The dust has started to settle on what has been a very active offseason for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Dating back to April, Ron Francis has been busy, bringing in pieces that should help stabilize a roster that could be playoff bound for the first time since 2009.
Let’s go through each of Francis’ pivotal moves over the offseason and give them all grades.
Trading for and Signing Scott Darling
The first of a series of moves to help the Hurricanes in the present and near future, Ron Francis shipped out a 2017 third-round pick, acquired from Ottawa for Viktor Stalberg, to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for two months of negotiating rights with goalie Scott Darling.
A team that had been searching for at least average starting goaltending for the better part of the past decade, the Hurricanes knew they’d have to rectify the issue this offseason and they wasted little time.
Dealing a draft pick for negotiating rights had its inherent risks. The player could have easily played hard ball and hit the UFA market in July. In that situation, the player owes the team nothing and the best that the team can do is try to get a head start on other teams for the player. The price, however, was low, given the sheer quantity of draft picks the Hurricanes possessed.
Luckily for Carolina, it was a very short process. In a matter of days, the Hurricanes and Darling agreed to terms on a four-year deal, which will carry a $4.15 million cap hit.
The grade here can go either way. Darling’s numbers as a backup in Chicago over the past three years were phenomenal, and even factoring in a slight dip in his numbers with a higher workload, his production should still be average to above average. However, a significant drop in his performance could lead to the team being in a pretty big hole. It’s risk vs. reward, but the reward heavily outweighs the risk given the player’s track record.
The sentiment that average goaltending would push Carolina into the playoffs has been held by a large number of Hurricanes fans for years.
And they’re probably right.
Trading for Trevor van Riemsdyk
Shortly after being scooped up by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, Trevor van Riemsdyk got flipped by George McPhee to the Hurricanes for a second-round draft pick.
One of the most under-talked about issues for Carolina last season was their third defensive pairing, and adding van Riemsdyk helps that a lot.
In a sheltered role in Chicago last season, TvR drove play very well and was a reliable player in his own end. He’s a significant upgrade over the likes of Ryan Murphy and Matt Tennyson in a top-six role.
The second-round pick given up was Pittsburgh’s pick in 2017, which ended up being the final pick of the round, so the value wasn’t a significant loss for the Hurricanes, who ultimately traded Ron Hainsey for van Riemsdyk. That’s a very good trade off for Carolina.
There isn’t much to complain about here. The hope is that van Riemsdyk can continue to provide consistent third-pairing production. If he can, his age and his RFA contract status next summer could provide good value in the long term for Carolina. However, it is also possible that he takes a step back.
Trading Eddie Lack and Ryan Murphy to Calgary
This trade marked the end of two failed experiments for the Hurricanes.
A Jim Rutherford-era first round draft pick, Ryan Murphy could never provide consistent offense or any semblance of defense in the NHL. We will likely never know why it didn’t work, whether it was because of rumored effort issues early in his Carolina career, his concussion in junior which could have derailed his development, or maybe he just wasn’t ever good enough to play in the league. It just didn’t pan out for Murphy in the Hurricanes organization.
Eddie Lack brought more controversy upon his departure.
Once considered a potential long-term contributor for the organization, Lack was never really given a fair chance to show what he could do. Rumored issues with former goalie coach David Marcoux could have played a role in the fruitless run for Lack with the team.
A debate has been spawned from the organization’s choice to go with Cam Ward as the backup for Scott Darling instead of Lack.
The return was practically nothing for Carolina (swapped late-round 2019 draft picks and an ECHL defenseman) and they agreed to retain half ($1.375 million) of Lack’s salary for the ‘17-18 season.
Francis did what he had to do here, and while the trade has very little to do with his aptitude as a GM, it’s still a not-so-great look for him.
Signing Justin Williams
A move that many Hurricanes fans clamored for, Justin Williams was indeed signed by the club shortly after the clock struck noon on July 1.
Two years at a $4.5 million AAV is a fantastic deal for what Williams brings both on and off the ice. A three-time Stanley Cup champion, Williams knows what it takes to win and his extensive experience will undoubtedly benefit a very young Hurricanes roster.
Williams has routinely reached 20 goals and his advanced numbers suggest he can drive play at a very high rate from the wing. He’s a self-described glue player that can play with any number of players and fit in well. This appears to be a perfect addition in every aspect.
He knows the area, he knows the organization, and he knows how to win. No quarrels from me here.
Trading for Marcus Kruger
A July 4 trade brought in more center depth in the form of Marcus Kruger, who was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights from the Chicago Blackhawks just 24 hours prior.
I wrote in long form how this deal helps the team, but in short, this move is a win for Carolina.
Kruger is a great fourth-line center option. He’s a terrific shot suppressor and an efficient faceoff man who will take on some important defensive assignments and, in turn, take some pressure off of Jordan Staal. Staal should be open to take more offensive assignments and be a bigger scoring threat.
Kruger replaces Jay McClement at even strength and on the penalty kill, which is a big step up from one of the league’s biggest liabilities in puck possession last season.
The fourth-line center position has gone from a weakness to a strength in short order, and a fifth-round pick is a small price to pay for it.
Extending Jaccob Slavin
With the most significant long-term move of his tenure as the Hurricanes’ GM, Ron Francis signed Jaccob Slavin to a seven-year contract extension, carrying a $5.3 million AAV.
The term is great, the money is great, and the player is great. This is the player you build your blue line and your team around. In addition to being a potential future super star on the blue line, Slavin’s character as a person and a hockey player shines through every game and it was very apparent here.
He could have easily waited out the final year of his ELC and gotten closer to a six or even seven million AAV on his first big contract, but instead, he opted in now and decided to commit to this franchise.
Slavin is already a bona fide top-pairing defenseman at the age of 23 and his ceiling is through the roof. Having this player for the next eight years with cost certainty is a huge asset for the Hurricanes.