast (or … Bobcast).

Let’s go over all of the reasons why this is a bad idea and an inopportune time to trade Skinner.

Not selling high

OK, it’s probably a stretch to say that the Hurricanes would be “selling low” on Skinner, but they wouldn’t be doing so during a moment of strength, either.

On one hand, Skinner – a player with past concussion problems – played a full 82 games in 2017-18. Skinner’s 24 goals ranked second to rising star Sebastian Aho, who potted 29. Skinner’s typically solid possession stats were even better than usual last season.

Still, if the Hurricanes must trade Skinner (a possibility at some point, as his $5.75 million cap hit expires after next season), they should wait. Skinner’s 8.7 shooting percentage was his lowest success rate since 2014-15, so rival GMs might view him as a less “sexy” option right now, as opposed to 2016-17, when he scored a career-high 37 goals and 63 points with a 13.7 shooting percentage, second only to his 14.4 percent mark from that memorable Calder-winning campaign in 2010-11.

The point is that recent history frowns upon trading players who were riding poor puck luck.

The Oilers didn’t get optimal value for Jordan Eberle. Reilly Smith was comically traded after his three seasons when his shooting percentage was under 10 (all in odd years).

At this moment, trading from a position of strength (defense) to improve a weakness (offense) makes sense for the Hurricanes, although there’s a challenge in getting that right. It’s tough to imagine Carolina enjoying the better end of a Skinner trade, especially in the immediate future.

Why rush this decision, particularly after a risky off-season of front office changes? Especially considering …

What a difference a year makes

It’s easy to forget how drastically an NHL team’s fortunes can change. Hot and cold streaks with goalies often explain why, too.

Last summer, the Winnipeg Jets seemed a lot like the Hurricanes: a team loaded with talent that couldn’t get over the hump, in part because of poor goaltending. The Senators and Oilers both saw flip-flopping seasons because of a number of factors, including stark contrasts between the good and bad for Craig Anderson and Cam Talbot respectively.

One could conceive of a situation where the Hurricanes look downright competitive if everything stayed the same and they merely improved in net, whether that means a rebound from Scott Darling or some other goalie coming in and pulling a Connor Hellebuyck.

This isn’t just about stopping pucks. Carolina wasn’t so great at scoring against goalies either in 2017-18, finishing ninth-to-last in the NHL with 225 goals. Skinner scored 24 of those, so would it really be wise to trade away essentially 10 percent of your tallies?

Hurricanes GM Don Waddell should take caution, as Skinner seems like he’d be part of the solution: a reliable scorer who can skate like few other players and who’s still in his prime at 26. The Hurricanes could regret trading Skinner as they battled in the playoff bubble, much like the Panthers missed Reilly Smith and/or Jonathan Marchessault.

And, if this team continues to flounder, you’d still likely be able to land a princely sum for Skinner during a mid-season or trade deadline move. Forcing a trade for the sake of making changes now seems almost certain to backfire, unless the Hurricanes convince a team to send a superstar their way. Somehow.

***

Look, it’s plausible that someone will make the Hurricanes an offer they can’t refuse. Stranger things have happened.

Red flags wave over such rumblings when you consider how often teams regret trading a player when his shooting percentage has cooled, and sports/hockey history is bursting with examples of teams getting quarters on the dollar when they trade their better players.

It’s possible that the Hurricanes shouldn’t trade Skinner, period. Either way, this seems like a really risky time to make such a move.

I mean, unless Waddell wants to take some heat off of Dale Tallon, Peter Chiarelli, Marc Bergevin, and other GMs who’ve made trades that keep Hockey Twitter giggling into the night.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Tavares and beyond: Lamoriello has hands full with Islanders

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Let’s be honest. As important a hire as Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations is for the New York Islanders, many of us could barely even utter his name before “John Tavares” returned to the forefront of any Isles thoughts.

That’s just going to be the status quo until we find out if Tavares re-signs with the Islanders or if he ventures elsewhere and breaks thousands of hearts on Long Island.

So, there’s no sense denying the all-world elephant in the room. Lamoriello could do great work for the Islanders if, say, he decided to be full-on GM, but a Tavares departure would still make this front office move a footnote. On the other hand, things would be downright intriguing in Brooklyn if Tavares returns (whether it has anything to do with Lou or not).

As much as we’d like to accurately forecast the Tavares sweepstakes, the truth is that few truly know what will happen. Hey, it’s possible that Tavares himself might still be mulling over his decision.

With or without their best star in ages, the Islanders have a lot of work to do. In a way, it seems like Lamoriello is being asked to do a repair job much like he did with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were able to get rid of pesky contracts and add some key components under his watch.

Get the notion

During today’s press conference, Lamoriello was his usual guarded self, not revealing much about the futures of GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight.

The thing is, Lamoriello could make plenty of inferences, even from the outside.

Really, you could argue that everything starts and stops with Snow. He’s been given rare leeway for a GM considering his 12-year reign, especially considering that the Isles have only won a single playoff series with Tavares and since their glory days. (We’ll get to the messy salary structure soon.)

Snow selected Doug Weight to go from interim and then full-on head coach, and while the interim run almost included a playoff berth, the past 2017-18 season was a disaster. Sure, shabby goaltending didn’t help, but how much of that falls on Weight’s shoulders? This Andre Burakovsky quote should shake any manager to the core:

Lamoriello’s not shy about taking over the GM seat, so you wonder if Snow’s days are melting away. He cannot wait too long to make a decision about Weight, as this is the time of year when you enjoy a greater number of opportunities to find coaching replacements. What’s Dave Tippett doing these days?

(Waits for Jacques Lemaire jokes[?].)

Oh yeah, and Lamoriello also must prepare for the 2018 NHL Draft. That could be awfully interesting since the Islanders boast picks 11 and 12, with the latter choice stemming from the Travis Hamonic trade. This figures to be a whirlwind couple of months for Lamoriello and the Islanders organization.

Cleaning up

If you’re convinced the Islanders will retain Tavares and thus feel little sympathy for this team, just take a look at their salary structure at Cap Friendly. Yikes.

During his time in Toronto, Lamoriello helped the Maple Leafs jettison bad contracts from the Phil Kessel days, whether that came via LTIR loophole maneuvering (just ask Joffrey Lupul, though he’ll eventually delete his response) or savvy trades. It says a lot about Lamoriello’s skills that the Maple Leafs didn’t need to retain salary in getting rid of Dion Phaneuf‘s ghastly contract in 2016, yet the Senators were forced to eat $1.75 million of his cap hit in February.

It’s strange to see a 75-year-old executive serving as a rebuilder/repairer of franchises, particularly after he guided the New Jersey Devils for a generation, but the Isles could benefit from his “cleaning” services. There are some odious contracts, so we’ll see if Lamoriello can conjure some magic to move beyond mistakes like the deals handed to Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck.

(It turns out Lamoriello cleans up more than a team’s facial hair choices. Cue Monty Burns and Don Mattingly.)

Other calls

One rare good thing about the Islanders’ salary structure is a gimme: Mathew Barzal‘s on his rookie deal through 2019-20, so Lamoriello doesn’t even need to worry about extension negotiations during this summer. Worst-case scenario, they’ll still have at least one spellbinding star at center.

Re-signing Tavares stands as priorities one through 91, but there are other choices to make.

Brock Nelson stands out as the most prominent forward alongside noteworthy defensemen (including Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, and Ryan Pulock) who are slated for RFA or UFA statuses. There are some key players approaching contract years in 2018-19, with Jordan Eberle and underrated (and underpaid) scorer Anders Lee headlining the list. Lamoriello must mull over which players to keep, for how long, and for how much.

If Tavares’ situation is the elephant in the room, then goaltending is the massive hole in the wall.

It’s tough to imagine any team taking on Thomas Greiss ($3.33M cap hit through 2019-20) after he submarined his team’s chances a lot like Scott Darling did in Carolina, so Lamoriello’s tasked with finding ways to reduce the damage. He at least has options; the Isles might get more out of Greiss by improving the system around him (replace Weight, or hope Weight improves?) or possibly looking to a different goalie coach. Perhaps Lou would even opt for a sports psychologist?

Either way, Lamoriello must also target another goalie, whether that guy is deemed a true backup, the new starter, or a platoon partner for Greiss.

(Again, a dream scenario would be to somehow move Greiss and get better in net without losing too many other assets, yet that might require Lamoriello to actually become a wizard. Or maybe he’d just need to get Peter Chiarelli on the phone?)

***

That’s quite a brain-full, right?

The scary part is that this is a simplified version of the choices that await. Lamoriello will need to ponder the franchise’s past failures. Did poor pro scouting inspire questionable additions such as Ladd, at least at his price point? Is this team doing enough to develop its draft picks?

Lou Lamoriello faces a ton of questions, with many of them standing as challenges even for a decorated, experienced executive. In some cases, he’ll need to make some key calls soon, and it should be fascinating to learn what the future holds for the Isles.

Of course, the biggest call actually falls to John Tavares, maybe more than all of the other ones combined.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Home ice hasn’t been huge advantage for Predators, Jets

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NHL teams grind through an 82-game season to make the playoffs, but also to try to gain home-ice advantage, particularly if a Game 7 is needed.

Sometimes playing in front of a roaring crowd, getting that home cooking and the final change (plus a friendly call or two, depending upon who you ask) makes a big difference. Through six games of Jets – Predators, the edge has instead seemed negligible. So far, each team is 1-2 at home during this series.

We’ll find out on Thursday if that will remain the same when the two teams battle in Game 7 in Nashville.

(Game 7 airs at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN Thursday.)

Here are a few considerations going into that Game 7, from home-road stats to hypotheses.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Louder than a jet engine

Going into this series, much has been made about how loud things could get between spirited fans in Winnipeg and Nashville. Sometimes it came down to splitting hairs and counting decibels. Chris Jericho also made an offer for a friendly wager with Carrie Underwood.

High decibel levels could create some positive energy for the Predators, who’ve really benefited from scoring early goals in this series (erm, aside from that squandered 3-0 lead). Then again, such energy could also help the Jets stay aggressive, which would be to their advantage as it seems like they’ve thrived when the action is faster and more end-to-end.

But, yeah, it could be really loud. There also will probably be catfish and maybe a wild offensive lineman or two.

Good Pekka/bad Pekka

During the Predators’ run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Rinne was all-world in Nashville and closer to a backup on the road:

Rinne in 11 games at home during 2017 run: 9-2 record, ridiculous .951 save percentage even without a shutout.
Rinne in 11 road games during 2017 run: 5-6 record, .905 save percentage despite two shutouts.

(Excuse Predators fans if they’re having bad flashbacks of some of those championship round struggles in Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, that home-road disparity has strangely flipped in 2017-18. Rinne was quite good at home during the regular season (25-6-2, .919 save percentage, three shutouts), yet was astounding on the road (17-7-2, .937 save percentage, five shutouts). While it’s naturally a smaller sample size through two rounds of the postseason, that pattern’s only become more pronounced during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Rinne in six home games during this current run: 3-3, Scott Darling-like .881 save percentage, no shutouts.
Rinne in six road games during current run: 4-2, .933 save percentage, two shutouts.

Steady as Hellebuyck

While there’s been quite a difference between Home Rinne and Road Rinne, Connor Hellebuyck‘s been surprisingly steady. The American-born netminder’s home save percentage is .922 and his road mark is .923 so far in the postseason. There’s not much of a difference in home/road play during the larger sample size of the regular season, either.

Maybe the stakes will break Hellebuyck’s steady, sometimes creepy-looking focus, yet so far he’s been as reliable as a modern goalie can be (and he could really make himself some cash with a strong Game 7, considering his pending RFA status).

*shudder*

Human nature

In some ways, the Jets theoretically enjoyed a great officiating advantage, subjectively, in Game 6 for a simple reason: refs will sometimes feel pressured to “let them play” in a Game 7 situation. Whether mistakes were made or not, the Jets received four power-play opportunities in Game 6 while Nashville only enjoyed one. It’s difficult to imagine so many calls being made with both teams’ seasons on the line.

If you ask me, there’s nothing really nefarious about the way thousands of loud fans might affect officials, even if it’s on more of an unconscious level. That human-nature edge could very well be nullified by officials leaning toward not making calls.

But, much like how an early goal one way or another might affect the noise levels at Bridgestone Arena, early calls may signal what kind of night will be in store. If officials are being pretty objective about calling infractions when they see them, then home ice could be that little edge that moves the needle for Nashville.

***

Great players or even mere clutch performances can silence a crowd in a hurry or bring them to their feet.

Game 7 between the Predators and Jets would be fun anywhere, whether it happened at a neutral site or an outdoor frozen pond. It’s actually taking place in Nashville, which should make for a fun atmosphere and also another interesting narrative: will “Smashville” help the Predators break through to the 2018 Western Conference Final?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hurricanes owner on changes, Brind’Amour: ‘Strategy is pretty overrated’

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Hope you like buzzwords. And Rod Brind’Amour.

The Carolina Hurricanes held a press conference to elaborate on their decisions to make Brind’Amour their new head coach and give Don Waddell the title of GM. There were certainly some … interesting comments from the parties involved.

Interesting, but not necessarily all that informative. Just about every “here’s our shiny new head coach” press conference keeps things fairly non-specific. It’s not like you’ll want to lay out every detail of your scheme, and sports teams often guard their ideas as if they’re precious snowflakes and not fairly obvious blueprints.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Still, with plenty of questions about (possibly meddling?) new owner Tom Dundon, it’s tough not to furrow your brow at certain comments, unless you’re a real sucker for talk of intangibles.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that strategy is pretty overrated,” Dundon said, via Canes Country. “I don’t believe the strategy differences are as important as getting the right culture and the right attitude. I think [Brind’Amour] gives us the best chance to get the most out of our players.”

This sort of old-school talk was pretty prevalent. Brind’Amour also vaguely spoke of “getting more out of players.”

That’s all well and good, and hey, you’re probably more likely to fear a coach who’s probably more ripped than just about everyone in the locker room. Perhaps the comparison is that Brind’Amour will be “tough” where Bill Peters was more … analytical? Maybe things are simply going to be more fluid for a guy who was a Selke-level two-way player but hasn’t ever been a head coach?

It’s difficult to shake the impression that the Hurricanes are going “traditional” after years of being possession-driving darlings who sputtered short of the postseason finish line. That’s how the messaging feels, at least.

That doesn’t mean that Dundon, Waddell, and Brind’Amour are guaranteed to pull a Florida Panthers-style takedown of the elements of the roster and team that inspired people to make Carolina a chic dark horse pick for years, though.

For all we know, this franchise might more progressive that it’s leading on. Dundon at least provides good lip service to progressive-leaning mindsets, as Elliotte Friedman noted in an edition of “31 Thoughts” when Dundon sought the sort of thinking that powered the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that boldly goes with analytics when it comes to approaching fourth downs and other decisions.

Wherever the Hurricanes organization falls on the spectrum of “old, stuffy, and obsessed with notions of grit” to “waves of small, skilled players who never dump the puck,” the bottom line is that goaltending will probably still determine Carolina’s fortunes.

There might be some downsides if Brind’Amour struggles tactically; it’s something we seemingly witnessed during this past season with Doug Weight and the porous New York Islanders.

On the other hand, perhaps a regime change might help Scott Darling view 2018-19 as a truly clean slate?

The Hurricanes are locked into the towering goalie for three more seasons at a $4.15 million cap hit, as it’s tough to imagine a trade happening that wouldn’t require Carolina giving up useful assets. The best course of action is to take a “nowhere to go but up” approach, and a new voice might help in that regard.

A rebound might have happened either way, as it’s tough to imagine Darling sporting a horrific .888 save percentage again. And, even if that risk is real, you’d have to hope that the Hurricanes – old school or not – will be smart enough to invest in a “1b” backup and finally move on from their “Cam Ward, shrug” days.

If the goaltending exceeds the “average” they’ve fallen short of for years and instead is downright great, then people will look like geniuses even if all of the buzzword-talk is largely hot air.

There’s also no denying the fact that Hurricanes fans really, really, love “Rod the Bod.” Granted, not everyone is optimistic.

Can Brind’Amour cut it as an NHL head coach? Will the Hurricanes start to get the bounces (more goals, more saves) after years of being on the wrong side of the PDO? Is Dundon going to be the wrong sort of meddling owner?

Today’s press conferences were never going to answer those questions. They provided interesting fodder as this franchise approaches what should be an intriguing summer nonetheless.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.