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?
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.
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.
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.
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.