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Carolina Hurricanes 2015-16 Preview: Answering Three Burning Questions

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In which we ponder a few questions whose answers could have a significant bearing on the Canes' 2015-16 season.

Could this be a historical photo by the end of this season?
Could this be a historical photo by the end of this season?
Jamie Kellner

You got questions, we got answers...

1. What will be the endgame of the Eric Staal and Cam Ward contract negotiations?

In case you've been asleep in a cave for the past year or so, the contracts of the Canes' two longest-tenured players expire after this season, and with every day that passes Ron Francis gets that much closer to his day of reckoning. Francis likes to play his cards close to the vest, so it's hard to get much of a read on where negotiations are, but he has made some between-the-lines references to not ruling out a trade for either player. Of the two players, Staal seems a bit more likely to sign a contract extension, but it's likely that he would fetch a higher return than Ward should the Canes decide to move him.

The conventional wisdom says that Ward will eventually wind up elsewhere, especially with Eddie Lack now in Raleigh and champing at the bit to take over as the number one option in goal, but for what? Francis already tried to unload him once, and the deal fell through. If the Canes are willing to take thirty cents on the dollar for Ward, they will likely move him. Whatever happens, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Canes will meet Ward's contract requests, but the betting money says that Staal will eventually sign an extension and remain with the team at a lower salary. That said, this soap opera will not end anytime soon, and could well end with both players being traded only to return upon entering free agency, so stay tuned.

2. Is Ryan Murphy down to his last chance in Carolina?

It seems a bit unfair to ask that question about a player entering his third professional season, but the landscape surrounding the Canes' 2012 first-round pick has changed substantially in the past three years. When Murphy was drafted, the Canes' defensive future consisted of Justin Faulk and little else. Today, Faulk is a star, the future team captain and arguably the most indispensable player on the team. Meanwhile, Murphy seems stuck in neutral, never able to crack the roster on a regular basis while the likes of Noah Hanifin, Danny Biega, Haydn Fleury and Brett Pesce are quickly approaching (and in Hanifin's case, may have already passed) Murphy on the depth chart. With Murphy up for a new contract after this season, this will be a pivotal season, possibly moreso than any other player on the roster, and it wouldn't be at all a surprise to see Murphy head down the same road as another mid-first round defenseman, Brandon Gormley, who never developed the way the Coyotes had hoped and was eventually shipped to Colorado in search of a new start.

3. When will Peter Karmanos find a buyer?

The for-sale sign has been stuck out on Edwards Mill Road for over a year, with no takers. The News and Observer reported in late August that several parties, including at least one set of local investors, had expressed an interest in buying some or all of Karmanos' share of the team, but Karmanos' insistence on maintaining control of the team after the sale has apparently spooked a lot of these interested parties and caused them to shy away. Karmanos has said multiple times on the record, to anyone who will listen, that he will not move the team, but he has said nothing about whether he would sell to a buyer without a guarantee that the Canes would remain in Raleigh.

Disturbingly, there are significant parallels here to Karmanos' troubled exit from Compuware, where he retired but remained on the payroll as a consultant until his firing by the board of directors. Karmanos has since begun a new business and won a lawsuit against Compuware for illegal termination and cancellation of stock options, but should Karmanos remain in charge of the Hurricanes after selling the team, there's a disturbing precedent that's been set. If Karmanos gives up his insistence to retain control of the team after selling to a new majority owner, the process should go along smoothly and may even be finalized by the end of 2016, but otherwise this will be a black cloud hovering over the franchise for years to come.