If you are not a Carolina Hurricanes fan, you likely view the Canes as another sad sack team struggling at the bottom of the standings. But, amidst all the trade rumors swirling around the Hurricanes these days, they have quietly put together an extended string of solid outings since the start of 2015 (9-3-3). Their latest effort was a hard-fought 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks, finishing off their four game road trip with a 2-1-1 mark, which would have been 3-1-0, if not for a blown two goal 3rd period lead in Anaheim. Spirited performances against Anaheim, Arizona, and San Jose highlighted the trip.
It should come as no surprise that the recent success has been fuelled by the re-uniting of the Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan, finally both healthy and terrorizing the opposition each time the tandem hits the ice. The Canes are a much different squad with Jordy back in the saddle and Eric is finally settling in as a top wingman. He has been on a tear since his brother returned and among the league’s top goal getters in the last month. All-star Defenceman Justin Faulk has been all-world through this run and strong goaltending has been a hallmark for the Canes, with both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin giving the Canes a chance to win every night.
As Canes fans, we should be delighted by the Hurricanes resurgence. But, for many of us, success is bitter sweet. Clearly, the Canes are not in the playoff hunt this year and are still not good enough to compete at the level necessary to be a consistent playoff contender. Despite the fact that Francis and Peters believe the Hurricanes are close, I beg to differ. There is much work left to do with this team. Perhaps, given the prevailing view that this is the best draft year in recent memory, the team would be better served battling the Sabres and Oilers as bottom dwellers, rather than our customary position drafting in the 5-10 slot. Likely the only way to accomplish that is by selling off veteran assets now and continuing to build with youth.
The Hurricanes have a number of key elements to build on, hence the optimism of GM, Ron Francis, and his undaunted 1st year coach, Bill Peters. I like Peters and respect his no-nonsense approach with his players. Those that buy into his system are thriving. The aforementioned Staals, Faulk, Ward, and Khudobin are a good start, player wise. You have to love the industrious fourth line of Brad Malone, Patrick Dwyer and Jay McClement. Not only have they been the consummate energy line but McClement and Dwyer have been a key part of the league’s best penalty kill in recent weeks and “Bugsy” Malone has been lighting it up offensively, including a nifty penalty shot marker against Ducks’ Frederik Andersen. Young Swedes, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask, both instrumental in the wins over Arizona and San Jose, are growing into their roles and will only get better with NHL experience. And, you can add hard-working foot soldiers Ron Hainsey and Nathan Gerbe, who embody coach Peters’ start-on-time work ethic and never take a night off, to that group.
But from there, it starts to get murky. Decisions will have to be made regarding the future of Andrej Sekera and Jiri Tlusty, both UFAs on June 1. If signed, looks like Sekera is definitely gone, they will clearly form a part of the core. Alexander Semin has been a write-off virtually all season, but his contract means he isn’t going anywhere, likely the same problem with underperforming D-man, Jean-Michael Liles. What will become of Jeff Skinner, Riley Nash, and Andrej Nestrasil, all young players with talent, but all struggling to get their mojo in coach Peters’ system? And, the defence corps, other than Faulk and Hainsey, is in bad need of an overhaul. The book is still not out on Ryan Murphy, although following his recent AHL all-start appearance, he has shown much stronger resolve in his defensive zone, always the worry with smallish offence-minded D-players, like Murphy. Tim Gleason, another UFA this summer, has been a serviceable 5/6 guy but his future with the Canes remains uncertain. And, other than smallish forwards, 1st year pro Brock McGinn, and World Junior stars Sergei Tolchinsky and Lucas Wallmark, and junior phenoms, D-man Haydn Fleury and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, the cupboard is essentially bare. The best of the Charlotte Checkers, other than McGinn, are defencemen Michal Jordan, up for a cup of coffee earlier this season, and Rasmus Rissanen, yet to see him in a Canes uniform but may soon with Murphy's injury, but they don’t appear to be close to being ready.
Clearly, lots to think about if you are the Hurricanes bossman, Ron Francis. And, since this is Ronnie Franchise’s first trade deadline as a GM, that will surely add to the storyline.
Do you try to sign Sekera and/or Tlusty, or offer up one or both of them and others to stockpile draft picks and young prospects? Given the Buffalo trade of Myers to Winnipeg, Sekera's stock is rising. Do you plan to sign other valued UFAs, such as Dwyer, McClement, and Gleason in the off-season or move them now, too? Is Jeff Skinner or Cam Ward in-play as has been oft-rumored? Would there be any interest in spare parts, Chris Terry, Brett Bellemore, and Zach Boychuk, perhaps as part of a bigger deal?
In upcoming blogs, I’ll take a look at the hot Canes rumors and possible moves the Canes may pull off before the March 3 trade deadline.
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