As intentionally bad as the Buffalo Sabres are, they’re struggling to keep their inter-divisional rivals in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes at bay. This is problematic for the Carolina Hurricanes for a number of reasons, but most evidently because they entered this season with no intentions of racing to the bottom. A new and yet all-so familiar face was anointed general manager in Ron Francis, who acted quickly to bring in a head coach of his liking with the hiring of Bill Peters. These new-ish faces were supposed to bring with them, among other things, a renewed sense of competitiveness and a winning pedigree to a club that desperately needed both. The early returns leave much to be desired.
Injuries struck the Hurricanes roster before they even had so much as a chance to reestablish themselves among the East’s better teams. Losing one Staal is bad enough, but having to spend much of this young season without both of the Staal brothers meant playing without their first and second-line centers. Even the deepest of franchises would have a hard time weathering a storm of this magnitude, but for a budget team like the Hurricanes this has been doubly troublesome. Ever heard of Riley Nash? He’s centering their second-line in Jordan Staal’s stead.
Disconcerting as this season has been for the Hurricanes faithful, this team’s futility shouldn’t be overly surprising. The newly coined management team submersed themselves in this mess with the aim of turning this club into a playoff challenger overnight. The raw talent of players like Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin, Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and Erik Staal seem almost too good to give up on. Unfortunately, few of their contracts are team-friendly and this lack of foresight left management with little in the way of resources to supplement them. If the L.A. Kings have taught us anything, it’s the importance of depth.
Of Warning Signs
There are very few differences between this year’s ‘Canes and last’s. They let Andrei Loktionov go, because reasons, and that was their most meaningful transaction of the off-season. That, or the signing of Jay McClement. What you see with this Hurricanes club is what you get. Their key contributors are aging and lack the ability to carry the load, while their youth is miscast into roles well beyond their ability. Hockey Futures most recent “Team Rankings” for prospect pools had the Carolina Hurricanes at 29th. Help isn’t on the way and beyond Haydn Fleury they’ve not a single blue chip prospect to boast that isn’t currently on their NHL roster.
These factors don’t lend themselves well to a club that has been trending downwards for quite some time. It’s been well over three seasons since the ‘Canes even competed for a playoff position. Their possession numbers in that time are abysmal. If the top-end talent of this club can’t carry them to playoff contention and there aren’t reinforcements on the way, would expecting different results on an annual basis not meet the dictionary definition of insanity? This club needs considerably more than a few new figureheads to right the ship.
A Means to an End
Where to start, then? It’s never as simple as trading away everyone not on an entry-level contract. The Hurricanes of all franchises are privy to the negative impacts of a scorched earth policy, having dealt with fan fallout in the past. Players like Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner immediately jump to the forefront as invaluable pieces. They’ve yet to enter their prime and are on great contracts now and for the foreseeable future. Elias Lindholm has been underwhelming, but is only in his second NHL season. Beyond these three, I can’t imagine there’s a player that should be deemed untouchable. Circumstances could force Carolina to keep Staal, but beyond that, there’s a lot of valuable trade chips.
The Canes may be short on talent, but it’s perfectly clear they’ve all the options in the world. They have the cap space and flexibility to reasonably make most trades happen. Beyond the Staal brothers, there aren’t many NTCs on the Canes roster. Decisions, decisions.