It's been about 10 days now since the Carolina Hurricanes cleaned out their lockers and met with the local media for their end of season interviews. As I mentioned in this article, there was a positive vibe in the air this time around that didn't seem to be there in years' past.
The reason for the vibe? Carolina's young defensive corps has everyone in the organization on a high.
Noah Hanifin could very well be a superstar in the making. Up until the final couple of weeks, Brett Pesce was solid and consistent, playing in all situations. And Jaccob Slavin surprised everyone, even himself.
Just how good was Slavin? When Justin Faulk went down with injury, he was normally playing more minutes per game than anyone, including vet Ron Hainsey. He was the only defenseman on the team to finish with a positive (plus/minus) at +1. (Faulk was -22). Slavin led all rookie NHL defensemen with 54 takeaways, while only getting called for four penalties all season, the lowest penalty/per minutes played ratio on the team.
The good news on the blueline does not stop with the three rookies though. Former first round pick Haydn Fleury should be ready to step up next season as well. Bill Peters was gushing about him at the presser. Also, Roland McKeown, who was acquired in the Andrej Sekera trade, had an outstanding season in juniors and is in the running to be named top defenseman in the OHL.
Not to be forgotten is Trevor Carrick, who had an excellent season in Charlotte. Finally, Ryan Murphy was mentioned by Francis, as also being in the mix.
If only the forward situation was as promising.
The general manager started the press conference by saying he liked the direction of the team and where they were going. He did mention though that sometimes young players can go in the wrong direction, (sophomore slump) but things look promising. The Hurricanes led the league with games played by rookie defensemen.
A bit later Francis said that in the past, fans complained about the team not giving proper effort on some nights, but he thinks that is a problem of the past now. He is happy with the coaching staff and has had mostly positive feedback "around town" about the team.
When asked about acquiring players now to fit in with the youngsters, Francis said his staff was looking at all avenues to make the team better. "We're on the outside looking in and we have to get on the inside."
There is one thing I would like to mention here about Ron Francis. His manner as a general manager reminds me a lot of how he was as a player. Low key.... professional.... intelligent.... As a player he was one of the all-time greats, a leader in some of the NHL career scoring stats, but you would never know this by listening to him speak.
He does not give up much specific information when he talks. And when he played, he did not say much either. But his actions spoke volumes. Francis seems to be much the same as GM.
Back to the presser- Francis said that early in the season, he felt there were about five games where the Canes dominated, but still lost. He felt they were better than what their record indicated.
Regarding Cam Ward - He feels that after a slow start, Ward had good numbers from December on. It might be easy to just turn the page and move on, but if it makes sense to bring him back, they will look at that as well. Whatever makes the team better.
On the hiring of Eric Tulsky - Both Peters and Francis praised the analyst and said they used his stats and he has been a huge benefit. Francis uses the information to confirm the eye test.
Regarding the Worlds- Only Hanifin and Michal Jordan will be attending the worlds. Eight players were invited but the rest will not be attending due to injuries or other reasons.
Francis was then asked about Jordan Staal and the center's status going forward without his brother being here. Like everything else, the GM just said that they will give this some time and see what happens. They waited to give Jordan his exit interview after the normal time, (along with Cam Ward) and they will speak about this at a later date.
Regarding the captaincy next season - Francis said he will discuss this with the staff but he is comfortable going into next season without a captain. If they don't see the "right person for the long haul", they could just go with alternates for the season.
When asked about the team's biggest need going forward - He responded, like 29 other teams in the league, goal-scoring.
With training camp being so important next season, what will happen while Bill Peters is away coaching the World Cup? Francis answered that they have had discussions and made plans regarding that. Brind'Amour and Smith will assume those duties because Peters will miss much of it. The coach said he will be learning and will try to improve and hopefully will be a better coach while attending the world championships and World Cup of Hockey, but training camp will be a bit different with his absence.
What about the guys in Europe and getting them over here? Francis mentions that they will try to sign Sebastian Aho and get him here next year. They will also try to sign Aleksi Saarela, who also had a good season. Lucas Wallmark is also mentioned here. Francis said that he doesn't want to rush anyone either.
They have had some conversations with the RFA's on the team and will continue to work toward signing them in the near future.
Finally, I asked Francis if there was a chance the team could make a big splash on July 1 this summer because of the money available to them, but again he was non-committal. He responded that they have done their homework and do have some interest in a few free agents, but they will not do a deal unless it makes sense. If they can get the right guy at the right term and at the right money, they are all about doing that.
If you have not seen it yet, to see the entire presser, click here.