Rod Brind’Amour

Mrazek vs. Reimer and other Hurricanes lineup questions readying for Rangers

Beyond obvious outliers like the Penguins, the Hurricanes rank among the most legitimate of the NHL’s Qualifying Round teams. Yet as stable as the Hurricanes are compared to a field full of erratic teams, Carolina faces many of the same lineup questions as the Rangers, the team they’d face in a best-of-five series.

Some might argue that the Hurricanes face tougher questions than the Rangers. (Though, the Rangers aren’t off the hook in that regard.)

In particular, the Hurricanes may need training camp to find answers in net and on defense. For all we know, Hurricanes lineup questions could even persist beyond “Phase 3.”

Let’s glance at both the goalie and defense questions for the Hurricanes.

Who should start in Hurricanes playoff lineup: Mrazek or Reimer?

Reimer, Mrazek, Hurricanes Rangers lineup questions NHL playoffs
(Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With Henrik Lundqvist jousting with two young upstarts, some might wonder if the Rangers have too much of a good thing in net. The Hurricanes don’t enjoy quite the abundance of options.

Even so, coach Rod Brind’Amour faces a decision, as they lack a clear No. 1. Should the Hurricanes go with Petr Mrazek — who helped them during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs — or James Reimer (who boasts superior numbers this season)?

If Brind’Amour knows, he’s putting on a poker face.

“It’s easy to say right now, ‘OK, I’m going to go with Petr,’ but I don’t know,” Brind’Amour said in a recent interview, via NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “He may be in rough shape. I don’t know until I get to see them and see what they’re like.”

It’s unclear if that last playoff run explains why Mrazek would be the “easy” choice, or if that came down to Reimer entering the pandemic pause with injury issues. (The Hurricanes may also be concerned about Reimer’s rather lengthy run of injury hiccups, too.)

Because, again, Reimer performed at a higher level than Mrazek in 2019-20. Reimer boasts a better save percentage than Mrazek this season (.914 to Mrazek’s .905) and over their careers (.914 to Mrazek’s .910). Reimer takes most/all goalie “advanced stats” between the two this season, as well. Generally speaking, we’ve seen more from Reimer over the past few seasons than Mrazek, whose career was teetering on the edge here and there.

(But, to be fair, Reimer’s had his issues, too.)

Regardless, just about every team should take a long look at how their goalies are performing during training camps. Even teams with clearer No. 1 options.

Honestly, with the NHL not expected to limit the number of goalies at training camps, maybe the Hurricanes should even look at options like Anton Forsberg or Alex Nedeljkovic?

An unexpectedly crowded defense

Dougie Hamilton Hurricanes Rangers lineup decisions playoffs
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

During the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Hurricanes acquired Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. As you may remember, those moves hinged at least partially on injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce. After the twists of those bad-luck injuries, the pandemic threw off Carolina’s rhythm once more.

The best news is that it sounds like Hamilton will be available. Don’t let the museum talk fool you. If Hamilton maintained his hot pace and didn’t get injured, he would have been a go-to choice for those making arguments against John Carlson‘s Norris credentials. Either way, Hamilton provides an enormous boost to the Hurricanes lineup — one they weren’t expecting during the deadline.

On the other hand, Brind’Amour told NHL.com’s Rosen that Pesce remains unlikely to return. However …

“It’s going to be a long shot, but the longer this goes the shot gets a little shorter,” Brind’Amour said.

(Anyone else visualizing that after that rather literal description from Brind’Amour? No? OK.)

So, Hamilton stands as probable while Pesce looks unlikely. Beyond that, the Hurricanes have two still-new faces in Skjei (just seven not particularly impressive games played) and Vatanen (who was injured and didn’t even get to suit up). Let’s say that represents three defensemen for the Hurricanes. Here are the other contenders for spots in the Hurricanes defensive lineup:

  • Jaccob Slavin, a lock.
  • Jake Gardiner, who dealt with a tough season, averaging only 16:40 TOI. Still, Gardiner is experienced, played in 68 games this season, and may have benefited from the break.
  • Joel Edmundson (68 GP like Slavin and Gardiner, averaged more TOI than Gardiner with 18:27 per contest).
  • Trevor van Riemsdyk (49 GP, less than 15 minutes per night; still, Hurricanes are very familiar with TVR).
  • Haydn Fleury (45 GP, averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game).

Realistically, Brind’Amour could have eight options on defense, and possibly nine if Pesce makes unexpectedly rapid progress. Being that some of those options are quite good, there are worse problems to have.

But it still adds to the notion that training camp could be quite important for Hurricanes lineup decisions. With both goalies and defense, Brind’Amour emphasized a wait-and-see approach. So … we’ll see?

More on the Hurricanes, Rangers, return to play, and similar subjects:

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.

Mogilny, others among Hockey Hall of Fame picks for Sharp, Jones

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its 2020 class on Wednesday, mixing no-brainers (Jarome Iginla) with some surprises. Like clockwork, people pumped out takes about Hall of Fame “snubs.”

During the latest episode of “Our Line Starts,” Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp don’t go as far as throwing the “snub” word around.

Sharp and Jones did, however, share their future Hall of Fame picks with host Liam McHugh. You can check out the full episode at the bottom of this post, and the specific Hall of Fame clip in the video above.

[MORE: Who the PHT staff would have inducted into the 2020 HHOF]

Let’s dive into their most prominent choices:

Jones, Sharp make strongest Hall of Fame cases for Alexander Mogilny

In my opinion, the most fascinating thing about Mogilny is his legacy in defecting to play hockey in North America.

But it’s also interesting to find out “which” Mogilny people think of when you ask about the gifted winger. Maybe it’s an age thing, but as much as I enjoyed his work on other teams, my first thought is of his time with the Canucks.

(Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Jones puts a lot of emphasis on Mogilny’s time with the Devils, though. Mogilny won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in 1999-2000, helping defense-obsessed New Jersey with much-needed offense.

(Granted, Mogilny didn’t set the playoffs on fire, scoring two goals and seven points in 23 games during that run. His prime postseason production was impressive, though.)

Really, we should probably remember Mogilny most for his explosive days with the Sabres. After all, he became the first-ever European captain of an NHL team with Buffalo.

Hall of Fame discussions aren’t always about the concrete, however. Some of it comes down to feelings. Jones explains that his memory of trying to defend Mogilny inspired a feeling of fear. Fear of being burned by Mogilny’s speed and skill. Jones was far from alone.

Daniel Alfredsson

Pretty simple case here. Alfredsson piled up considerable individual stats, and served as a face of the Senators franchise for years.

Sharp said it was probably a “matter of time” for Mogilny to get inducted, but that could be true with Alfredsson as well. I will admit that I blurted out “Scott Niedermayer” when Sharp asked if anyone had a bad thing to say about Alfredsson.

(Then again, Niedermayer probably let Alfredsson’s tantrum go a long time ago, anyway.)

Tkachuk and other mentions

  • Jones seemed pretty emphatic about Keith Tkachuk’s Hall of Fame credentials. (No, I don’t think It’s a Keith Thing.)

Jones points to Tkachuk’s 538 goals (33rd all-time), the most of any eligible player who’s not in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s likely a high compliment that Jones said he hated playing against Tkachuk.

  • In discussing Tkachuk, Jones linked him to a former power forward teammate John LeClair.

Granted, Jones acknowledged that Tkachuk boasts greater longevity and a comparable peak. LeClair’s best years — some strong playoff work with the Habs, that run on the “Legion of Doom” line — prompted Jones to say LeClair joined Eric Lindros as the league’s best “duo” for some time. I’m not sure I agree there, but I do generally appreciate quality-over-quantity Hall of Fame arguments.

  • Sharp brings up Rod Brind’Amour, a name that’s been gaining steam recently.

Whether “Rod the Bod” should be inducted or not, it’s delightful to see more love for dominant two-way forwards. And it’s not as if Brind’Amour was a total slouch offensively.

(Was “Rod the Bod” a slouch in any way, literally or figuratively? /Asks while slouching.)

As former players, Jones and Sharp reflexively mention a lot of their contemporaries. Regardless, it’s interesting to hear their insight on Mogilny and others they believe should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“Our Line Starts” discusses Mogilny and other Hockey Hall of Fame hopefuls

Start-11:08 – Reaction to this year’s HOF class (Holland, Hossa, Iginla, Lowe, St-Pierre, Wilson)
11:10-16:45 – Who should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame (or not): Mogilny? Alfredsson? Tkachuk?
16:45-End – Fantasy draft for this year’s 24-team playoff tournament

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Hurricanes begin mammoth March vs. Flyers

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For all of the EBUG love the Hurricanes received following David Ayres’ unlikely win, the uncomfortable postscript is that the magic wore off almost immediately for Carolina.

The Hurricanes ended February on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1), and that Ayres-aided win was their only victory in their past five contests. They’re a mediocre 3-4-2 in their last nine. Not exactly the sort of run you hope for when you want to return to the postseason.

If they want to turn things around in March, the Hurricanes must do it the hard way. From the look of the way their Thursday opponent the Flyers have been playing, Carolina won’t be getting many favors.

The Hurricanes need to start making up ground, and fast.

[Push for the Playoffs: Where the Hurricanes and other teams fit right now]

A difficult March begins for the Hurricanes with this Flyers test

The Hurricanes received a moment to breathe, as they haven’t played since a 4-3 overtime loss to the Habs on Saturday.

A month from now, the Hurricanes might wish that they could have spread this past break out over the full month of March.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Consider these facts and figures:

  • The Hurricanes play 16 games over 27 days.
  • Every full weekend of March includes a back-to-back set. Overall, Carolina faces five back-to-back sets. They have the most remaining back-to-backs along with the Flyers and Anaheim Ducks.
  • Thursday’s game in Philly begins a five-game road trip for the Hurricanes.
  • Will it be good or bad luck that Carolina’s clashes with the Penguins are all consolidated in a short span? They play the Penguins four times, so Carolina must hope that Pittsburgh remains relatively rudderless.
  • Looking further, there’s some hope the Hurricanes might get a few contextual bits of luck. It’s possible that the Hurricanes’ two games against the Bruins (home on March  31, at Boston on April 4) won’t mean much to the B’s. If the Bruins exercise “load management” with the Presidents’ Trophy/at least the top spot in the East in the bag, that could mean easier games for Carolina than what appears on paper. Frankly, the Bruins would do this if they’re smart, especially considering the mileage on veterans like Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, and even Brad Marchand. It’s also possible that the Blue Jackets might be out of the race by April 3. Obviously, those three games would be treacherous if that luck doesn’t go Carolina’s way.

Take a look at this chart to really drive the point home:

Chart for Hurricanes March

Brind’Amour, others are aware of the challenge

You likely won’t hear many Hurricanes gripe about their tough haul, at least not publicly.

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour says all the right things, with a touch of terminology that might make you think that he’s trying to catch all of the Pokemon/pogs/commemorative stamps.

“You can group them all into the same category for me – you’ve got to have them,” Brind’Amour said, via the team website. “Whether they’re on the road, whether they’re divisional … it kind of all goes out the window. You’re at a point where you’ve got to have them.”

Unfortunately, the Flyers are also hunting to gather wins for their own aims, so Carolina will need to work to collect them all.

John Forslund and Pierre McGuire will call the contest from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday’s studio coverage will be hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Scott Hartnell.

***

NBC Sports will utilize an all-female crew to broadcast and produce game coverage of Sunday’s Blues-Blackhawks game, coinciding with International Women’s Day and marking the first NHL game broadcast and produced solely by women in the U.S.

Kate Scott (play-by-play) will call the action alongside U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) and AJ Mleczko (analyst) from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Game production will be led by producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer.

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.

Justin Williams leads ‘Storm Surge’ in Hurricanes return

Sports sometimes stick to “Hollywood” scripting, but hockey can be stubborn. In this case, Justin Williams delivered during his return to the Carolina Hurricanes and NHL in general.

Williams closed out what was a pretty exciting, and occasional strange, shootout in Carolina’s favor. It went eight rounds, but Williams scored the shootout-deciding goal as the Hurricanes beat the Islanders 2-1.

Naturally, that wasn’t enough for this “bunch of jerks.” Williams also fittingly took center stage during the “Storm Surge,” giving a salute. You can watch those great moments in the video above this post.

More on a storybook return for Justin Williams

James Reimer made fun of our thirst for a narrative after the game.

“It was all a conspiracy from the beginning. That was the plan,” Reimer joked, via the Hurricanes’ website. “We fooled everyone.”

Really, there’s only one question about this Williams return: what took Rod Brind’Amour so long to send him out in the shootout? Just number eight? Nice sense of the moment, Rod.

(Just kidding — mostly.)

Williams made an impact on the game proper, firing three shots on goal, delivering a hit, and blocking a shot during 13:06 time on ice. Despite being a grizzled veteran at age 38, Williams faced some jitters.

“I was nervous the whole game, to be honest,” Williams said. “It was a playoff game out there. That’s what it felt like that. Teams weren’t giving an inch. There were chances either way, and it could have gone either way,” he said. “I’ve played over 1,200 of these, so I was like, ‘OK, Justin. Get real here. You can do this.’ It was fun. We got what we wanted: two points.”

Well, Brind’Amour believes Williams “fit right in.”

Speaking of people getting right back into the groove, the Hurricanes provided a fun variation on his nickname: on Sunday, Williams became “Mr. Round 8.”

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.

Ron Francis speaks about handling of Peters situation while Hurricanes GM

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NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis has responded to how physical abuse accusations against former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters were handled when he was the team’s GM.

Speaking with The Seattle Times this week, Francis said he addressed the issue with Peters and defended giving him a two-year extension after the fact.

“We looked where the team was and how it was playing,” Francis said. “It was moving in the right direction. We’d made a huge increase from where it was the year before to where we were that year. And quite honestly, we looked at that (physical-abuse) situation, we addressed it and we felt it was behind him.”

“I think you deal with it the best you can with the situation you have at the time,” Francis said. “I think within the last week there have been some changes the league has made. I think that’s positive moving forward. I don’t claim to be perfect. I make mistakes. I try to learn every day from the people I talk with in situations. That’s what I try to do and take that knowledge moving forward. And hopefully you’re never in that situation again.”

Last month, after Peters was accused to uttering racial slurs at Akim Aliu, whom he coached in the American Hockey League, former Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan said that Peters kicked him in the back and punched another player during a game. The allegations for were confirmed by current head coach Rod Brind’Amour, who was an assistant under Peters.

Former Hurricanes majority owner Peter Karmanos told The Seattle Times that he would have fired Francis “in a nanosecond” had he been made aware of the allegations against Peters, even though Francis, who added there was a full vetting process during the hiring process, said he informed management of the situation.

Peters resigned as Calgary Flames head coach days after the allegations went public. In a statement that week Francis acknowledged he was made aware of the incidents and that he “took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership.” He did not reveal what he did to correct the matter in either his statement or in the interview with the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“When you look back, there were some things we did well and certain things we need to improve on to get better,” he said. “That’s part of the learning process, I think.”

The NHL revealed a four-point plan this week at the Board of Governors that will provide a guideline for teams in handling abuse allegations and other inappropriate conduct.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.