Carolina Hurricanes Coach Bill Peters and General Manager Ron Francis have 17 games remaining in the 2015-16 season. The team will play to win hockey games and build on a strong December through February, but it will also look to collect information necessary to build the team for 2016-17.
In part 1 of this 2-part series, I will address the defense and goalies which is by far the easier of the 2 parts to sort out:
When GM Ron Francis extended Eddie Lack for 2 more seasons before he even played in a Hurricanes uniform, he committed half of his goalie tandem to Lack. Lack has played better as the season wore on, but I think Francis would like to get a better feel for what Lack might be capable of in a longer run. It will be interesting to see if he can win/keep the starter position over a stretch of games in the last 5 weeks. With the organization likely to be very young and inexperienced in Charlotte next season, there will not likely be any ready help there. This makes it critical that Lack find a comfort zone and also that Francis spend his second slot wisely.
Things to learn: Whether after settling in, Lack can grow to be a #1.
Spots to be filled: The other half of a 1A/1B tandem. Re-signing Cam Ward is 1 possibility as are a number of other free agent and trade options. Based on Lack’s inability to seize and keep the starter’s job, I think Francis is looking for an equal partner not a cheap backup who is not expected to play much.
The blue line for 2016-17 looks reasonably full and reasonably solid. With James Wisniewski back in the mix and all of the current starters under contract or only a restricted free agent, the Canes are probably 6 deep with starters and really only trying to sort out depth roles. We can debate whether some of the young players slot higher or lower or what the best pairings are, but at a basic level something like Hainsey/Faulk, Slavin/Wisniewski, Hanifin/Pesce looks pretty solid and is a nice set of right-left pairs. That leaves Peters and Francis evaluating who works best together and also young players for both their ability to provide depth for 2016-17 and step into a bigger role beyond that. This second project puts Michal Jordan, Ryan Murphy and possibly Trevor Carrick in the mix with Haydn Fleury potentially joining the fray next summer.
Things to learn: Which pairings work best together of the big 6 (at least those in the lineup) and also an evaluation of whether Hanifin could be ready to step up into the top 4 like Pesce and Slavin. The most significant thing might be Ron Francis projecting which of Ryan Murphy and Trevor Carrick have a role longer-term and which might therefore
Spots to be filled: Unless Murphy or Carrick surges up the depth chart in March, the Canes are really just looking for #7 and #8 depth (possibly from Charlotte if they add a veteran to sit in the press box at #7).
Within the next day or 2, I will post part 2 which will address the more complicated forward position.