For the month of June, Last Word On Sports will be covering each team in our 30 in 30 series. Once a day, we take a look at an NHL team’s past season, what their off-season looks like, and what they could hope to achieve before the start of their 2015-16 season. Everybody wants to get better and improve upon last season’s success or downfall and NHL’s 30 in 30 gives you that analysis and preview you need to get you by during another long and grueling summer season. 30 days in June, 30 teams to cover. Starting on June 1st we start from the bottom and make our way to the very top.
Today’s team: The Carolina Hurricanes. Check out our previous 30 in 30 articles here.
NHL’s 30 in 30: Carolina Hurricanes
Finishing 26th overall, the Carolina Hurricanes posted a record of 30-41-11 to end up with just 71 points. Their home record (18-16-7) was decent considering where they placed in the standings, while their away record (12-25-4) was abysmal. The team had a rough time keeping the puck out of their net, and unfortunately, their crop of forwards couldn’t keep up, managing just 183 goals, which ranked 27th in the league.
The 2014-15 Regular Season
The opening month of the season was a disaster for the Carolina Hurricanes when they failed to win a game, going 0-6-2 in eight games. While they managed to score nine goals in the first three games, they couldn’t defend nor get solid goaltending. The Hurricanes then followed that up with six goals in the next five, getting shutout once. Despite following up their poor start with a four-game winning streak to kick off the new month, the Hurricanes eventually ended 2014 with only ten wins and sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Captain Eric Staal had 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists) up to that point. Staal finished the season 54 points (23 goals, 31 assists) in 77 games. Defenseman Justin Faulk had a break-out season at the age of 23, scoring 20 points (6 goals, 14 assists) in the first three months of the season. Faulk set career-highs in goals, assists and points and while he finished the season with a -19, he’s still a top-pairing defenseman. Without him, the Hurricanes have Ron Hainsey, John-Michael Liles, Ryan Murphy and a cast of AHL’ers.
The 2014-15 season also marked the first full season for both Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask. Lindholm, who shared time with both the Hurricanes and their AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers, finished third in team scoring with 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 81 games. Rask, 22, entered into his rookie season and played exceptionally well despite the team hitting many low points, and he still managed to finish fourth on the team in scoring with 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 80 games. 23-year-old Jeff Skinner rounds out the top five in scoring, and also was the last player to reach the 30-point plateau this season, finishing with 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) in 77 games.
As things appeared to be continuing on the downhill, general manager Ron Francis made the decision to start shedding some expiring contracts to teams making a push for the playoffs. Defenseman Jay Harrison was sent to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Ottawa’s 2015 6th-round pick. Forward Jiri Tlusty netted a 2015 5th-round pick and a 2016 3rd-round pick. Defenseman Andrej Sekera was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for prospect Roland McKeown and a conditional 2015 1st-round pick. Since the Kings failed to make the playoffs, the pick was switched to a 2016 1st-round pick. Finally, defenseman Tim Gleason was traded to the Washington Capitals for defenseman Jack Hillen and Arizona’s 2015 4th-round pick.
Following the changes made and the dressing room feeling less familiar, the Hurricanes went on to win six more times out of the final 21 games of the regular season. Their final game, a 2-0 loss to Detroit in front of their own fans, was a bittersweet ending to the 2014-15 season. While it was a year loaded with failure, it was heading into an off-season of decisions and a top-five draft pick in one of the deepest drafts in years.
The Off-Season and Free Agents
Heading into the off-season, the Carolina Hurricanes have a total of eight free agents to decide on. Of the eight free agents, four of them are restricted to the team, including forwards Riley Nash and Andrej Nestrasil, and defensemen Rasmus Rissanen and Michal Jordan. Forwards Patrick Dwyer and Chris Terry, and defensemen Jack Hillen and Brent Bellemore are the upcoming unrestricted free agents.
At the moment, Francis has just over $13 million to play with and a few forwards and defensemen to get under contract for the 2015-16 season. While Francis doesn’t have to make a trade to clear up some cap space at the moment, he may want to consider it as an option to make his team better. The Hurricanes defense is a blackhole and is quite young, and their forward group could use a little extra oomph on the wing. To do so, they’ll need to give to get and with next off-season looming and several players up for a new contract by then, Francis could afford to start moving some contracts in order to bring in some established wingers to help out with their offense, and a top-pairing defenseman, either by free agency or through a trade.
In his final year of a big contract, Eric Staal may attract tons of attention come trade deadline day or even before that. At 30 years of age, he’s not the 70+ point player he was four seasons ago but he’s still a popular name around the league and could solidify a team’s top-six instantly, giving a solid edge on the powerplay as well. He makes $8.25 million for just one more season, so teams may be lining up to bring Staal into their line-up.
Alexander Semin is a name that is constantly popping up in rumors and it’s safe to say that at $7 million for the next three seasons, a move involving him will either require some salary cap to be retained or for the Hurricanes to receive a player with a heavy cap hit in return. According to a radio host out of Toronto, a deal may be in the works involving Semin and a package going to Toronto for forward James Van Riemsdyk and a pick.
One name that could possibly be of great value is Skinner. At the age of 23, Skinner makes $5.725 million for the next four seasons, which is a decent amount for a player that can provide 20-30 goals on a good team. The only worry is Skinner’s health, as the small skilled forward has a history of concussions. The return Skinner could net is possibly a top-four defenseman and a contributing forward, or a top-pairing defenseman and a pick, something the Hurricanes are in need of to give Faulk some help. John-Michael Liles‘ $3.875 could be movable as he has one year left, opening up some more cap freedom to acquire a more talented replacement from free agency. Perhaps Johnny Oduya could strike interest.
Francis has been busy early, signing defenseman Tyler Ganly to a three-year entry level contract and re-signing goaltender Drew MacIntyre to a one-year, two-way contract.
After the 2015-16 season, the Hurricanes will have some salary cap maneuvering to do as Lindholm, Rask, Murphy and Danny Biega will all be looking for new deals. By then, moving Eric Staal, and possibly Semin and Liles, could give the team the space needed to keep their youth around on a long-term basis. A decision will also need to be made regarding the goaltending position, as both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin are on the final year of their contracts.
The Draft Table
The Carolina Hurricanes have been stock-piling fresh talent for the last couple of years with such picks as Haydn Fleury, Lindholm, Murphy and Rask and they’re about to add yet another big name, as they possess the 5th overall pick of this year’s draft. Maintaining all their original draft picks and adding a few late-round selections, the Hurricanes will make ten picks this year, picking twice in the 4th, 5th and 6th rounds.
Picking after the Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes, they’ll likely get who’s left out of the big three of Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner. If Hanifin is the one left on the board, who Ben Kerr of LWOS has ranked fifth in this year’s rankings, GM Francis will be loading up another skilled defenseman to his prospect pool, which includes McKeown among many others. Strome provides a physical edge and a scoring touch that the Hurricanes could use in their future top-six while the smaller Marner is an excellent scoring winger that can play center and has the grit of Brendan Gallagher.
With a high 2nd-rounder, the odds of the infamous “20% of second rounders play 200 games in the NHL” seems to be in their favor, especially if an expected late-first rounder slides down to their pick. Otherwise, Francis could trade down and stockpile some lower round picks. With nine more picks following the first round, Francis and his scouting group will be very busy with their analysis and scouting reports over the next few weeks.
There also seems to be some discussion of the Hurricanes trading down in the draft. Theoretically speaking, if Francis were to move down a couple of spots, what would he net in a return? Possibly a 3rd-4th round pick? Maybe the deal wouldn’t be worth it if it sacrificed a chance at gobbling up the leftovers of the top-five prospects. Then again, if the option to move down to the 10th spot guarantees them a 2nd-round pick, it may be an option to consider. However, with the talent emanating from Hanifin, Strome and Marner, it’s probably best to keep the possibility of trading the pick in the hypothetical world.