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…

 

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