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Is the Hurricanes forward depth really that bad?

When people ask me why the Hurricanes have struggled so much this year, I usually point to one of two things. The first is special teams, which kind of speaks for itself at this point, and the other is depth. Jim Rutherford spent a lot of money on the team's core and it's left the team paper thin in terms of forward depth. Their third and fourth lines are composed of players either on entry level contracts or guys who are making around the league minimum. Every GM has to find bargains, but the Hurricanes were scraping the bottom to fill out their depth. To make things worse, the team's top-six forwards have gone through injuries and scoring droughts all year, which has really exposed how bad this team's depth is and Kirk Muller's line juggling has also added to this. When Patrick Dwyer & Nathan Gerbe are second liners in your system, then that kind of shows how deep your team is.

The popular argument against the Hurricanes is that their core has underperformed and they have in terms of goal scoring. However, if you look at how each player is performing in terms of puck-possession and controlling territorial play, they haven't been the biggest concern on the Hurricanes this year. Timothy Bonnar of Arctic Ice Hockey made a similar argument about the Jets a few months ago and the same thing can be applied to the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes look olike a pretty solid team when Eric Staal & Alex Semin are on the ice and it doesn't matter which defense pairing is behind him. The same can also be said for Jordan Staal's line, although they tend to struggle when they're used with the third defense pair. After that, you have players like Gerbe, Tlusty & Nash who have had mostly positive results while others like Ruutu, Bowman & Lindholm have been more mixed. Put them in front of the team's top-four and they are fine but after that they'll have problems. The same can be said for Drayson Bowman, who  has been crushed when paired with anyone outside of the Canes top-four and the team's two regular fourth liners (Malhotra & Dvorak) have been underwater no matter who they are used with. Remember, those two were on the Canes "third line" for part of the year due to injuries and depth problems.

So going by this, the team's forward depth looks a little better than normal but their fourth line has been a wreck and most of the players outside of the Staals, Semin & Skinner have berought mixed results. Although, none of this is really surprising and the rest of the league is probably similar. This is something Tyler Dellow, the developer of the chart, states in his response to Bonnar's article. You would expect most team's to look pretty good with their top-six and best defensemen out there while struggling to stay afloat territorially with their fourth line & third defense pairing on the ice. So, is the Hurricanes depth really that bad compared to the rest of the league or are they a pretty standard case?

To find the answer to this question, I was going to make a chart for every team in the league but that would be taxing and hard to make a comparison from. Instead, I went through every game, determined which lines were each team's top & bottom-six  were going by ice time and looked at how each team's 5v5 goal & Corsi differential while a certain line was on the ice. It's something I've been working on since about December and while it's not perfect, I think it does a good job of showing where each team is at depth wise.

First, let's look at how each team's top-six ranks.

From a possession standpoint, the Hurricanes top-six doesn't look bad at all. Their top forwards aren't nearly as good as Chicago, Los Angeles or Boston, but the team is owning about 53% of the 5v5 shot attempts when they are on the ice, which is very good compared to the rest of the league. The problem, as we all know, is finishing and they haven't been able to turn their good possession numbers into much of anything on the scoresheet. Most of that stems from Jordan's line being unable to score at evens, which is a mystery that I still haven't found the answer to. Possession is important and you can't score without having the puck & winning the territorial battle, but converting it into chances & goals is still an issue for the Hurricanes top-six. 

The scoring woes of the top-six have magnified their forward depth problems, which are still apparent but not as bad as I thought they were. 

The Canes bottom-six is still bad in terms of shot differential and the fact that they are getting outscored with them on the ice makes them look even worse. However, compare this to the rest of the league and they are about average. There's a lot of room to improve with a 48.3% Corsi Percentage but you can see above that other team's third and fourth lines have been much worse. The same goes for their 45.1% Goal Percentage, which is about the same as Ottawa, San Jose and the Rangers. It's also above the likes of Edmonton, Nashville, Montreal and even Pittsburgh, who have some hilariously bad numbers from their bottom-six.

Although, one thing to note is that while the Hurricanes bottom-six is basically average, they still get a pretty big territorial boost when their top-six is on the ice.

The ridiculous goal differentials from a few teams skews the graph a little, but the jolt that the Hurricanes get from their top-two lines is still pretty easy to point out. They're about 5% better territorially with them on the ice and while they aren't the Penguins, they still don't have a lot of balance in their lineup and that has put a lot of stress on their top-six to do most of the scoring. When they go through a rut, the rest of the team usually goes along with them and it's frustrating because the Hurricanes top-six has done a lot of good things even when they aren't putting the puck in the net. Possession is one thing, finishing is a completely different ballgame and while a lot of it can be attributed to bad puck luck, this has been the story in Carolina for over a calendar year now and the team's shooting percentage almost comical at this point. 

Some of the team's forwards have seen their personal shooting percentage start to regress toward their career averages, but the Hurricanes overall shooting percentage has remained low and I don't think "shot quality" is the reason for it. If that were the case, I doubt Radek Dvorak would have the highest 5v5 on-ice shooting percentage on the team and that Manny Malhotra would have a higher shooting percentage than Jordan Staal. Especially since the latter attacks the offensive zone in a much more aggressive manner and both of them shoot from roughly the same distances.

I'd love to do more research on this because the Hurricanes inability to finish their chances has been a huge problem for awhile now. Their bottom-six is painfully mediocre but it might be enough for them to get by if the top-six wasn't collectively shooting at career lows.

Stats courtesy of Hockey Analysis & Extra Skater

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