A do or die homestand was nothing short of a dud for the Carolina Hurricanes this past week as they’ve quickly fallen out of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.
Now 11 points shy of the second wild card spot with 24 games to go, it looks like Ron Francis’ trade deadline strategy is no longer a secret. This team is poised to be a seller over the next two days and trading Ron Hainsey on Thursday proves that will be the case.
This young team has had their fair share of great moments, but it’s times like these that we have to remember just how young and inexperienced they are. The future is still incredibly bright, and entering next season, the Hurricanes should have more weapons in all areas.
This week was tough, but here some of my thoughts.
- Say what you will about Carolina’s play on the ice this season, but Ron Francis’ track record as a general manager continues to be pretty impressive. I don’t think a lot of people would have expected Francis to get a second round pick for Hainsey, but that’s what he did. That’s now six picks in the first 90 selections in the 2017 draft for the Hurricanes. What they do with those picks will be interesting to see. Will they opt to select players with all of those picks or will they decide to make a move for a position of need - a first line center, a middle-six forward, or a starting goalie? I doubt that they will stand pat with all those picks, but only time will tell.
- With Wednesday’s trade deadline getting closer and closer, Carolina’s strategy seems pretty clear. With veterans like Jay McClement, Viktor Stalberg, and Lee Stempniak all on roster, they likely aren’t done trying to get as much value as possible. McClement won’t garner much of a return due to his statistically poor even strength play, but he could be a serviceable penalty killer for a contending team that needs some depth up front. Stalberg has quietly had a fantastic year in a bottom-six role and would undoubtedly be a welcome addition for some playoff-bound teams. I’d actually like to see the Hurricanes extend his deal rather than trade him. He’s been a great physical presence, penalty killer, and sporadic scoring threat all year. He is more valuable to this team than a fourth-round draft pick. Stempniak is a bit interesting because he isn’t a rental. He has another year on his deal past this year, which could make him an exposable piece at the expansion draft.
- On the topic of trade deadline talk, Carolina’s recent poor play has made a playoff push a pretty big long shot, barring a miraculous run down the stretch. That likely means a deal for a guy like Matt Duchene won’t happen until the offseason, unless the perfect deal comes to fruition. The Hurricanes should have a lot more options this summer.
- Eddie Lack had a good week. His shutout on Friday night against the Senators was his first in over a year, and while talking to Mike Maniscalco after getting first star of the game honors, he said it felt like his first start in over a year too. He followed that up with a solid showing against the Flames on Sunday. It’s been a tough year for Lack as he has struggled with concussions and hasn’t done much in his few opportunities on the ice. Now is the time to run with Lack and let him get a majority of the starts through the remainder of the year and see if he can turn things around. It would be incredibly foolish to go with the same goalie tandem next year, which would mean only one of the current two goalies should stay on the roster. Both Ward and Lack have another year on their deals after 2016-17.
- Victor Rask was finally able to find the scoresheet this week. He ended a 14-game scoring drought against the Sens with an assist and then ripped a powerplay goal in the first period against the Flames. Going forward, the Hurricanes need Rask to be an offensive threat. Outside of that scoring drought, he has been a threat this season so hopefully he can end the year on a high note. He is a big contract player now, so he must play like one.
- The Hainsey trade has given Carolina’s blue line a shake up. Noah Hanifin projects to get top-four minutes through the rest of the season and he needs to take advantage of it. Barring a move in the offseason, a top-four role will be his job to lose. Ryan Murphy should also get another extended look. If he plays through the rest of the season and avoids injury, he will be expansion draft eligible. Through two games back, he hasn’t been bad. Now, if he can find another level with his offensive confidence, that should not only make the team better, but maybe even keep him around past this season, but at this point, that seems unlikely.