The Carolina Hurricanes have had both a great and disastrous start to this off-season. Lets start with the bad. New Owner Tom Dundon terminated the contract of Ron Francis after he was demoted from GM to President of Hockey Operations. That led to Joe Nieuwendyk resigning from his job as pro scout and advisor for the team. Bill Peters (who is a very respected coach) opted out of the final year of his contract to go coach the Calgary Flames. Let’s just say that the fans haven’t been happy about how Tom Dundon has handled things, even after he hired Hurricanes legend Rod Brind’Amour to be the new head coach. Jeff O’Neill even said recently on the “Jay and Dan Podcast” that he is “Embarrased to be an alumni of the Carolina Hurricanes”….. Ouch
Time for the good news so far in this off-season. The Hurricanes finished with the 21st best record in the NHL last season, which had them originally in the 11th pick spot, but thanks to this thing called the draft lottery, the Hurricanes moved up to the 2nd overall pick. With that pick they also have a front runner choice in Andrei Svechnikov. Another dynamic winger that has the potential to be top line goal scorer. Imagine that, Svechnikov and Aho being the wingers on your teams top line. It sounds lethal, but there’s one unknown in that line and it’s one of the biggest problems facing this team. Who’s is going to centre that top line.
Teuvo Teravainen is probably the best shot they have of someone within the organization becoming that 1st line centre. He had a career year last season recording 64 points and is only 23 years old, however most people think his ceiling is a really good 2nd line centre. Elias Lindholm is another promising young centre who is an RFA this season. He has a lot of skill but hasn’t been able to hit the 50 point barrier in a single season yet. I would say Lindholm will be easy to sign this summer due to the fact that the Hurricanes have a ton of cap space, but right now it seems unclear of how much of the cap Dundon is willing to spend. Jordon Stall is better as a number 2 or 3 C and Victor Rask seems to be the same. Nicholas Roy is a good prospect they have that could turn into a 1st line centre down the road, but that’s most likely to far away for Carolina to be ok with sitting around and waiting for. So, do the hurricanes sit back and hope that Teravainen surprises almost everyone and becomes the 1st line centre the Hurricanes desperately need, or do they start looking externally.
Yes, there is a big possibility a 1st line Centre is hitting the UFA market this summer…. no he’s not going to come to Carolina. Now it’s not impossible, but I think Tavares is tired of ownership and off ice problems, and Carolina has tons of that right now. Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak are also solid centres on the market, but they aren’t 1st line centres. So the Hurricanes might have to give up something they have a surplus of, talented young defensemen.
The Hurricanes have 5 defensemen 26 years of age or younger. Jaccob Slavin (24), Justin Faulk (26), Brett Pesce (23), Trevor Van Riemsdyk (26), and Noah Hanifin (21). Slavin and Pesce are both under contract for at least the next 6 years, Faulk has 2 more years on his contract, while Hanifin and Van Riemsdyk are both RFA’s this summer. All are attractive pieces to other teams, but one of these defensemen alone won’t land you a first line centre. You would also have to probably throw in a first round pick and maybe even a good young forward. Jeff Skinner has been rumoured to be on the trading block for years and he could also possibly be moved this summer. So what if the Hurricanes do decide to go all in for a first line centre and are willing to part with a young defensemen, young forward and a high draft pick (likely not this years)? The next task is even harder, finding a trading partner.
Teams just don’t typically trade away 1st line centres. It hasn’t really happened since Tyler Seguin was traded years ago, and that was in part due to a character issue the Bruins had with him. I honestly don’t see any team right now trading away a 1st line centre or a young centre with a good chance to become one, they are just that hard to find. The situation I find easiest for the Hurricanes to go with is give Teravainen one more year to access if he could possibly become a 1st line centre. He got 42 points his first season with the Hurricanes, and 64 in his second season, a 22 point jump. If he can take another jump next season to the mid 70 point range, or even break 80 points, the Hurricanes might have found their man. He’s only 23, I think this off-season the Hurricanes should once again stay patient in the search for a 1st line centre, as they have a chance to already have one.
If they stay patient and keep the 5 young defensemen, they will have to sign Hanifin and Van Riemsdyk to new contract extensions. With Hanifin, you are most likely looking at a long term commitment. A former 5th overall pick coming out of his entry level deal already playing 3 full seasons in the NHL. Ya, he’s in for a payday. I would say somewhere around 5-6 years at around 5 million dollars would make both parties happy. I could however see Hanifin asking for closer to 6 million a season, in which i’m not sure the Hurricanes will give him. Van Riemsdyk is coming off a contract that paid him 1.65 million per season, and I see his contract being a raise of around 1 million dollars to that. Then they will have to find one more defensemen to round out their top 6. They could go sign a free agent like Thomas Hickey or Ian Cole. Instead though, I think they should promote one of their young defensive prospects to the NHL. Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean are both solid young defensemen that could make the jump, but if I had to pick one to start playing an everyday role next season, I would choose Fleury because he has pro hockey experience in the AHL and is a little bit older.
Now finally, the goaltending…. this one isn’t pretty. The Hurricanes thought they found their new number one goalie last season when they acquired Scott Darling and signed him to a 4 year contract worth an AAV of 4.15 million. Well… he played 43 games in his first year with the team and posted an .888 save percentage. That isn’t even bad, that is just brutal. So the Hurricanes need to decide, do they give him one more year to try to become a starting goalie, or abandon ship 1 year into a 4 year contract and look for a new goalie. If they decide to look elsewhere, you would think they would have to include Jeff Skinner’s name in any trade discussion. There are good backup’s out there that look ready to take the next step (Grubauer and Korpisalo to name a few) that the Hurricanes could target, but again I just think the Hurricanes won’t give up on darling after one season. Cam Ward is a UFA this off-season but there are actually a number of decent backup goalies on the market this off-season they could go after if Ward decides to walk. I think he will stay though, just because he knows the team might not be confident with their current starter and if he struggles again next season, ward could see a lot of ice time for a “backup”.
So the off-season plan for the Hurricanes in a nutshell is this. Figure out the goalie situation first and then worry about Jeff Skinner. If you they decide they want to trade him, figure out his value and don’t settle for less. Then lock up 2 more of your young defensemen and promote one more to the NHL, while also giving Teravainen one more year to prove he can be a number one centre because there is a chance he could be.
By the way, this new management team that doesn’t seem to like to spend a ton of unnecessary money has to still pay Alexander Semin 2.333 million dollars a year for the next 3 seasons. That money counts against the cap. True fact. You’re welcome for the laugh.