With the 2016-17 playoffs only in the second round, Hurricanes’ general manager Ron Francis has already made significant progress building his team for the 2017-18 season that is still five months away.
If you were away from Hurricanes hockey over the weekend, Francis followed up his trade last Friday by getting Scott Darling inked to a 4-year contract at $4.15 million per season. And just like that, Francis has addressed the team’s biggest need very early in the offseason.
By no means is Francis’ work completed. Though I would rank making an upgrade in net as the top priority over the summer, the task was not the most difficult. The perfect storm of a couple good free agents and the impending expansion draft actually created a good number of options and a decent buyers’ market for goalies this summer. More difficult will be trying to add a top 6 scoring forward who can help boost the offense and be a key part of a top-end scoring line.
Francis’ May move to add and then sign Scott Darling makes it clear that Hurricanes fans should stay tuned, but it is also important to note that there is no incredible hurry to wrap up work in May. The most likely window for the bigger variety of move is mid-June through mid-July basically starting with the expansion draft week and extending through the first two weeks of free agency.
But for the sake of discussing Hurricanes’ moves in May, here is a list of things that at least potentially could happen next.
The inevitable that could be sooner rather than later
A new Hurricanes goalie coach
At some point during the summer, Ron Francis will name new goalie coach to replace David Marcoux who was not re-signed. With Scott Darling now in the mix and Francis having a good idea who his goalie tandem will be this fall, the ball could be on the tee to fill the goalie coach slot. It is not absolutely required, but ideal would be to have someone on board to work with the prospects during the prospect camp in the last week of June, so why not even sooner.
Teuvo Teravainen contract
Teravainen is the biggest name free agent for the Hurricanes this summer. Coming off his entry-level deal after a decent but not spectacular season and as a restricted free agent without arbitration rights, Teravainen’s deal should be fairly straightforward. The salary range should be similar and I think actually a bit less than Elias Lindholm’s deal for two years at $2.7 million per year. And the range is fairly tight. Last year Victor Rask was not re-signed until July 12. There is no reason that Teravainen’s new contract could not take the same slow path that sees a qualifying offer, Francis get busy with other stuff in late June and then a contract in July. But with the salary range fairly tight, it is also possible that Francis continues to work ahead of schedule and gets this deal done early.
New contracts for Brock McGinn and/or Phil Di Giuseppe
The contract situations of Brock McGinn and Phil Di Giuseppe are similar to Teuvo Teravainen’s in that both are certain to be re-signed (if not lost to the expansion draft) and the contract terms are even more defined than Teravainen’s. The normal, slow process for both players would be for Francis to make the required qualifying offer before July 1 to keep their rights and then sign each at some point after that without any significant urgency or rush. The interesting thing with both of these contracts will be the term Francis (and the players) commit to and also if either garners a one-way contract with the same salary at the NHL and AHL level. With the volume of potential rapid risers who will join the ranks in Charlotte next season, I think Francis would do well to keep both on two-way deals such that they could be sent to the AHL at a lower AHL salary. But with both players having logged significant parts of two seasons at the NHL level, their agents will lobby for a one-way deal.
Hurricanes’ moves that are reasonably possible
Jaccob Slavin and/or Brett Pesce contract extensions
Both Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are signed through the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, so neither player needs to be signed this summer. That said, there is a reasonably good chance that Francis will move early to get one or both locked up longer-term and potentially with a modest discount to what they could cost next summer with a strong 2017-18 season. I especially think it makes sense to get Slavin extended early. Based on his offensive acceleration in the latter half of the 2016-17 season, I think the potential for him to have a significantly better season in terms of scoring in 2017-18 and in the process drive his price through the roof will cause Francis to move early. The same is true for Pesce who could also be re-signed early, but I see Slavin as having more 2017-18 scoring upside and therefore being the higher priority of the two.
A Ryan Murphy trade
Murphy is under contract for the 2017-18 season at a reasonable $825,000 that fits fine as a #6-8 defenseman. And while it is entirely possible that Murphy could fill exactly that role, I also think is is very possible that he gets dealt. He is suddenly 24 years old and has yet to carve out a regular role. With three younger defensemen passing him on the depth chart over the past two seasons and the next wave coming fast, I think it is possible that Francis collects whatever value he can and in the process gives Murphy a fresh start in a different situation. If Murphy’s value has fallen to the point where there is not a great prospect for prospect deal to be had (which is possible), it might make sense to deal him for a draft pick by mid-June, so the draft pick can be in the 2017 draft.
A goalie deal for Cam Ward or Eddie Lack
While it is possible that Francis and the Hurricanes roll into the 2017-18 season with three goalies, the more likely outcome is that Francis sheds a goalie between now and then. I am on record as thinking that the most likely outcome is that Eddie Lack is ultimately bought out after Francis exhausts all other options during the consecutive draft weekends. That said, I am certain that Francis is making and taking phone calls from anyone with interest in Ward or Lack. Might Francis find a taker for one of his extra goalies even if he has to pay a small amount in futures to unload a contract?
A Derek Ryan deal
Ryan is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. With a decent season at the NHL level in 2016-17, a good working relationship with Coach Bill Peters and a Hurricanes’ forward roster that could still have room, I think Ryan will choose to stay in Raleigh. That said, it might make sense for both Ryan and the team to wait until after the expansion draft for his new contract such that he does not need to be exposed. Nonetheless, a Derek Ryan signing is definitely within the set of possibilities for a next Hurricanes’ move.
An addition to the coaching staff
Aside from the open goalie coach position, I am on record as thinking that the Hurricanes could add another coach possibly with one of those funky ‘specialist’ or ‘consultant’ titles. This could happen at any point during the summer, but I see it going one of two directions. If Francis and Peters have someone who is available in mind, it would make sense to get the deal done early, so the new coach can get m synced up with Bill Peters over the summer. On the other hand, if there is an option or two who is currently under contract only through 2016-17, Francis might rather wait to see who becomes available in July.
The bigger projects
Francis laid out three needs for improvement in his end of season media availability. The goalie position was one of them obviously, so that leaves two more targets.
Adding a top 6 forward
Priority one is adding a top 6, scoring type forward.
Adding a #4/#5 defenseman
Below that is possibly adding a #4/#5 defenseman capable of playing in the top 4 or being a steady presence next to a young player on the third pairing.
Both of these seem likely to drag farther into summer, but based on how quickly Francis acted on the goalie need, who knows for sure.
My best bet for the next Hurricanes’ move
From my article on April 20 entitled, “5 Carolina Hurricanes predictions for the offseason”, I ranked Slavin being extended #2 and a coaching addition as #4. (#1 was Steven Lorentz signing which already happened, and #3 was Eddie Lack departing which became more probable with the Scott Darling acquisition.
I will stick to my guns and bet on a Slavin signing first and a coaching addition second. I am also thinking that if Murphy’s value is only that of a draft pick and Francis knows that, he might move quickly to collect in 2017 instead of 2018.
What say you Canes fans?
The Monday Coffee Shop article has the same ‘what’s the next Hurricanes’ move’ kind of theme but feel free to also chime in with your predictions below if you prefer.