Fitting Tim Gleason back into the lineup

There are some good vibes in Raleigh this week as the Hurricanes have earned three points in two games and started their road trip off on the right foot by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some other good news is that defenseman Tim Gleason, who missed time with a concussion, has begun skating with the team again and could return to the lineup as soon as next week. Gleason plays a big role both on and off the ice, so getting him back in the lineup will be critical. However, Gleason's return also creates a logjam on the Canes blue-line and it will be interesting to see how the Canes deal with it.

This situation isn't anything new to the Canes, as they usually carry one or two spare defensemen, but Kirk Muller & Dave Lewis seem to be content with their current defense pairings so it's tough to figure out how Muller will work Gleason into the lineup. It's been hard enough for them to work Mike Komisarek into the lineup, as he has played only one game thus far, and it will be interesting to see who the other odd-man out is in another week. It's possible that the Canes might roll seven defensemen & 11 forwards to get everyone into the lineup, especially if Elias Lindholm stays out, but who should play and who should sit if they opt to dress six defensemen? 

To figure out the answer to this, let's take a look at where Gleason could play in the lineup and how each member of the Canes defense has performed in this young season.

Both Muller & Lewis are willing to think outside of the box, but they usually don't like to use defensemen on their off-hand, so whoever Gleason replaces in the lineup will have to be a lefty. That will be very complicated, as the Canes more experienced blue-liners are all left-handed shots.

Left Defense Right Defense
Andrej Sekera Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey Brett Bellemore
Jay Harrison Ryan Murphy
  Mike Komisarek

Unless the coaches don't mind using Hainsey or Harrison on their off-hands, one of them will have to come out of the lineup to make room for Gleason. Since the chances of Hainsey being scratched are slim, that makes Harrison the odd-man out in this instance. However, this would put one of Hainsey or Gleason in a third pairing role and I have a hard time seeing that happening with Bellemore & Murphy still in the lineup.Thus, it's very possible that Hainsey could be moved over to the right side while one of Bellemore or Murphy is scratched. Hainsey's played on his off-hand before, so this shouldn't be too much of a problem unless he is heavily relied on for breakouts. Murphy's already been scratched once and Bellemore has been benched in a couple of recent games, which leaves the door open for some interesting scenarios. 

What is the best option for the Canes, though? Let's dig a little deeper to find out the answer.

Player 5v5 TOI GF/60 GA/60 Corsi% SF/60 SA/60 O/DZst%
Sekera 133.8 2.24 2.24 47.3% 29.60 35.43 47.0%
Faulk 140.4 2.99 2.14 46.3% 29.06 38.03 47.1%
Bellemore 112.3 0.53 2.67 53.9% 34.73 28.32 47.1%
Hainsey 129.8 0.92 2.31 53.3% 36.52 30.05 46.9%
Murphy 94.2 3.18 1.91 49.7% 31.21 33.12 66.7%
Harrison 106.1 3.39 1.70 48.8% 29.41 34.50 60.7%
Komisarek 13.8 0.00 0.00 41.4% 8.70 34.78 45.0%

from Extra Skater

If we're looking for the easiest player to replace, Harrison is probably the best option here. He has three points and strong on-ice goal stats, but his performance otherwise has been bad. He has been ont he ice for a lot of shots 7 chances against while playing an extremely sheltered role. Gleason isn't going to get this kind of protection when he is inserted back into the lineup, but he should be an upgrade over Harrison no matter what role he plays.

Murphy has also struggled at even strength, but he is needed on the power play and gives the third-pairing a reliable puck-mover to pair one of Gleason or Hainsey with. Neither of these two are strong when it comes to leading breakouts, so pairing one of them with Murphy could work out well in terms of territorial play.

Some might say that Bellemore should be the odd-man out and while he had a couple of errors in the Phoenix & Chicago games, he has actually been one of the team's best defensemen this year. Bellemore's played top-four minutes while being saddled with some tough assignments and yet, the Hurricanes are outshooting their opponents at even strength when he is on the ice. With the Canes struggling in puck-possession early on, keeping Bellemore in the lineup is probably a smart move. Even if he is bumped down to the third pairing, he has been able to help the Canes move the puck in the right direction whenever he is on the ice, which is something Harrison & Murphy haven't consistently been able to do yet. 

So, if the Canes elect to roll six defensemen, the most reasonable thing to do would be to bench Harrison and have one of Gleason or Hainsey play on the third pairing with  Murphy or Bellemore. Both are capable of playing bigger roles, but Gleason is just returning from a concussion, so easing him back into action would be a smart move instead of forcing him into a heavy-lifting role right off the bat. There isn't a need to do that with Faulk & Sekera handling those minutes & the second defense pairing playing well. I'm not sure if this is what the Hurricanes will do, but they have some options open to them and it's nice to have this problem compared to the mess they had on defense last season.