As the trade deadline rapidly approaches, the rumors surrounding various Carolina players are starting to take shape. Elliotte Friedman reports that Eric Staal will not waive his NTC, putting an end to a multitude of rumors that saw him going from Carolina to Edmonton, Montreal, or Toronto, depending on where one looks.
Cam Ward has recently been front and center among the rumor mill, after some questionable outings by Minnesota goalies Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper, combined with a resurgent season from Ward, has him rumored to be heading to “The State of Hockey.” With Minnesota seven points out of a playoff spot, and having lost 11 out of the past 13 games, the Wild will have to do something soon if they plan on turning their season around. However, Damian Cox believes Minnesota has more interest in Buffalo’s goaltending duo than Ward.
Andrej Sekera: To Move or to Keep?
The most prominent Hurricane that has been in the rumor mill all season is defenseman Andrej Sekera. At only 28 years old, and with a $2.75 million cap hit, Sekera is playing in his prime years on a sweetheart deal. Unsurprisingly, when rumors of the top-pairing defenseman’s availability hit the circuit, numerous teams were reported to be interested. One team, in particular, has “circled around him,” according to Sportsnet’s Friedman.
“[The Rangers] don’t have a lot of cap room. I know – I believe they’re one of the teams that really likes Sekera from Carolina. I think they’ve kind of circled around him. Whenever the Hurricanes make their decision on what they’re going to do there, I think they’re one of the teams that’s interested.”
The key line in that quote is “Whenever the Hurricanes make their decision on what they’re going to do there.” The decision on what to do with Sekera could determine how the next few years of the Hurricanes franchise will play out. The indication is that Carolina wants to re-sign Sekera. After all, all the reasons that make him such a valuable trade piece are the same reasons why he’d be a valuable member of the Hurricanes. With Eric Staal unlikely to move, and players like Alexander Semin and Cam Ward being difficult to move, the Hurricanes would struggle to do a full rebuild in the first place. So keeping Sekera and attempting yet another run at the playoffs over the next few years, however misguided, is an option for Carolina.
At the same time, if Sekera could be traded for young pieces, or the 1st round pick that Carolina’s general manager Ron Francis is rumored to be asking for, the Hurricanes could get younger and cheaper, which would help a team that has missed the playoffs for give years straight, financially speaking. However, with Sekera being a pending unrestricted free agent, and the idea that the Hurricanes would only trade him if they can’t re-sign him, Francis loses some leverage on any possible Sekera trade.
McDavid or Eichel: Franchise Changers?
The second event that could determine which direction Carolina goes over the next few years is the result of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. At the moment, the Hurricanes are tied with the Buffalo Sabres for 29th in the league, well within the range to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, the consensus #1 and #2 in the upcoming draft.
Both McDavid and Eichel are projected to be franchise-changing players, much in the way Steven Stamkos revitalized Tampa Bay or John Tavares helped the New York Islanders. If Carolina is lucky enough to snag one of those two players, they would likely help quicken any kind of rebuild or retooling the Hurricanes would go through. If they develop as planned, and are as NHL-ready as projected, the Hurricanes could see a quick return to the playoffs.
The rest of the draft, starting with Noah Hanifin at #3, would lead the Hurricanes to a much slower rebuild. In all likelihood, Francis would allow the draft picks to develop outside of Carolina, rather than make some desperate attempt at a playoff berth. With no immediate help coming from the draft, and with owner Peter Karmanos still holding a tight budget over the team, the Hurricanes would spend the next few years attempting to slowly bring about a new regiment they can build around.
For Better or For Worse
Though the two events may determine which direction the Hurricanes head, neither option is necessarily the wrong one. Long term, it’s probably better for Carolina to begin a rebuilding process, as their core players are starting to reach the upper echelon of what most people consider the “prime years.” With Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk, and Jordan Staal, they do have some young players to build around as well. Hayden Fleury, Alex Nedeljkovic, and Brock McGinn are some interesting prospects in the pipeline as well.
However, with Eric Staal, Cam Ward, and Alex Semin still on the books for the next couple years, there’s little reason not to attempt a playoff run during that time. The team can’t do a “true” rebuild with the old core still on the team, and the area and the franchise could desperately use playoff hockey once again. It may involve a lot of luck and some help from the hockey gods, but a team should always start each season with the playoffs as a goal.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.