Give him this: in the first few years of his tenure, Ron Francis has gotten really good at maximizing the Carolina Hurricanes’ assets at the trade deadline.
But the issue, as was brought to bear yet again today as the Canes were sellers at the deadline for the millionth year in a row, is that the Canes are in that position to begin with.
Francis told the media that his outlook is good, and that on a day when season ticket invoices went out to holders (look for a commentary on that tomorrow), he still believes in the long-term plan, and that once the young players turn the corner, all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. This is fine, as far as it goes.
But the Canes’ general manager simply cannot ignore that interest in his club is a major issue. There have been more games with attendance below 10,000 this season than there have been above 14,000. In an arena that seats nearly 19,000 for hockey, that’s unacceptable, and it’s a direct correlation to the play on the ice.
So what does Francis do? He sticks to his plan. Which is fine on its face, but the fans of this franchise deserve more.
Perhaps the potential acquisition of a big-ticket item would have done the trick and moved the needle. And, yes, Francis did load up with draft picks, a second-rounder for Ron Hainsey and a third-rounder for Viktor Stalberg.
But if the difference between making and not making a deal for a big-name player was the presence of a third-round pick, then his definition of a “big-name player” must be significantly different than mine. To be more blunt: there was apparently never a deal on the table for the likes of Gabriel Landeskog to come here, but Joe Sakic wasn’t exactly waiting around for Francis to add a third-rounder to the mix to pull the trigger on a deal.
No, like all of the other trade deadlines Francis has presided over, this was a nibbling-around-the-edges deadline. Only the moving out of Eric Staal last season resembled anything close to a major makeover, and that was out of necessity so that he didn’t lose Staal for nothing in the offseason. The next deadline move he makes to acquire someone of note will be the first.
At some point, fans have the right to ask where the progress is. It has, at best, flatlined across the board this year, with the notable exception of Sebastian Aho. Whether that’s a coaching thing or a roster-assembly thing is open to discussion, but it is a thing regardless.
Maybe moving a big name or two out in exchange for a big name back isn’t part of the plan, but perhaps it should be considered. Yeah, it would likely be a case of setting one area of the roster back to advance another part, but more importantly it would give Canes fans hope that things might, finally, mercifully, be changing.
There is still the offseason, sure, and the eternal hope that Francis does something to spark the flagging interest in the team. Right now, that hope seems far, far away. Francis told the media that he prefers to build through trades rather than paying (read: overpaying) for free agents to come to Raleigh.
Fine. Then go do it. Long-suffering Canes fans have waited entirely long enough and deserve a reason to be excited about this team again.
In the meantime, the carousel keeps spinning, and the music never, ever changes.