After his first training-camp practice, new Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters couldn’t have been more clear: Don’t read too much into the lines that opened camp.
The team was merely split into two groups for balance, he said, with the first preseason game only two days away. Yet it was impossible to ignore Eric Staal skating with Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm in one group while Jordan Staal skated with Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin in the other.
Intentionally or unintentionally, even if it’s only to start training camp, it’s a fascinating move that sends a couple different messages – and might put both Staals and Semin in the best positions to be successful.
Semin has spent most of his season-and-a-half with the Hurricanes skating alongside Eric Staal, which was the original intent when he was signed in 2012. That combination, along with Tlusty, proved productive in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season but not so much last season, and when that line fizzled, the Hurricanes’ chances of making the playoffs were immeasurably damaged.
Whether because of his sore wrist or collateral damage from the mind-blowing five-year, $35 million contract he signed last summer, Semin wasn’t nearly as effective, his propensity for missing the net particularly damaging on a woeful power play.
Jordan, meanwhile, was brought over from the Pittsburgh Penguins at substantial expense and awarded a hefty contract to give the Hurricanes a formidable one-two punch at center, but his two-way game has been primarily one-sided. His offensive production has actually decreased, making him primarily a very expensive checking center. In his defense, he has been playing primarily with defensive-minded linemates in a very defensive role. Playing with Tlusty and Semin would change that.
Tlusty is defensively responsible with some offensive skill; Semin is tremendously skilled but prone to mental breakdowns on the defensive side. They would give Jordan Staal the firepower he has often lacked on the wings since arriving here, while Semin would have nowhere to hide playing against the opposition’s best line with two players whose commitment at the defensive end is unquestioned.
And while Eric Staal loses Semin, he has the Hurricanes’ two most skilled remaining forwards on either side in Skinner and Lindholm as he tries to rebound from his most disappointing full season since his rookie year.
“When I talked to (Peters) over the summer, he said he was going to look at a lot of different things,” Eric Staal said. “Starting this way, to me, like I said to him, it doesn’t matter who I play with. I just want to play. I have to show him that and gain his trust like anyone else.”
The obvious move would have been to start Semin with Eric Staal in an attempt to recapture that chemistry, and maybe that’s how things will end up. It is, after all, only the first day of training camp. There will be changes, injuries, trades, tweaks. But for the first day, it was an unexpected jolt out of the comfort zone.
“I wouldn’t take too much out of that, but at the same time it’s nice playing with those guys, so I’m excited about that,” Jordan Staal said. But then, moments later: “You can tell (Peters) has got the details down.”
Don’t read a lot into it, to be sure, but watch it carefully. Even in his short time here, Peters has carefully planned every aspect of his job. Few details have eluded him. It seems improbable this one did.