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Monday, September 25, 2017
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Jeff Skinner To Participate In Smashfest 2017

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(photo courtesy of NHLPA)

Smashfest is coming soon!

No, this is not a World Wide Wrestling Federation event, it’s an annual charity table tennis tournament attended by several NHL players.

Originally a brainchild of Dominic Moore, the event has drawn more and more players every year as it’s popularity has grown.  They have reportedly raised over $500,000 so far in funds for charity.

For more specifics about the charitable aspects of the tournament and other background information, check out Ken Campbell’s article about it here – The Hockey News

The Hurricanes own Jeff Skinner participates in the event and was named “Most Improved” in last summer’s tournament. He made it to the semi-finals before losing to the eventual champion Patrick Eaves.  Eaves has won the tournament two straight seasons now.

I spoke with Skinner last season about his experience and you could tell from his enthusiasm how much he loved it.

“hockey season is kind of my ping pong off season.  I don’t really get a chance to play much during the year until summer but it’s a real fun hobby then.”

At the time I spoke to him about this, he said that there was no place for him to play against his teammates at the arena.

“Unfortunately, there is not really a great area here to set one up, but if anyone on the team ever wanted to challenge me and invite me over to their house, I’d be ready to play!”

Skinner said that he would certainly be ready for action again this summer.

“The tournament will be coming up again this summer and i will be practicing up, hoping to peak my game then.”

According to the Hockey News article, Skinner has indeed been practicing recently as much as three times a week, so he should be as ready has he had hoped to be.

The most recent listing of confirmed participants for this year’s tournament, (from the NHLPA) is as follows:

  1. Dominic Moore
  2. Josh Anderson
  3. Andreas Athanasiou
  4. Sam Bennett
  5. Joe Blandisi
  6. Derick Brassard
  7. Connor Brown
  8. Alex Burrows
  9. Connor Carrick
  10. Joseph Cramarossa
  11. Ryan Dzingel
  12. Patrick Eaves
  13. Taylor Hall
  14. Scott Harrington
  15. Adam Henrique
  16. Zach Hyman
  17. Boone Jenner
  18. Michael Latta
  19. Brandon Montour
  20. Antoine Roussel
  21. Devin Shore
  22. Jeff Skinner
  23. Ryan Spooner
  24. Chris Tierney
  25. Matthew Tkachuk
  26. Craig Adams
  27. Mike Johnson

 

If you are in Toronto on Thursday, July 20, it’s not too late to sign up to participate.  They will take entrants at the door.

For more information, go to Smashfest.ca

Good luck to Skinner this year.

The Big Winners: Who benefits most from this Summer’s moves by the Carolina Hurricanes?

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How long has it been? Has it really been just a little over 6 weeks? The activity bursting forth from the gates of Edwards Mill Road is something rarely seen and certainly not in recent memory. The Carolina Hurricanes have been making off-season noise.

It started on a Friday in late April when Ron Francis traded a 3rd round pick for the rights to Scott Darling. Within about a week the big guy was signed to a new 4-year, $16.6 million contract. A certain promise had now been kept.

Soon after, there was a rash of low-key but no less important signings – Teuvo Teravainen, Derek Ryan, and Brock McGinn received new deals. The ranks of the Checkers started to take shape with guys like Carrick, Chelios, Brown, and Samuelsson inked to new contracts.

The Expansion Draft craziness followed. Amazingly, secondary scorer, Lee Stempniak, was retained for table scraps. After that smoke cleared, Francis fulfilled another promise, trading for capable right-handed defenseman, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, thereby stabilizing the team’s bottom pairing.

Alas, the 2017 NHL Entry Draft passed without trades or transactions involving the Canes. Many fans gnashed their teeth and howled at the moon, wondering why we couldn’t turn our passel of draft picks into a useful Top 6 scorer. The paraphrased refrain, “…we looked at some things, but in the end, there was nothing to our liking”, did not go over well with swaths of the fanbase.

A couple of days prior to “free agent frenzy”, fan favorite, Eddie Lack, fan whipping boy, Ryan Murphy, and an inconsequential pick were moved out for an ECHL-er and a slightly less inconsequential pick. It appeared that maybe “things were a shakin’ ”. The “gears of change” creaked slowly, but methodically.

And then, somebody who resembled our general manager, but who’s mind had clearly been invaded by a mad scientist, acted totally out of character. Unthinkably, Carolina signed somebody on the first day of free agency. Not just the first day, mind you, but within the first half hour. And not just a random “depth” player, but one of the top available scorers. After the Caniac nation recovered from a collective case of the vapors, they stood, cheering the name of one-time Hurricane hero and Stanley Cup champion, Justin “F***ing” Williams.

The depth signing of Josh Jooris soon followed. Important in its own right, it was overshadowed by the Independence Day trade (don’t those Canadians have any respect for grillin’, drunkenness, and fireworks) bringing Marcus Kruger into the fold. Our patrons, the Chicago Blackhawks, were gifted a 5th round pick for their generosity.

More good stuff followed. Jaccob Slavin signs a long-term deal at a great price. Most astonishingly, it appears that a potential new ownership group has surfaced. Negotiations are ongoing, but the stability of the franchise in Raleigh “feels” more assured.

Whew! What a whirlwind!

Yet, what does it all mean? In short, it means there are some winners and some losers. We’re so damn familiar with the losing side of the equation, let’s ignore that for today. Given this activity, who are the beneficiaries? Who deserves that big smile they’re carrying around?

Bill Peters

Yup, that’s right. The single biggest winner in all of this is one William Robert Peters, aka, Pastor Bill.

His boss, Ron Francis had 11 draft picks in the 2017 draft. Peters joked that one of his biggest wishes was to transform those draft picks into needed, NHL-ready players. Scott Darling and Trevor Van Riemsdyk say hello. He also got through the expansion draft without losing 40 point man, Stempniak. Oh, and there’s that little thing of adding 20-goal scorer and veteran leader, Justin Williams.

Bill Peters also mentioned the “help” the team needed wasn’t yet ready in Charlotte. With the addition of Kruger and Jooris, there’s more NHL and NHL-ready depth than this team has had in many a year. Yup, Bill Peters has a reason to smile.

Jordan Staal

For years many Canes’ fans have wondered why Jordan Staal’s offensive output wasn’t greater. Perhaps, one of the key reasons, is that he’s given every tough defensive matchup and every 1st group penalty kill assignment in every game. No Top 6 forward on the team had fewer offensive zone starts (49.2%). A good chunk of his 18+ minutes on the ice are spent on the penalty kill.

Staal’s new best friend will be Marcus Kruger, a defensive gem, who will almost certainly take up some of those tough defensive assignments while shouldering more of the PK minutes as well. Even Kruger’s minutes will seem easier than in Chicago. There’s a very real likelihood that Staal’s offensive game ticks up given this altered workload. Jordan will owe Marcus a nice Christmas gift this December.

Noah Hanifin

Young Mr. Hanifin played his final 23 games last season primarily as Justin Faulk’s or, to a lesser extent, Brett Pesce’s partner. Over that span, his plus/minus was +2, he potted 2 goals, putting up 13 points. Using short stretches to predict future performance is like voodoo, but with this understanding, that puts Noah on a 46 point pace. To all that watched, he showed the skill for which he was drafted and exuded more overall confidence. Arguably he played the best hockey of his young career.

With Van Riemsdyk signed as the designated 3rd pairing RHD, whomever ends up on the left side will benefit by not having to play with a rotating cast of clown-car clowns. Either Hanifin maintains his elevated play pairing with Faulk/Pesce or he continues developing with TVR. Both provide a much better solution for Noah Hanifin and, especially, for the team.

Derek Ryan

While Ryan’s odyssey to the NHL is magically heart-warming, his picture belongs in the dictionary next to the definition of serendipity. “Doc” Ryan more than doubled his pay based on a 67 game, 29 point span where he was primarily paired with the Jeff Skinner scoring machine. There’s no shame in getting vulture points and, honestly, he was one of the better secondary scoring UFA centers on this year’s market.

His “win”, however, comes more from what didn’t happen. Many thought Ron Francis would target a Top 6 scorer and a Top 9 secondary scorer, likely to slot at 3C. Ryan’s signing coupled with the Jooris/Kruger acquisitions essentially guaranteed his role in the Top 9. When Bill Peters gushed about the Skinner/Ryan/Stempniak line, the deal was sealed. If you’re ever in the Circle K and you see Doc Ryan buying lottery tickets, you need to sneak a peak at those numbers, cause luck is on that dude’s side.

There are other Hurricanes who will benefit from this offseason. Teuvo Teravainen is likely to have a field day feeding Justin Williams and Victor Rask is going to bang in his fair share of rebounds from those efforts. Elias Lindholm and Sebastian Aho showed significant chemistry late last year and they are likely to start this season as “a thing”. Even Cam Ward will probably see less rubber and more favorable match ups.

Maybe, the Canes should adopt Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s classic “Lucky Man” in collective honor of Ron Francis’s off-season artistry.

Justin Williams – “It’s An Exciting Time”

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On Monday, the Carolina Hurricanes held a press conference for newly signed free agent, Justin Williams.  The winger had recently signed a two-year, $9 million contract to return to the Hurricanes.

This meeting with the media was the winger’s first return to the Carolina locker room since the trade that sent him to Los Angeles back in 2009.

Some cosmetic things have changed, but some memories will last forever in here and for sure, I have  a lot of good ones.

 

Williams was extremely positive about returning to this club while admitting that most of his teammates will be new to him.  Still, having faced them in competition, he is familiar with the talent that is in the room.

When asked what led him to the decision to sign in Carolina, he said there were several reasons.

first and foremost this is a team that is on the rise and a team that will surprise a lot of people this year.  You always want to be a part of that.

I feel my role on this team will be an important one and I will work hard to make sure it’s a good one.

Don’t ask Williams about possibly wearing the “C” this season though.  He said he would not answer questions regarding that.

Last season the Hurricanes went without an official Captain, although three players wore the “A”.  Justin Faulk, Victor Rask, and Jeff Skinner all are possible candidates for the “C” this season, as well as Jaccob Slavin, who just signed a long term deal last week.

Many feel that a player with the experience and reputation like Williams might be a perfect stop-gap while the younger players gain more experience.  These conversations can be a bit touchy sometimes, so the team will wait to discuss this internally during training camp.

Williams was also asked if he would be counted on as a leader in the room to which he replied that it would be a mistake to try to come to a new team and be someone he is not.  He will do what he’s always done, be himself.

Once again when asked about the status and potential of the current team, Williams was gushing.

It’s a fun time I think to be a carolina hurricane and I want to be a part of something good.  I have been on some successful teams and I’m going to do my best here to make sure that happens.

Justin Williams certainly brings things the Hurricanes desperately need: Someone with a winning persona and experience.  Someone who knows what it takes to be successful.  Someone who is not shy about taking a leadership role.

It will interesting to see if his addition will translate to success for Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

What A Summer – Expansion, Draft Day, Free Agent Frenzy, Oh My!

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For the first time in a long time it has been a truly exciting off-season for the Carolina Hurricanes and the Caniac Nation. Seriously, exciting. While one can’t say that the team got totally remade, it did see critical additions and a little addition by subtraction. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…let’s looks at this flurry of activity as chronologically as possible.

The First Big Move – Scott Darling

Even though Ron Francis promised that he was going to address the goaltending challenges facing the Hurricanes, trading a 3rd round pick for the rights to negotiate with a potential new starter in net still came as a bit of a shock. Scott Darling was one of the 2 or 3 premier goalie targets for those teams, like the Canes, who knew they had to address that issue. Signing the 6’6″ Darling to a new 4 year, $16.6 million deal a week later proved that Francis knew what he wanted and went after it. It was especially nice to hear Darling confirm that Carolina was one of his preferred landing spots (even if that was the appropriate company line).

Scott Darling’s numbers as a back-up have been impressive, but then again, so were Eddie Lack‘s. This means that Francis is again taking a calculated risk on a promising back up, hoping that he strikes starter’s gold. There is something different about Darling, though. He skates better than Lack did and handles the puck better, both of which are central to Bill Peters’ brand of hockey. Regardless, the move isn’t without the potential for a repeat performance, but it does “feel” like it was smart and well worth the gamble.

Locking Up Young Scoring

On June 15th, Teuvo Teravainen signed a 2-year bridge contract that will pay him $2.86 million a year over the next couple of seasons. This deal, essentially the same one Elias Lindholm signed with small bump for inflation and slightly higher offensive production, is another “show me” contract. While Turbo put up some nice numbers, few Caniacs would disagree that they were hoping for more. We saw flashes of his capabilities and we also saw frustrating scoreless streaks.

More comfortable on his right side or in the middle, Teravainen is also probably going to have to prove that he can play left wing on the new look Hurricanes. Still, the young Finn is a good companion to newly minted Hurricane icon, Sebastian Aho. This might make this contract worth the money for this fact alone. Yet, if some of the projected lines come to fruition, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Teuvo Teravainen puts up 8 to 10 more points this season.

And Then Came Expansion

There’s a great O.A.R. song called “Crazy Game of Poker” and that’s exactly what the days leading up to the expansion draft (and the days immediately after the expansion draft) were. George McPhee played a very good hand, acquiring numerous picks as well as some interesting “talent”. He moved a fair amount of that talent for either younger assets or even more draft picks. Currently, he has 27 picks across the next 3 drafts. For the Carolina Hurricanes, expansion draft day saw Francis trade a 5th round pick to protect Lee Stempniak (something that surprised the hell out of this author) while UFA to be, Conner Brickley, ended up as Las Vegas’ choice from Carolina’s roster. One had to wonder, is this one of the few hands that McPhee lost?

However, neither Francis nor McPhee were quite done with each other just yet. The next day, Canes’ fans woke up to the news that Carolina had acquired defender Trevor Van Riemsdyk and a 7th round pick in 2018 from Las Vegas for the 2017 second round pick acquired in the Ron Hainsey trade deadline deal with Pittsburgh. After the proverbial smoke had cleared, the general manager for the Carolina Hurricanes had protected Lee Stempniak, acquired Trevor Van Riemsdyk, and picked up a 7th round 2018 draft pick for the price of a 2nd and a 5th rounder. Sounds like a pretty good day’s work.

With that one move, Ron Francis made good on his second promise – to shore up the bottom pairing on defense. TVR is a solid #5 who might be able to play up a paring in a pinch. He certainly will be a solid partner for either young Haydn Fleury or whichever Checker earns that slot. Or, should Noah Hanifin grow more slowly than anticipated, Van Riemsdyk will be in the role of mentor to the former #5 pick. In either case, this move upgraded an already excellent defense.

Followed By The Draft

In a previous article, my predictions proved to be 100% wrong. Not just wrong, they proved to be so off the mark as to be laughable. The 1st round trade did not take place. The trade of picks and a prospect for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did not take place. Every single projected pick turned out differently. With my eye focused a little more toward the smaller, skilled Nick Suzuki (taken by Vegas shortly after our pick), Francis surprised by taking the super-skilled, cerebral, and lanky Martin Necas with his first pick. Another unknown Finn, Eetu Luostarinen, followed by defender Luke Martin (who will most certainly become another in a lengthening line of excellent blueliners) came out of the 2nd round.

There is something about these mid- and later-round picks that are helping to build the Canes’ scouting reputation. Morgan Geekie and Stelio Mattheos both looked to be outstanding pickups with terrific upside potential. Another Finnish Eetu (Makiniemi) was our goalie selection, using our 4th rounder for him. The draft ended with 6th round pick, Brendan De Jong, a hulking overage defenseman who seems to have solid skating ability given his size and 7th round pick Ville Rasanen, about whom little is known outside of his speedy skating.

Of course, many were disappointed that Francis couldn’t pull off some sort of trade for additional scoring help. Wasn’t this where we were supposed to end up with Matt Duchene? Weren’t we going to wear down Joe Sakic so that he would accept our picks and prospects offer? Yeah, it didn’t quite work out that way. Some how, despite a pretty good haul at the draft, many were left a wanting.

An Under-the-Radar and Under-appreciated Depth Signing

We were all sure that we had seen the last of Derek Ryan. Sure, his was a great story of perseverance and hard work, but he was on the smallish side and didn’t seem to fit anywhere in all of our grandiose plans. What we didn’t know until after he signed his one year, one-way, $1.425 million contract was that he probably was one of the 2 or 3 best depth centers on the free agent market.

Here was a guy who won over 55% of all of his face offs, played on both the power play and the penalty kill, and scored at about a 35 point pace (29 points in 67 games). That’s just a shade below Hanzal’s 39 points and Bonino’s 37 points. Incidentally, Martin Hanzal signed a three year, $14.25 million contract with Dallas while Bonino signed a 4 year deal with Nashville, paying him $16.4 million. All of the sudden Ryan doesn’t look that bad. As long as Derek Ryan plays on the 3rd line or lower, this isn’t the worst signing out there. Still, it is a little disappointing as many hoped for an upgrade up at the 3C position. It will be interesting to see how this ultimately plays out. It would be especially interesting if many of us had to dine on platters of crow.

Making Room and Paying the Piper

As much excitement as the signing of Scott Darling brought, there is the nearly heart-breaking situation surrounding Eddie Lack. He was brought in to battle Cam Ward for the starter’s job. For whatever reason, that never really came to pass. Now some might say he never truly had his chance and others might say that he crapped the bed when he did get his shot. Regardless, the Eddie Lack experiment in Carolina came to an end on June 29th when Lack (with salary retention), Ryan Murphy and a 2019 7th round pick were moved out to Calgary for ECHL-er Keegan Kanzig and a 2019 6th rounder. Hopefully Lack will regain his form with the Flames as he’s too good of a guy (who has a fair amount of skill) to see his career slip away.

For their part, the Flames immediately put Murphy on waivers for the purposes of buying him out. Ultimately Ryan Murphy landed on the Avalanche roster and, much like Lack, he has an opportunity to rebuild what once was thought to be a promising career. Of all the ex-Hurricanes who needed a change of venue, Ryan Murphy was the most recent poster child. This transaction also freed up important roster spots and a put to bed bit of wasted salary. Sometimes an organization has to take its lumps and just move on. This was one of those times.

You Just Keep Thinkin’ Butch, It’s What You’re Good At

While the diehards were at the Hurricanes prospect’s camp watching Martin Necas skate rings around folks, Morgan Geekie and Stelio Mattheos show significant offensive potential, and Jake Bean clearly take the next step in his development, Ron Francis was proving he was the smart guy in the room. He was late for his own interview because he had to put the final touches on the biggest free agent signing of his tenure. We all watched as the announcement that Justin Williams had been signed to a 2 year, $9 million contract to return the the Carolina fold. Francis had made good on his promise to bring in a Top 6 scorer.

This wasn’t just any Top 6 guy; this was Justin “J-Willy” Williams who potted the empty netter sealing the Game 7 Stanley Cup finals win. This was the Justin Williams who averaged 23 goals and 50 points over his last two seasons. He’s a 50+ point guy across the entirety of his career. This is a gritty veteran leader who still seemingly has a fair amount of gas left in his tank and, more importantly, will be a respected mentor for this young team. As a guy who probably slots in next to Rask and Teravainen (or maybe Aho and Staal at some point), he’ll almost assuredly help them find a higher gear in their offensive game. And what many don’t remember is that Williams is exceptionally responsible in his own end. The cherry on top? He was likely one of the top 2 or 3 UFA forwards available. Amazingly, it was the Carolina Hurricanes that got him.

When Adding a 4th Liner Makes Your Top 6 Better

Jordan Staal was probably “bass fishing in Ontario” when the July 4th call came through about the Marcus Kruger trade. He likely cracked a beer on that one, maybe even something more celebratory. The Hurricanes once again fleeced the Chicago Blackhawks out of a valuable asset so that they could free up salary cap space. This time, a mere 2018 5th round pick did the trick and the Canes had one of the premier defensive centers in the game.

The addition of Kruger will have a dramatic effect on match-ups, especially on the road. No longer will an opponent’s 1st line get an easy minute of gameplay, trapping our lesser skilled 4th line in their own end. The addition of Kruger beside the speedy Nordstrom plus whomever wins the other bottom line wing position, will prove to provide the bad guys with more than they likely bargained for. A strong possession player, Kruger started over 71% on the defensive side of the puck. Why should this make Jordan Staal happy? Essentially, these difficult match-ups were the responsibility of Jordan Staal’s line given his prowess in the that zone. Staal should see more offensive zone starts, more playing time against lesser quality lines, and more offensive output as a result. Could we be looking at the resurfacing of the 2011-12, 25 goal, 50 point Jordan Staal?

Adding Up the Small Things…And One Big Thing

There have been other moves, other statements, that all add to the euphoria surrounding the upcoming season for the Carolina Hurricanes. The ranks of the Checkers have been solidified with a bunch of fan favorites getting renewed (Carrick, Chelios, Miller, etc.). The youth movement banging on the door in Charlotte is going to be impressive. Aleksi Saarela, Janne Kuokkanen, Warren Foegele, Julien Gauthier, Nicolas Roy, Valentin Zykov, and Lucas Wallmark reflect the up-and-coming crop of forwards. Haydn Fleury appears poised to make the jump to the NHL, while Roland McKeown is most certainly going to be leaned on more heavily down on the farm.

The signing of Josh Jooris and Brock McGinn prove that there will be training camp battles as the two of them likely vie with Phil Di Giuseppe and one or more of the youngsters above, seeking an NHL roster spot. Jooris and McGinn seem to have an inside track as you don’t sign guys to one-way deals (fully realizing that Di Giuseppe isn’t signed to anything yet, except potentially his RFA offer) only to stash them with your AHL club. Training camp is going to be exciting. The Charlotte Checkers are going to ice a very solid team. And, for whatever reason, there still feels like there’s something else up Ron Francis’ sleeve.

Oh, and then there’s that little news item that seeped out of Edwards Mill Road…that little thing about the Hurricanes receiving an offer to purchase the club. This isn’t just any offer from some unknown yahoo. Purportedly led by Chuck Greenberg, the $500 million rumored price tag seems both serious and outrageously high. Of course, the devil is in the details. One thing’s for sure, Greenberg, who helped to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh and who helped bring baseball’s Texas Rangers back to relevance is likely a serious player and the bid is probably very real. Don Waddell‘s statement about how the offer “keeps the Hurricanes in Raleigh” sings a refrain this market desperately desires.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was….No, It’s Pretty Much The Best

There really hasn’t been any “bad” news this Summer. Sure some folks might be sad that Eddie’s leaving. Other’s might be curious as to what’s going to with PDG. Still other’s might not be convinced that Kruger and Williams represent enough of an add. Then there’s always the possibility that the purchase of the team doesn’t materialize. But any way you slice and dice this thing, it has to be viewed in a positive light. Now if karma can finally stay on our side…

 

Fun Day Draft Day: An Amateur’s Shot At The Hurricanes 2017 Draft

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The day is nigh…all the research is complete….last minute transactions are in the bag. General Manager Ron Francis has handed over the drafting baton to the hero of Mayberry, hoping for some draft day magic. Barney Fife readily takes up this challenge and jumps right in, game-plan in hand.

As of this morning the Carolina Hurricanes have 8 draft picks:

#12 – Round 1
#42 – Round 2
#52 – Round 2
#67 – Round 3
#73 – Round 3
#104 – Round 4
#166 – Round 6
#197 – Round 7

While Ron Francis might be conservative, Barney Fife is the furtherest thing from it. Expect lots of fireworks over the 2017 Entry Draft weekend.

As far as organizational need is concerned, the last couple of drafts have attempted to address most of the holes. While Nicolas Roy shows promise as the big-bodied centerman, it would be a stretch to assume that he’s going to end up as a top line guy. Peters and Francis may hope that Sebastian Aho resurrects his international success in the middle, but he’s not really built for the role…at least, not yet. Other long-shots such as Hudson Elynuik and David Cotton are progressing nicely through the system, but neither projects to be a #1C. The other Finns often mentioned, Aleksi Saarela and Janne Kuokkanen, still have much to prove. So for the Canes, that elusive #1 pivot is still at, or near, the top of the shopping list.

The other glaring deficiency in the prospect pool is at the right wing position. The only guys in the system that fit that bill are Julien Gauthier and Spencer Smallman. While both are attractive and interesting options, the organization still needs more depth. Similarly, again on the right side, Carolina needs a bit more back-end talent. Yes, the defensive pool is quite deep, but primarily on the left side. Despite the acquisition of Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Roland McKeown remains the only true potential NHL RHD in the system…and he’s no sure thing. While Josh Wesley and Tyler Ganly may someday advance to being fringe NHL guys, that is both unlikely and something the team shouldn’t depend on.

Other needs include continuing to build out the pool of netminders and finding more pure shooters. Goalies are a strange bunch and their development tends to resemble pure voodoo more than anything. Even with the erratic development of Alex Nedeljkovic and the solid but unspectacular showing of Daniel Altshuller, the team should be buoyed by Callum Booth’s advancing development. Jeremy Helvig and Jack LaFontaine round out a group of promising young goalie prospects. With this in mind, as well as the signing of Scott Darling, goaltending is not as immediate of a need. Yet, if there’s somebody available that you like, don’t hesitate to pick him. There are a few “snipers” in the system, the aforementioned Gauthier, Saarela, and Kuokkanen all have the skill to be pure scorers. To a lesser extent Valentin Zykov and Sergei Tolchinsky might fit the bill as well. However, it feels like a struggle to identify these guys….which means there’s less there than necessary.

Knowing these needs will help organize the draft day thinking. “Best player available” remains a major factor, but as the depth in the system grows, the Hurricanes will be focusing on “best player available, in the area of greatest need”. Could they use a true power forward who plays either wing? Certainly. All of these things will weigh into the selection process.

Without further ado, let the games begin:

Round 1

As Commissioner Gary Bettman saunters up to the podium, of course the crowd boos raucously. Even before the 1st pick of the first round is made, something is amiss:

“We have a trade to announce. The Carolina Hurricanes have traded the #12 pick and pick #42 to the St. Louis Blues for picks #20, #27, and pick #51.”

Gasps, murmurs, and audible cursing ensues. The move takes many by surprise, but for draft aficionados, it seems pretty logical. Pundits and scouts alike have labeled this draft class as “weaker at the top”, “difficult to rank”, but “fairly deep after the top 10”. The Hurricanes hope to take advantage of these characteristics. Many in St. Louis are hoping for a solid defender, specifically Juuso Valimaki, who will likely be there at #12. This trade works for both teams.

When pick #20 comes around, the prospects that project to be true #1 centers are likely gone. It would probably be too much to hope that Elias Petersson is there at this point in the 1st round. Perhaps Lias Andersson is still there, but is he really a #1. Maybe Kristian Vesalainen’s attraction as a skilled power forward didn’t sway as many scouts as some thought. Will the projectable Ryan Poehling still be on the board? Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, it is unlikely that any these names haven’t already been called. The dynamic but diminutive Kailer Yamamoto is probably still on the board. Some might call it a reach, but the high-potential, hulking Isaac Ratcliffe should still be an option. A few outstanding defenders, Conor Timmons, Urho Vaakanainen, or even Cal Foote, could still be options.

However, Ron Francis has whispered a name into Barney’s receptive ear. Late in the Spring, a minor rumor surfaced that there was an under-appreciated centerman on the London Knights squad and he had caught Ronnie’s imagination. No, he wasn’t the Matchbox 20 singer/songwriter, this was a younger Robert Thomas who continually impressed scouts throughout the season. He also impressed his coach, playing in nearly all situations. With Dale Hunter that’s no easy task. The scouting staff probably saw quite a bit of Thomas as they were monitoring Kuokkanen’s progress, especially considering Thomas was centering Kuokkanen by season’s end. Thomas is a very smart, highly skilled pivot who has more passing acumen than most. While he may not currently project to be a top line center, he continuously impressed and improved over the course of the season. Who’s to say if that progression won’t continue. At the very least he’s got 2nd line center upside.

With the 20th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, the Carolina Hurricanes select center, Robert Thomas from the London Knights.

The Canes will be up again shortly after this selection, but, following pick #26….

“Here’s Gary Bettman striding up to the podium once again”.

“We’ve got another trade to announce, again involving Carolina. The Hurricanes have traded the 27th pick and the 104th pick in the 2017 Draft along with Aleksi Saarela to the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the 84th pick in this years draft. Edmonton, you’re on the clock.”

This move elicits a much greater hubbub. The first overall selection of the 2011 draft gets traded for a late first round pick, a middle rounder, and a prospect. Many Oiler fans are in an uproar; this was not the return they expected for their former golden child. Heck, most thought that he wouldn’t be moved, once Eberle had been traded. But the Edmonton brass realized that the pending Draisaitl and McDavid negotiations were going to be difficult to manage. Clearly they were receptive to an offer. Let’s face it, RNH hadn’t really lived up to his first overall billing. With only one 20 goal season under his belt, he was now two years removed from his last 50 point campaign. The 1st round pick would yield a solid player and Aleksi Saarela is a cost-controlled player who projects to be a skilled scorer in the NHL…maybe even as soon as next season. Again, this appears to be fair to both teams.

For the Canes’ part, they get a top 6 pivot, probably one that projects to center Jeff Skinner on the Hurricanes’ first line. Add in Nugent-Hopkins’ defensive prowess and Carolina has the makings of a very good top trio. Getting a 3rd rounder back is a bonus, but one that realistically balances the RNH hype with actual production. All in all the Hurricanes walk away from the first round with two excellent assets. One a potential future top 6-er and the other, the likely #1 centerman. Best of all, they still have 5 remaining picks in the top 100 (#51, #52, #67, #73, and #84).

Round 2

Clearly the crowd at the United Center is all abuzz about the normally staid Carolina Hurricanes and their dramatic moves in the first round of this year’s draft. It seems so out of character, but then again, it’s Barney Fife that’s in charge. As Saturday dawns, the collective brain trusts are gathered around their draft tables having had the evening to digest the previous night’s activity.

The Colorado Avalanche lead off the festivities selecting….

As pick number 51 comes around many of the bigger bodies that might have been available are long gone. Holding on to the next two picks, the Hurricanes still have a number of skilled players as options. Many had their eye on the American Scott Reedy. Some liked Ostap Safin and his blend of size and skill. Had the Canes not traded #42, they might have had a shot at the speedy Filip Chytil. Yet, as in the 1st round, these prospects are all likely to have been selected. There is, however, a highly skilled northern European that the team has its eye on. His name is Joni Ikonen. Speaking of speed, this exciting right-shot center from Finland is silky smooth. Despite his relative slightness, Ikonen isn’t afraid to initiate contact. His edge work is excellent with an ability to change both direction and speed, usually fooling all comers. Equally good at both shooting and passing, Joni’s unpredictability with the puck adds to his value. There’s a good chance that the Canes view him as a RW long term.

From Finland by way of Frolunda of the Swedish league, the Carolina Hurricanes select center, Joni Ikonen, with the 51st pick of the draft.

With pick number 52, the Hurricanes are either fortunate to see Jonah Gadjovich still on the board or they are making something of a reach. It all depends on the scouts that you talk to. The hard-working, big bodied, left wing is a straight-up goal scorer, even with his end of season tail-spin. Early in this season, many scouts questioned his skating. However, by the end of the year, those questions mostly disappeared. Through hard work and determination, Gadjovich opened many eyes. He’s a great net-front guy with a fantastic shot. His size makes him great on the puck and he’s a pretty dogged defender too. Perhaps his finest trait is his ability to understand what needs to get done or what he needs to do. Jonah will work at it until it gets done. His improved skating is but one example of that. Oh, and he potted 46 goals this season.

At #52, the Hurricanes draft left wing from the Owen Sound Attack, Jonah Gadjovich.

The Hurricanes come out of Round 2 with a highly skilled speedster that may be able to address the organizational dearth at right wing and a bigger body who might work into a true power forward. So far, the offense has had a good weekend.

Round 3

Having picked up some skill, some size, and a high end NHL player, the defense is likely next in line for the Hurricanes’ brain trust. This, of course, depends on who might be on the board. Guys like Heiskanen, Makar, Liljegren, Foote, and Valimaki are all long gone. Now is the time when Carolina’s historic skill, uncovering the hidden gem (see Pesce, Brett), needs to surface. Despite a league-wide perception, there’s work to do on the back end.

As the 3rd round comes into play, those big name defenders are gone. Moreover, the added value placed on right shot defensemen may have depleted options even further. While he very well might not be on the board, given the team needs of the other franchises, Carolina dips into the nepotism bucket yet again with Haydn Fleury’s younger brother, Cale Fleury. Ranked anywhere from early in the 2nd round to the middle of the 4th round, it is likely the younger Fleury will be there at #67. With strong offensive instincts, Cale moves the puck well through both the pass and on the rush. He’s got soft hands and a heavy, accurate shot. Playing for a bad Kootenay team he demonstrated excellent leadership skills and wore the “C” this season. Given how bad the team was, it is easy to understand his -61 plus/minus. Scouts who actually watched him play praised his overall defensive play where he was both fast and played with a physical edge. And, of course, he brings that good right shot to the table…a table the Hurricanes need to feed from.

At selection #67, the Carolina Hurricanes take Cale Fleury, defenseman from the Kootenay Ice.

Somewhat surprised to see the depth of talent remaining on the board, the Canes return again to the offensive side of the puck with pick #73. Relatively unknown until this Spring’s World Juniors, the Dane, Jonas Rondbjerg surfaced as something of a force. He essentially carried the surprising Denmark squad. His puck protection and work down low on the cycle was impressive. He demonstrated very good stick work and when he had the puck, good things tended to happen. Playing most of the year in the lower Swedish leagues, he has begun to fill out. He thinks the game well and at a high speed. Hopefully, he’ll come over to North America next Fall. If he doesn’t, he’ll still be well served as he’s slated to move up to a higher level league in Sweden.

With the 73rd pick of the 2017 draft, from Denmark, the Hurricanes select right wing, Jonas Rondbjerg.

The Rondbjerg selection gave the Canes 5 solid forwards in the 2017 draft. It is once again time to head back to the blueline. A number of good defensemen are still on the board. While many liked Cam Crotty’s game last season, this season it seemed to tail off. Reilly Walsh’s size and associated defensive play raise questions. But the solid, steady, smooth-skating Tommy Miller jumps out, even if it might be a bit of a reach at #84. Miller is off to Michigan State in the Fall. Probably more in the mold of defensive defensemen, Miller’s skating will help him move the puck out of the zone quickly and effectively. He’s great with his positioning and has outstanding stick work. With his size, playing the body is another effective part of his game. Even though he’s a right shot defenseman, he’s more destined for a bottom pairing role unless he shows great offensive progression in college. For now, however, he provides solid overall potential the Canes like.

The Carolina Hurricanes select Tommy Miller, defenseman, with the 84th pick of the 2017 draft.

Round 6

After sitting quietly for a couple of rounds, the 6th round brings the next pick for Hurricanes’ ace draft guru, Barney Fife. So far, Ron Francis has been pleased with what he’s seen, but these last couple of selections could put the icing on top of the weekend’s efforts.

Even though the draft has proven to be fairly deep in the mid-rounds, these last few selections are equal exercises of deep research and pure “feel”. The next selection is no different. Still looking at defenders, the 2nd year eligible Nick Perbix jumps off the page. At 6’4″ and nearly 200 pounds, Perbix has all the size you’d want. Last year he went undrafted, mostly because of significant skating concerns. According to the scouts that viewed him, Perbix has made “tremendous strides” in both his footwork and overall mobility. Coupled with exceptional positioning and a great mind for the game, Nick anticipates well and accurately. In fact there were some contests where Perbix effectively held Casey Mittlestadt in check. He’ not one dimensional either. The Minnesota high-schooler’s improved footwork has opened up many more scoring chances as evidenced by his jump from 3 to 10 goals and 13 to 40 points. That accurate, hard shot has proven quite effective.

The Carolina Hurricanes select, from Elk River High School, defenseman, Nick Perbix at #166.

Round 7

When it comes to the last round in any draft, it really is the proverbial crap shoot. Still those “diamonds in the rough” are there to be found. Patric Hornqvist, this year’s Stanley Cup hero, was a 7th round selection. The Hurricanes’ own, constantly improving, Steve Lorentz was a 7th rounder as well. He’s destined for Charlotte this Fall. So lightning can strike and miracles can happen….or hard work can uncover those surprises we all hope for.

With the last pick, the Hurricanes look to forward once again. There was some thought that a netminder might be in order, but after about the 5th round or so, there wasn’t really anything impressive left on the board (originally, this author had selected Dayton Rasmussen in the 5th round). However, an interesting name with an interesting background did pop up. The rarely mentioned Canadian school, St. Andrews College (essentially a high school), has produced another popular Hurricanes’ prospect, Warren Foegele. Another high scoring forward from there is Corey Andonovski. This right wing was 3rd in the CAHS in scoring last season potting 32 goals and 72 points. Destined for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL, Andonovski will then have plenty of time to hone his game when he attends Princeton the following season. The Hurricanes are certainly hoping that St. Andrews’ lightning can strike yet again.

With their selection at number 197, Carolina selects Corey Andonovski, right wing out of St. Andrews College.

Roundup

With the draft now behind us, let’s recap where the Canes ended up. In the first round, following a flurry of transactions, the Hurricanes selected centerman Robert Thomas from Kingston and traded for centerman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the Oilers. The next round yielded the skilled and speedy right shot Finnish pivot, Joni Ikonen. Big, smart, and with a great shot, pick #52 gave us Jonah Gadjovich. The selections of the 3rd round sandwiched the surprising forward, Jonas Rondbjerg, between two right shot defensemen, Cale Fleury and Tommy Miller. Big and smart, Nick Perbix, another right shot defender, was selected as an overager heading off to the NCAA. Finally, coming from the same background as Warren Foegele, Corey Andonovski could be another late round steal for the Hurricanes.

Ending up with 5 forward prospects, 3 defensemen, and one top 6 NHL forward, the Hurricanes should be very happy with the results of their stand-in GM for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

 

Down to the Wire: What’s Next for the Carolina Hurricanes

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Now that the Stanley Cup playoffs have ended, teams like the Carolina Hurricanes are busily plotting their moves as they gear up for the next season. For GM Ron Francis, this Summer portends significant action. The acquisition and subsequent signing of Scott Darling has already gotten the ball rolling. Knowledgeable media types have sat up and taken notice of the team in Raleigh. Frankly, this team is becoming very well positioned for the 2017-18 season.

While we don’t have an Austin Matthews, a Connor McDavid, or a Zach Werenski, we do have a plethora of up and coming potential stars. Sure, folks know Jeff Skinner, his contagious smile, and his deadly scoring instincts. They know the gritty and talented Jordan Staal. Some may even know the offensively gifted defender, Justin Faulk. But very few took notice of the young Finn, Sebastian Aho or the evolution of his fellow countryman, Teuvo Teravainen. Those in the know have perked up around the 3 young defenders, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce. They also know there are a few other good, young blueliners in the system.

What even fewer understand is what appears to have been a successful 3 or 4 year run at the entry draft. The cupboard has been restocked, mostly with big-bodied, skilled skaters. Critical trades have brought in even more skill – Aleksi Saarela and Valentin Zykov, in particular. Even the goalie ranks now show promise.

So what is the next step? Simply put, it is to do almost whatever it takes to get into the playoffs…this upcoming season. It is critical for the fan base and it is only slightly overstating the case to say it is critical for the future of the team in Raleigh. As the rebuild enters its fourth year, incremental results can no longer be the goal. The post-season is the only goal. To get there, the next step in the transactional plan needs to be hatched. It’s time to give some to get some.

There’s no way to predict what actually will happen as Francis crafts next season’s roster, but one of the primary “to do’s” from last season has hopefully been addressed. Scott Darling is going to be the #1 guy in net. Still, there’s more work to do. The team needs to shed itself of one of the other goalies. A true Top 6 scoring threat needs to come on board. If Victor Rask can get back to last season’s early form, then a 3rd line pivot probably needs to be found (unless Teravainen has spent all summer honing his faceoff skills). The fourth line needs to be solidified and the bottom pairing on the blueline needs to get sorted out.

The opportunities for the front office to work the transaction machine are many with 3 specific dates or events targeted for execution. Sure, trades can happen at almost any time and our own free agents can be extended. All of that can, for all intents and purposes, happen now. Yet, the looming expansion draft, the 2017 entry draft, and the opening of free agency further calendarize things. The Hurricanes are usually quiet on the opening day of free agency, yet last season’s significant free agent pick-ups were both savvy and met organizational needs. Lee Stempniak brought fairly dependable secondary scoring. Viktor Stalberg brought size, speed, and snarl to what became a pretty effective 4th line (and a very effective penalty kill). The vulture trade of a couple of picks for Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell filled a couple of important holes as well. One wonders how different things might have been without Bickell’s tragic MS diagnosis; certainly, the power play might have benefitted from his net front presence.

This year, Ron Francis is going to have to do even better.

Prior To The Expansion Draft

First of all, let’s recognize and assume that deals can be made with Las Vegas not to select (or to be encouraged to select) specific players from a team’s roster. During the last expansion there were a few of these types of deals made. To make this work, however, assets have to be available to trade and the assets have to be valuable enough to encourage the Golden Knights to overlook a targeted player. Short of offering up Sidney Crosby, is there really a deal that the Penguins could offer Vegas so they wouldn’t select Matt Murray should he have to be exposed? Probably not. Luckily, Carolina is on the opposite side of this problem.

Outside of any ongoing trade opportunities, the upcoming expansion draft is going to put some pressure on certain teams to move some pieces or risk losing an asset for nothing. No team seems to be in more trouble of this happening than the Minnesota Wild. They have an embarrassment of riches on the back end. They will most certainly lose one of Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Jonas Brodin, or Matt Dumba (Ryan Suter has to be protected because of his NMC). On the front end, things are a little less dire, but it is hard to see how one, or all, of Jason Zucker, Erik Haula, and Jordan Schroeder are not left exposed.

If you’re George McPhee and one of those four defensemen is out there, you almost have to grab him. Even if you’re inclined to go for the speedy Jason Zucker (who now has family ties to the Golden Knights organization), you really can do no wrong. Added to the Wild’s dilemma is the likely challenging salary cap exercise when they have to re-sign arbitration eligible RFAs, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund. Those two guys will almost certainly take up 3/4 of the Wild’s available salary cap space. It is difficult to see how they are not going to have to move somebody, even assuming a fairly large salary comes off of the books via the expansion draft.

From Carolina’s perspective, Minnesota is a very interesting trading partner. Because of the potential salary cap issues alone, one would think that one of the RFA forwards would be available. Perhaps, even Charlie Coyle (who’s availability has been whispered about) might be had for the right deal. In the Canes search for scoring does a Jason Zucker or Charlie Coyle bring enough to the table? Of course, that depends on whether Zucker is really the 22 goal, 47 point guy or if Coyle is now reaching his potential. Should that be the case, then they should or could be realistic targets. Moving Zucker free’s up $2,000,000 and Coyle accounts for $3,200,000 in salary cap space. With Joel Eriksson Ek’s, Alex Tuch’s and even Luke Kunin’s emergence, one of those pieces might be an option.

Zucker is probably the cheaper option to acquire (and could represent a fall back position), but Coyle really brings an element of “big man hockey” that the Hurricanes sorely miss. To get Charlie Coyle could this year’s 1st rounder, next year’s 3rd rounder do the trick? Would adding a prospect to the mix be an overpayment? Minnesota clearly wants to compete now, so maybe those picks and a veteran scorer like Lee Stempniak might work. That would add in some secondary scoring and fill a Top 6 right wing slot. While it probably is a pipe dream to think that Coyle could be pried away, this is the kind of deal that Ronnie has to consider. Carolina needs an impact forward that can bring dependable scoring. If Zucker ends up being the target then something like a 2nd round pick and a mid-level prospect should do the trick.

In this discussion, substitute Nino Niederreiter’s name for Charlie Coyle’s, up the compensation going back to Minnesota, and you’ve got another interesting possibility. Minnesota’s financial situation just might dictate party ways with one of these guys. If they are willing to listen, an even bigger deal might be crafted, one that helps solve their defenseman problem as well. Could you package a 1st and 2nd round pick with two very good prospects (two of Haydn Fleury, Julien Gauthier, Aleksi Saarela, or Roland McKeown, for example) and get the Wild to consider adding Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba to the discussion? To really get the conversation going, substitute Noah Hanifin and adjust the other assets accordingly (from the Canes maybe that means a 1st rounder, a 3rd rounder, Hanifin, and perhaps Foegele, for example). It is a high price to pay, but the return is what a “ready to compete” organization needs to help push it to the next level. The Wild get a couple of expansion exempt assets and solid picks).

There are other guys who likely will be available. Michael Grabner is coming off of a resurgent season. He will probably be available from the Rangers’ roster. Would San Jose want to get out from under the Boedker contract? One would certainly think so if they decide it’s time for a retooling. And what about the Islanders? Some combination that includes three of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Nikolai Kulemin, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome will be protected. That leaves two of the other guys available. The key question that Francis will have to answer is whether any of these names satisfies the need for Top 6 level scoring.

What about teams who need a goaltender to expose? The Hurricanes just happen to have a spare Eddie Lack or the odd Cam Ward. A team like Calgary needs a solid starter, but both Elliot and Johnson are UFAs and likely to hit the open market. They’ll need a goalie under contract for the 2017-18 season. Maybe the hero of the Charlotte Checkers, Tom McCollum fits the bill, maybe not. If Philadelphia is protecting Neuvirth, they’re in the same boat. Unless the Canucks ink Ryan Miller they have the same need. Even Tampa Bay’s going to have to pick up a back up to Vasilevskiy.

Despite all the bad press (much of it deserved), Cam Ward is likely to remain a Hurricane and serve as either a 1b or, more likely, a true back up. Frankly, Eddie Lack probably has some value, especially if the team retains a significant chunk of his salary. A 4th round pick is probably fair with some salary retention. Maybe there’s a deal to be had that would send a veteran bottom pairing guy back. Regardless, expect a smallish return on an Eddie Lack trade which will likely to happen just before the expansion draft.

The third and final puzzle for certain teams to solve pertains to defensemen and the Hurricanes’ expansion exempt players and prospects. The previously mentioned Minnesota will likely lose a defender. Anaheim could lose a very good blueliner too. Colorado probably has to make a choice between Barrie and Zadorov. At one time, Ryan Ellis was probably the odd man out in Nashville. Given his play this playoff season, that’s probably getting reevaluated. Similar to Colorado, the Jets will probably choose the youth of Trouba over the beaten up Myers, but then last summer’s contract negotiation looms large. Boston probably exposes Adam McQuaid or one of the two Millers. One of Demers, Pysyk, or Petrovik is going to be available on the Florida roster. Tampa Bay will be choosing one out of 3 guys as well: Garrison, Coburn, and Sustr. Ronnie can likely

The play for the Canes here might be packaging up one of their exempt assets and take on a defenseman that they can. However, this would seem to be a case where the team would really want to press their advantage. Could you get Ryan Ellis for a mix of 2nd and 3rd round picks? This is not the type of deal where a prospect like Fleury, McKeown, or Bean should be offered up, but more on that later. If picks don’t do it, then this is a deal to put in the rearview mirror.

As expansion races towards the team, getting a guy like Charlie Coyle would be ideal. Eddie Lack should be moved for whatever return can be had, maybe even back to his old stomping grounds in Vancouver. The team should be willing to retain up to 1/2 his salary to sweeten that return. If Ellis or Barrie could be had for some of our 2nd and/or 3rd round picks, that might not be a bad option. However, one would have to ask if they become 3rd pairing guys with power play time, would that be a bit of overkill? Not overpaying is critical.

At The Entry Draft

To be a bit more specific, let’s consider trades leading up to the draft that are not forced by any expansion driven or other outside circumstances. This is more of an exercise looking at fair market value transactions that might make sense for both teams. Who are the prime candidates? Of course, one has to look at teams like Colorado, Vancouver, maybe St. Louis, the Islanders, Montreal, probably Buffalo and Florida. These are all teams that in one way or another are likely looking at various stages of overhaul. In the case of St. Louis and Montreal, it might mean one or two moves, likely viewed as significant, but in most of the others, there are a lot of things broken that need to be fixed. Some of these teams also have new front office leadership and/or coaching staff, all of which point to change.

There is, of course, the rumored Carolina/Colorado deal involving Matt Duchene and Noah Hanifin. The two key sticking points as to why this deal didn’t and probably won’t go down are around Joe Sakic’s asking price (unrealistically high), that lack of significant term on Duchene’s deal, and years of remaining team control on Noah’s contract (5 more cost-controlled years). Simply put, Carolina isn’t going to give up significant assets with the potential that the return could walk in a year or two.

Also rumored to be available from Colorado is Gabriel Landeskog. He’s a talented scorer who has seen a recent decline in his output. But he plays a physical game and could potentially benefit from a change of scenery. Clearly a Top 6 talent, how good would he look slotted in next to Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal (or next to fellow countrymen, Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm as he was recently in international competition)? Again, Sakic’s asking price may be a sticking point, but as a left wing his perceived value is likely less than Duchene. This is the type of deal where Carolina tries to leverage a draft pick (2017 1st?) and a good prospect (Haydn Fleury, for example) to start the deal. Maybe another prospect or pick becomes part of the offer…whatever it takes to get to fair value for both teams. This feels like a deal that has a better chance of getting done.

Another trade that has been bandied about on internet message boards involves Carolina and Buffalo. Proposals involving Sam Reinhart and Noah Hanifin, positioned as a good, old-fashioned hockey trade have been put forth. This type of transaction is both painful and fair according to the two fan bases. In the end, it is burgeoning potential for burgeoning potential. It is dealing from a position of strength for both organizations. It is also gambling that both players reach their potential while not creating new holes in their respective lineups. From the Hurricanes perspective, it would still be more favorable to put forth their 1st rounder and Haydn Fleury as the option. For Buffalo to even sniff at this they would have to be equally convinced that Fleury is NHL ready and has a Top 4 pairing future. If Reinhart is indeed the target and if Carolina can in some way keep Hanifin’s name out of this transaction, then this is the type of deal where a bit of an overpayment in additional assets is okay.

The New York Rangers need help on their blueline. Their defense needs to get younger and, frankly, they need to get better. While they do have the recently signed Neal Pionk as an option, he likely needs time in the AHL. Sean Day has shown some promise in juniors, but he too is likely to spend some time in Hartford. Being equally as frank, outside of the aforementioned Grabner, they’ve got 5 or 6 relatively young forwards that they might be able to use as “bait” to get an NHL-ready defenseman now. Now that Dan Girardi has been bought out, is an NHL ready player like Haydn Fleury of interest (maybe along with a pick)? Pavel Buchnevich, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, or even Mika Zibanejad could be targets in this type of deal. With Girardi’s contract no longer as big of an issue, this deal feels less likely.

There are sure to be other “hockey trades” to be considered. The right mix of assets returns the need-filling players necessary for the Canes to compete at a playoff level. Most would involve pain on both sides, but there may be opportunities for some of the more creative options.

Free Agency

Last season, Ron Francis in his typical, under-stated way, made a significant splash in free agency without making a whole lot of noise. As mentioned previously, the Stempniak and Stalberg acquisitions showed a clear understanding of team need while also appreciating where the team was in its progression. They also flew somewhat under the radar. This year, expect more of the same during this period. The bigger splash will likely come on the trade front.

Still, there are needs that could be filled come July 1. In truth, the team will almost certainly need to add dependable secondary scoring (to replace what is anticipated to be the loss of Lee Stempniak’s output). Rebuilding the 4th line might also necessitate a dip into the waters of free agency. Getting a veteran blueline presence, probably a bottom pairing guy, is also a priority and may be best addressed in this context.

However, one never knows in advance how free agent acquisitions will turn out. Francis will surely chat with T.J. Oshie’s agent. It is equally likely that he walks away from what promises to be an overpayment in both dollars and term. A couple of other higher end scoring options may be out there. Thomas Vanek comes to mind. Wouldn’t it be exciting to see him on a line with Skinner and Rask. The same would hold true for Alexander Radulov, but he is rumored to prefer staying put in Montreal. Would “old reliable” Justin Williams consider a return to the City of Oaks? How about something crazy like Joe Thornton (although his knee injury is a big and valid concern)?

If, for example, Vanek or Williams could be coerced to come to Raleigh, it would likely take a multi-year deal. Would a 3 year, $11.25 million deal get it done with Vanek? The team shouldn’t consider more term or more salary. In Justin Williams’ case would he agree to a 2-year deal, something in the $4 million per year range? Given his responsible defense and clutch scoring, a bit of a perceived overpayment shouldn’t be an issue. In both of these cases you’re almost assuredly picking up 45-50 points, veteran presence, and playoff experience.

A couple of second level guys seem more in line with the overall plan. Snagging a guy like Nick Bonino to center the 3rd line adds a bit of size and some veteran savvy. He could likely be had for less than $3 million, perhaps a 3 year deal for $8.5 million. Another name to consider is Sam Gagner. His scoring prowess is undeniable, especially coming off of a career season. He’s probably seeking a high dollar contract and the Hurricanes should not be the team to wade into a bidding war. However, should the offers come in more “muted”, then two or three year deal in the $3.5 million per year range wouldn’t be hateful. While Bonino would slide into the 3rd line pivot role pretty easily, Gagner is another story. He can play center, but stinks at the dot. He’s better suited at right wing, again most likely on the 3rd line. This would force Teravainen to the middle for better or for worse.

Somebody will probably overpay big time for Patrick Eaves and/or Martin Hanzal. The Hurricanes don’t want to be that somebody. If, however, Hanzal looks to be a more financially reasonable option, then he’s certainly a name Francis should strongly consider. Fully realizing that he’ll likely only play about 65-70 games, his size and physicality would be a plus. He’s more skilled than one would believe too. If the salary is less that $4 million per year and closer to $3.5 million, he’s definitely an option to consider.

Finding the bottom pairing vet in free agency could potentially be one of the easier tasks facing Carolina. Assuming that Fleury takes the #5 slot, then a right shot #6 guy should be targeted. There are some very interesting names out their. Guys like Cody Franson and Michael Stone immediately become part of this conversation. Both are coming off of pretty pedestrian seasons and both might well benefit serving in the mentor role. They also have playoff experience.

Another name that isn’t often considered is Dennis Wideman. At 34, he is getting a little long in the tooth, but should he stay healthy, there’s a good bet that he’ll chip in 35 points from the back end. His 5 trips to the playoffs would definitely be of value in the locker room. Other guys like Matt Hunwick or Kyle Quincey are left shots that play the right side. Both would also bring some valuable leadership qualities.

What Does It All Mean and What’s Likely to Happen

There are a lot of combinations and permutations of what could happen with the Hurricanes’ roster over the next week or so. Based on history, there’s the most likely to happen and based on necessity, there’s what should happen. The fan base is hoping for a break from history. The reality is that somewhere in the middle is almost always the result.

In the first scenario, look for a solid free agent signing on the back end. Any of the first two or three guys mentioned above should be well received. That puts Ron Francis with two items crossed off of his to do list. If Lee Stempniak is not lost to expansion, then the team may acquire another 35-45 point scorer (think Bonino, Gagner, or perhaps even Zucker), and roll the dice that one of the rising rookies will pick up the slack. Bearing in mind that an additional 20 goals likely would have gotten this team into the playoffs last season, there’s merit to this line of thinking. But it is a significant gamble.

To be more aggressive in the quest for the post-season, Carolina will have to give up significant assets, perhaps even roster players. The previously mentioned deal for Niederreiter and Brodin fits this mold. It adds scoring and physicality to the forward corps and doesn’t down-grade the defense much, if at all. A deal for Gabriel Landeskog fits this mold too. Adding size and skill like Martin Hanzal would be a bonus to either of these moves and, again, would signal that the team is serious in its push for the playoffs.

After years of playing safe, followed by years of a methodical rebuild, the Carolina Hurricanes fans deserve the more aggressive option.

Hurricanes Last In NHL With Coach’s Challenge

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Interestingly enough, just one day after Hurricanes Head Coach Bill Peters slammed backup goalie Eddie Lack for his poor performance this season, the NHL released the most current results of the coach’s challenge.

Peters and his staff have yet to win a single challenge this season, putting them at last place in the league.

According to the league’s tracker, which includes games played through March 3, the Canes are 0 for 13.  Only one team in the NHL has tried more challenges, Detroit, (14) and they were successful twice.

The only other team in the East not to win a challenge was the Islanders, who went 0-5.

Out of 243 challenges so far this season, there were 64 on ice calls overturned, 57 from “goal” to “no goal”, and seven from “no goal”, to “goal”.  That is about a 26% league wide success rate for a typical challenge.

On the other side of the coin, the Canes have only had three challenges posed against them so far, the lowest number in the league.  Since most challenges are regarding goalie interference, it would seem that this stat indicates that the Hurricanes do not harass or come close to interfering with opponent’s goaltenders as much as other teams do.

According to the league rule, a team loses it’s timeout if they lose the challenge, so the Canes have lost more timeouts in this situation than any other team.