Head coach Kirk Muller has two real choices on how to finish up before he’s shipped out of town on the first train on April 14. He can throw everything he has onto the ice and go out in a blaze of glory, playing Eric Staal, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and Nathan Gerbe on triple shifts and throwing 36 shots a game on every goaltender they face. There’s that.
Or, he can take the route MLB managers often take in the last couple of innings of a World Series game they’re getting blown out of. Muller could put underdeveloped players like Riley Nash and Pat Dwyer on the ice a bunch along with Elias Lindholm and anyone else needing extra ice time, because there’s no better way to get a guy to improve than to throw him in the deep end. In the NHL, it’s all the deep end.
Both choices come with their virtues and drawbacks. An all-out ‘why the heck not’ final run could create some great moments and give fans a glimmer of hope for the next season when the Hurricanes actually show up. It would put some killer highlight reels out there, let the boys have a little fun, and walk out chest-up and head-high.
The problem with that is that it risks a lot of injuries. The injury problem plagued Carolina all season and is pointed to by some as the main culprit for the inconsistent play that sank the team’s chances. Keeping the marquee players healthy is not a bad call when it’s obvious that 2014-15 is going to be the rebuilding season to end all rebuilding seasons.
Putting the bottom of the order onto the ice for experience is a classic Hurricanes plan-for-the-future kind of play. Some of those guys are going to be sent elsewhere come season’s end, and padding their stats can draw a better player on the trade market. Anyone who thinks a lot of Hurricanes will be renewing their lease on the place in Raleigh are lying to themselves.
However, what is it going to do for fan and team morale to ice a team that is less than the best? Do fans seriously want to watch the Hurricanes put out preseason-caliber lineups on the ice for three more weeks? The safe money is on ‘no’.
It’s likely to be Muller’s last big decision before he starts xeroxing his resume. Which way he proceeds will dictate not only where he lands next season, but what kind of position Carolina will be in during the offseason rebuild.