top six

Canes still searching for depth scoring

15 goals. That is all the Hurricanes have gotten from players not in their top-six this season and it's probably even lower than that if you take away special teams goal. Scoring depth is something that I did not think would be a problem for the Canes this year, but it's a pretty big issue right now. Their top line has accounted for a little under 45% of the team's overall goals and 33 of the 55 non-empty net goals they've scored during five-on-five play. As nice as it is to have a potent first line, the other players really need to produce to help take some of the burden on them. 

The Hurricanes might possess one of the best first lines in the NHL right now, but they aren't going to score every night, so the other lines are going to need to pick up the slack and they haven't done that lately. Jordan Staal's line with Jeff Skinner are somewhat guilty of this, too but I'm more willing to give them a pass because they have been productive in terms of creating scoring chances. The third and fourth lines, however, have not been so innocent.

The last time a Hurricanes third liner produced a goal was on March 16th against the Washington Capitals when Patrick Dwyer deflected in a point shot from Jay Harrison and the ONLY time a Carolina fourth liner scored came all the way back in early February when Tim Wallace scored against the Islanders. The Canes bottom two lines have gone through a lot of changes this year, but when you have only one total goal all season from an entire line, then that's not good. Even if a lot of fourth lines aren't depended on for scoring. Compare the Hurricanes scoring numbers with the rest of the league and you can see that they lean on their top-six a lot more than the majority of the NHL.

There are obviously going to be some discrepancies with who classifies as a "top-sixer" on some teams, but that doesn't change the ugly results here. Only three teams have gotten a fewer percentage of their goals from their bottom-six and only the Rangers & Penguins have gotten more goals from their top-six players. Every player goes through slumps over the course of the year, but the ones who suffer are those who lean on them to do everything, which is what is happening to the Hurricanes this year.

Again, this was something I did not expect to be an issue because when you look at the Canes depth chart heading into the season, they had a lot of playres who could provide them with depth scoring. Take the initial third line for example, Jussi Jokinen was the one centering that line and he is generally good for 11-15 goals in a season. That is fine for a third liner. On the wings were supposed to be Jiri Tlusty and Chad LaRose, two other guys who would be fine as third liners. Then Zach Boychuk was waived after one game, Zac Dalpe was sent to Charlotte after six and the Canes forward lines were jumbled. Still, their forwards depth did not look bad at the beginning of the season. Drayson Bowman was able to produce as a third liner last year, Patrick Dwyer is a prototypical bottom-six player, LaRose usually gives you 12-19 goals a year  and they could even count on some players from Charlotte such as Tim Wallace, Riley Nash & Andreas Nodl if needed. The plan wasn't bad going in, but the results haven't been good.

The question now is what do the Canes do to fix this? It's probably too late in the season to really fix anything, so the most the team can do now is play out the rest of the season and think about next year. That takes you to the question of who will be in the bottom-six then. Kevin Westgarth, Pat Dwyer, Drayson Bowman and Jeremy Welsh are still under contract while Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe, Chad LaRose & Tim Brent are on expiring deals, the latter two being UFA's. If you were to keep any players in the Canes bottom-six, who would be the wisest choices? It might sound contradictory to say this now, but goals are not everything when it comes to judging a player, so we need to look at everything they contribute in addition to scoring. Goals are what ultimately wins you hockey games, but the process of scoring is much more difficult than fans believe. Players who are getting shots and chances on net regularly along with driving the play forwards are the ones who are better bets to produce in a full-year, so the Canes should keep their eyes on those types of players for next season. They actually have a few guys who fit this category but are seeing some terrible puck luck right now. 

Player Goals Shots Shooting% Shots/60 Corsi On/60
Jeff Skinner 10 122 8.2% 12.69 8.08
Alexander Semin 10 123 8.1% 9.95 2.14
Eric Staal 16 114 14.0% 9.24 2.76
Drayson Bowman 2 61 3.3% 9.12 -0.48
Chad LaRose 2 40 5.0% 8.49 6.72
Jeremy Welsh 0 4 0.0% 8.21 4.11
Jiri Tlusty 17 85 20.0% 7.98 1.32
Jordan Staal 9 88 10.2% 7.49 7.96
Patrick Dwyer 6 67 9.0% 7.44 7.9
Jussi jokinen 7 62 11.3% 7.03 7.85
Zac Dalpe 0 8 0.0% 6.02 13.77
Riley Nash 3 27 11.1% 5.56 0.22
Tim Wallace 1 19 5.3% 5.34 -2.5
Brett Sutter 0 2 0.0% 4.79 -24.28
Tim Brent 0 20 0.0% 4.7 10.64
Kevin Westgarth 0 7 0.00% 3.28 -4.23

Among those in the bottom-six, LaRose and Bowman are the ones who aren't getting any shooting luck and the former is an unrestricted free agent. He has actually gotten better at being able to drive the play forward than he was earlier in the season and is getting plenty of shots on goal. The pucks just aren't going in for him. LaRose is a common scapegoat for some Canes fans and had a bad start to the year, but he is effective as a checking line player. I think him being a UFA and the Canes having more players like him will mean he won't be back next season, though. I like LaRose, but it's kind of hard to keep him when Bowman & Dwyer play a similar role.

Oddly enough, some of the bottom-sixers who are scoring are the ones who aren't getting many shots on goal or driving the play much, Riley Nash being the main suspect. He is more of a pass-first and defensive-type player so I don't expect many goals from him but I think he might be more suited for a fourth line role at the NHL level. Nash's shot numbers are only slightly better than Tim Brent's, who has produced little to no offense after scoring 12 goals last year. Brent has been able to drive the play, though so I think he falls under the category of "unlucky" even with only 20 shots on goal.

Carolina's bottom-six could be in good shape next season in terms of depth scoring if they keep Bowman, Dwyer, Nash in those roles while adding some others. Dalpe could possibly acquire a spot on the third line and I wouldn't rule out Jeremy Welsh either. The main thing Carolina should be looking for are guys who can drive puck-possession and create shots/scoring chances, which they currently have a few of. Bowman isn't going to continue shooting at 3.3% and getting a full season out of Dalpe while adding a David Moss-type player could help. Better depth is not hard to acquire when your top-six is in place, so I expect this to be one of the priorities for Jim Rutherford this off-season. The Canes having guys from within the organization who can fill in these holes could make things a little easier.

On a somewhat related note, Skinner has been a monster in terms of puck-possession & producing offense this season. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends the year on a very high note.

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