Debates and arguments about Chad LaRose have been really hard to avoid over the last few years if you follow the Hurricanes. The small but gritty forward is a favorite to a lot of Caniacs because of his character, work ethic and tough playing style. All of these qualities made him one of Carolina's more well-known players and he has definitely had a lot of great moments over his eight-year career, all of which were spent with the Hurricanes.
However, LaRose's tendency to take bad penalties and not finish scoring chances have also earned him a lot of detractors, as well. There are some who groan every time he takes a shift with the top-six or when he badly misses the net on an open shot in the slot, and it seems like the population of these types has gone up in the last couple of seasons. Thus, LaRose has become somewhat of a polarizing figure among Carolina fans.
The odd thing about most of the now-famous LaRose debates on Twitter is that most of the were based around how he was used rather than his actual performance. LaRose has been around here long enough for fans to know that he is a grinder at heart and a prototypical bottom-six player. He can give you at least 10-15 goals in a year, but his hands aren't that great and his offensive ceiling has always been pretty low.
As a grinder, most coaches would have LaRose on their third or fourth line but LaRose has been a regular top-sixer in Carolina for a good chunk of his career. His even strength scoring rates show that he isn't suited for this type of role, so he was definitely overslotted there, but the Hurricanes didn't have a lot of other options in many of those years. This is why it was tough to put a lot of the blame on LaRose. Everyone knew that he isn't meant to be a scoring winger, so constantly using him as one was going to come with poor results and this was supposed to change this season.
With the addition of Alexander Semin, the Hurricanes did not have to overslot LaRose or anyone else on the first line and he could play a role that was more suited for him on the bottom-two forward units. LaRose's normal point-production would be fine in a depth role, so using him on the third or fourth line made a lot of sense because he is the type of player who could possibly thrive in a sheltered, offensive role. The plan going into the year was to use LaRose in that type of role and unfortunatley, things did not work out that well.
LaRose had easily his worst season as an NHL-er. He put up only four points over 35 games and missed time with a concussion on top of that. This is about as bad of a season as one can have in a contract year and while it will be awkward to see LaRose in another team's uniform, it's also tough to see the Hurricanes bringing him back after the year he had. There were a lot of things that went wrong that were out of his control and it's hard to fathom him being this bad next year, but the Hurricanes moving on from LaRose might be the best thing for both parties. As bad as it is to overreact to a rough half-season, what LaRose does can be replaced and the Canes have a lot of young players waiting in the wings who can possibly take over for him.
After the jump, we'll take a closer look at the year that was for LaRose.
Early on, it looked like we could go a whole season without having any debates about LaRose being used in the top-six. There were a few games where his ice time was strictly reduced and he was even a healthy scratch for a game in mid-February. Things changed quite a bit as the year went on, though and LaRose began to play more minutes. This is mostly due to injuries and LaRose eventually became a regular top-sixer toward the end of the season when most of the team was laboring. In a good year for LaRose, putting him in the top-six for a few games as an injury replacement isn't the end of the world. Of course, this wasn't a good year for LaRose at all and using him in the top-six didn't help the team much.
5v5 Fenwick Diff/20
5v5 Chance Diff/20
Offensively, this was a miserable season for LaRose. I mentioned earlier that he had only four total points and half of them came in one game against Tampa Bay where he had a goal and an assist. His even strength scoring rate was the lowest on the team and only 13 NHL had a lower scoring rate than him. There were also only 17 regular forwards in the league who were on the ice for fewer of their team's even strength goals than LaRose. For any NHL-er, this kind of offensive production would be bad, but it is pitiful for someone who got top-nine minutes all season.
LaRose's poor offensive numbers go beyond just goals and points, though. He was on the ice for less than four even strength scoring chances per 60 minutes, which is a rate that is lower than most of the players in the Hurricanes top-nine. He was a much better player at creating chances last season, so I'm not sure what the problem was or how sustainable it is, but it definitely contributed to his poor numbers. The fact that he was on the ice for a high number of chances against didn't help either. LaRose has never been good defensively, so the fact that he wasn't producing much offense really hurt his overall value and he was a replacement level player this season. This meaning that the Hurricanes could have replaced him with a call-up and gotten similar or better results.
The only thing that LaRose had going for him was that he was a fairly good player at controlling puck possession during even strength play. His numbers are a tad skewed from a strong segment near the end of the season (when he had better linemates) and he wasn't nearly as good as he usually was in this department, but the puck was usually in the opposing team's zone whenever he was on the ice. The reason why it didn't translate to much offensive success is because many of the shots he was on the ice for were not scoring chances. I usually think these criticisms are overblown, but the numbers from this season back up this argument. He also experienced some bad shooting luck, converting on only 3.1% of his shots and the team scored on less than 4% of the shots they took at even strength with him on the ice. LaRose has never been a good finisher in his career, but this year was probably an outlier and I doubt he will be this bad offensively again. His decent puck-possession stats should give some encouragement for the future at the very least.
5v5 Zone Entries
Being a grinder, dump and chase play is usually what players like LaRose are told to do when they enter the zone and this is exactly what he did for most of the year. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if LaRose didn't have such a big role in the neutral zone and drag down the team's overall performance. There's nothing wrong with LaRose resorting to dumping the puck in a lot, but when he accounts for a good chunk of the team's total entries, then it becomes a problem. This means that he designated as one of the play-drivers on his line and the team isn't creating much offense because he is surrendering possession of the puck on so many of his entries. Hopefully this changes next year.
Season Grade: D-
Every player has a bad year or a rough patch that they go through and this was a very tough season for LaRose. It's hard to imagine him being this bad ever again, but the results are what they are and there aren't many positives to dig out of this season. He was bad offensively, bad defensively and his one redeeming quality was that he wasn't terrible at driving the play forward, which unfortunately didn't result in much. I would like to think that his numbers would be better in a full season, but we'll never know how that turns out.
The Final Word
It is really hard to imagine LaRose playing for any other team but the Hurricanes. He has been with the team his entire career and has played such a big role both on and off the ice, but we all must move on at some point and the Canes might need to move on from LaRose after this season. It's not only because he had a bad season, though. LaRose is very replaceable in the grand scheme of things and his play will probably decline as he gets further into his 30's, so it makes sense to replace him with someone younger. Having a terrible season in a contract year probably didn't help matters at all, though. LaRose was a great Hurricane, but his time with the franchise could be over very soon. It's just too bad that he couldn't go out on a more positive note.