The Carolina Hurricanes are two months deep in the 2019-20 regular season, just past the quarter mark of the 82-game campaign.
With that mile marker in mind, I had the opportunity to sit down with Canes President and General Manager Don Waddell during the first intermission of Saturday's game in Tampa.
Our chat touched on a number of subjects, including the team's start, contributions from young players, Erik Haula's injury, Justin Williams and more.
Hurricanes.com: How would you assess the team just over a quarter of the way into the season?
Don Waddell: Overall, you have to be pleased with a lot of players and the steps they've taken, especially some of our younger guys. Probably the one thing we're looking for is a little more consistency, not only from game in and game out but from period to period. We went on that one road trip and won three games, but in all the games we were up by two goals and had to win two of them in overtime. You want to get to a point where you start building leads and get that killer instinct to put those away.
READ: CANES' TALENT LEADS TO EARLY-SEASON OVERTIME SUCCESS
Hurricanes.com: When you look at two seasons ago to last season to this season, how much has the level of expectation increased?
Waddell: Certainly, when you have the success we had last year of going to the Conference Final, it's not the external pressure you feel; it's the internal pressure you put on yourself to be as good as you can be. You want to take that next step forward. We always say to not worry about the playoffs; worry about the next game. You've got 82 of these in the regular season to play, and if you don't worry about the next game, you might not have to worry about game 83. It's important to focus on today and hopefully that will build us for a nice run in the second half of the season.
Hurricanes.com: You mention young players. How impressive has Andrei Svechnikov been in his second season?
Waddell: We all knew last year that he was a special player, but he's probably at a higher level quicker than anyone could have imagined this year. The steps he's taken, and I think it goes further and deeper into the work he put in over the summertime. As you know, you're around the rink, the time he spends around the arena, he's usually the last guy to leave. He's out there shooting pucks all day long, and he puts the time in. I think he's getting the results on the ice because of the hard work he's done off the ice.
READ: SVECHNIKOV SHOWS MATURITY, CONFIDENCE IN FIRST 100 GAMES
Hurricanes.com: Another young player is Martin Necas. Do you think the full season in Charlotte helped him develop his game here in North America?
Waddell: 100 percent. It was tough on him. I had a lot of conversations with him. Right before he went to World Juniors, he was playing his best hockey in Charlotte. He came back from there, and the expectation was that he was going to join us. We were going good at the time, so we just felt that we'd let him play. Probably game 60 down there, he took over. He was the leading scorer in the playoffs. Playing that many playoff hockey games, he played over 100 games - that's huge for his development, and I think it gave him all the confidence in the world coming into training camp. If we could re-do it, I'd do it the same way. Last year, it looked like he was going to make our team and be an 8-10-minute player. Now, he's a regular player who is contributing on a regular basis.
Hurricanes.com: This team is getting contributions from the back-end, as well, especially from Dougie Hamilton. How important has that been to the team's success?
Waddell: The style we play, we need everybody to be offensive minded. We're going to score goals, and we're going to give up chances playing this way, as we all know, but when you have guys who can finish - it's one thing to have players who want to play offensive but just don't have that capability to score a goal, but we have many defensemen who have that ability to score and contribute offensively. The style that Rod likes to play, I think it's instrumental to have our D as part of our offensive play. They certainly have been so far this year.
Hurricanes.com: What's the latest on Erik Haula, and is that a concern at this point?
Waddell: It's not a big concern. He had a major surgery last year. We've done MRIs. It's not his knee. It's tendonitis. He's almost pain free, in speaking with him the other day, so he's back on the routine of hitting it hard in the gym, and he'll start on the ice here soon. It's going to probably flare back up at some point. You've just got to maintain it and give him those maintenance days when you can. We expect him to make a full recovery and be back with us shortly.
Hurricanes.com: The young core from last season essentially remained the same, but you supplemented by acquiring or signing a number of new pieces. Haula is one of those new faces that arrived in the offseason. Are you pleased with the dynamics those additions have brought to the team?
Waddell: Forget about the players for a minute. We brought in good people. The culture that we have here is important. What we started last year, led by Roddy, we wanted to continue on. Culture brings good habits, and good habits bring winning hockey. So, we wanted to make sure we were bringing in good people, first of all, and every guy we brought in has fit in real well in the locker room. There have been no problems at all. With Haula, for example, we wanted to get another centerman who can contribute offensively. This is a four-line league now; it's not two or three lines. When we're healthy, it gives us four really good lines. (Ryan) Dzingel is a 25-goal scorer, which is always at a premium. I know he went a little slow for a little while, but he's still on a 50-point pace. (James) Reimer, if you look at his starts, he's had the toughest starts of anybody because they've been almost all road starts and usually on back-to-back nights. Last week in Detroit, he came up with a big zero there. You're going to need two goalies. We proved that last year. It's important for us to keep him involved, keep getting those starts and hopefully he continues to play well.
Hurricanes.com: You're a busy man. You acquired Nino Niederreiter in January of last year. If you made a move this season, it would have to be a similar hockey trade, right?
Waddell: This is the one year that we knew would be a tough [salary cap] year, especially picking up the (Patrick) Marleau contract, but we also thought the asset for our franchise moving forward was going to be huge whether we draft that player or use it to acquire a player. We are up close to the cap. We have a little room. As the season goes on, hopefully that room becomes a little bigger, and you can do a deal that's not just strictly a hockey deal. Maybe it's acquiring something down the stretch for assets we already have in the organization. Certainly, the deals we're talking about today - actually, today was a busy day with a lot of talk going on - they're all deals where the money is going to have to match up pretty much even, and most teams are in the same situations. They're looking at it the same way.
Hurricanes.com: Anything new on Justin Williams?
Waddell: We continue to talk with him. I think he's working out a little bit more on his own right now. I think he's going to start coming to the gym a little more. That's a positive sign. What that end result is yet is still a mystery to all of us, but we're hopeful that maybe there is an opportunity there to have him come back.