NHL GMs spend the summer assessing what they need to do to improve their respective teams and then making moves to build a team that they think can win. Then the regular season comes, and they start getting regular feedback on whether or not they have it right. And the game also changes as players get hot or cold and injuries occur.
Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis now has 5 games of data and a constant stream of new data coming in. This Hurricanes blog details what I think he is watching and what his decisions he needs to consider as the 2015-16 rolls forward. The list is a pretty big one.
I think this situation grows more interesting if the Canes continue to struggle – so many additional things come into play. If Eric Staal plays well, but the team just is not cutting it, is it possible that the Canes trade him with the intent of bringing him back next summer? These situations are rare, but it is possible. The fact that Eric Staal is a long-timer with the team and that Ron Francis is a stand up guy maybe makes it possible for Francis to move Staal somewhere near the middle of the season with the hope to get him back later.
I include this for thoroughness, but I actually think it is mostly a non-issue at least until March. I cannot see anyone taking his contract until we get closer to the trade deadline and then only if he is playing well.
Playing for 2015-16
I do not foresee Ron Francis making any moves that pay a ton in futures to try to patch short-term holes, but just maybe he makes some small moves to improve for today if the cost is nothing or very low.
Replacing James Wisniewski
From what I have seen so far, I do not see Michal Jordan as cutting it on a team that will compete for the playoffs. The hard question is whether any of the veteran free agents still floating around are any better. If not, Francis has only 2 choices. I have lobbied for giving Brett Pesce a game to game look, but with Pesce in tow this past weekend and back-to-back games some combination Bill Peters and Ron Francis decided not to give him a go. The other option is to swing a trade for more of a true replacement. With defensemen being a scarce and expensive commodity, I just do not see this happening.
It is a long shot, but my hunch is that at some point Brett Pesce pushing into the lineup and that when he does he stays. You heard it here first.
Help at forward
Brock McGinn may help this situation if he can keep it up, but very recently the Canes had Nathan Gerbe and Joakim Nordstrom on a second line. Both are good players, but neither would slot that high on many other teams.
Again, I do not see Francis spending significant futures for short-term fixes. But I think there could be another route. The Canes are deep in terms of prospects on defense. As the ability to rank them grows, I could see Francis trading depth on defense for near-ready NHL forwards who are young and expected to be part of the long-term solution, not just a short-term patch.
Figuring out the future
I think Ron Francis will want to assess where he projects Murphy to fit as the defense develops and act accordingly. To be clear, I am not saying that Murphy must reach this level in 2015-16 to stay. What I am saying is that at least projection-wise, Francis must view him as a roster defenseman (#5 or #6 with offensive skill set could be okay). If he does not, then I think he gets showcased and traded during the season (See ‘Help at forward’). I continue to like Murphy’s skill set to be a good offensive #5/#6 defenseman, but there are other options. If at any point, Francis projects him to be a non-difference-making #6-8 defenseman it is time to trade across for a similar age, similar quality forward prospect.
Thus far, I think Hanifin looks fine developing at the NHL level. This is not to say that he is not making his share of rookie mistakes, but so far he looks capable of handling the pace, being okay physically and not taking so many lumps that it dents his confidence. But it is important to continually assess this and make sure that Hanifin’s 2015-16 is focused first and foremost on helping Noah Hanifin reach his maximum potential 2-3 years out.