In part 3, I will actually discuss the merits of standing pat with the current roster if a great deal does not emerge.
Not just playing for 2016-17
If the NHL was scheduled to cease existence after the 2016-17 season and the goal was to build the best team possible for 2016-17, I would seriously question Francis’ limited activity this summer. There are certainly improvements that could be made and assets that could be deployed to do so. But that is not the case. Ron Francis’ mantra since day 1 in the GM role has been to build an organization heavy on quality players in its system that would not just return to the playoffs but become a fixture in them. Amid all of the temptations, potential deals and band-aid options to build a better roster sooner, Francis has been steadfastly patient arguably to the degree of stubbornness and committed to the original plan. At a minimum, he should be applauded for his consistency and following up his talk with actions.
Avoiding big mistakes
Francis approach thus far has also been low risk. As is the case with any GM, I could nitpick some of Francis’ individual moves, but thus far Francis risk averse style of building a roster avoids costly mistakes. His decisions lean heavily on using inexpensive players in the system, throw in a dash of additions of the inexpensive and short-term variety and completely avoid the big free agent contracts that can quickly become financial albatrosses. His approach is a somewhat boring but sound recipe for financial flexibility and steering clear of bad contracts that would make it impossible to build a competitive team with his less than salary cap budget.
Part of it is about investing ice time
There is a part of me that believes the NHL is a young man’s game, that the Canes might be ready to at least push into the playoffs this season, but that Francis is in the process of making the same mistake in consecutive summers in not adding enough quality depth from outside the organization when there are options to be had for cheap. But with a roster that is still incredibly young, I think Francis’ approach to the 2016-17 season is to push the youth up into bigger roles. If they seize the challenge and thrive, the team is ahead of schedule. If not, they still benefit from the ice time and challenges and are better for it in the long run. In addition, Francis gets a detailed read on how to slot what he has before he enters next summer with another small chunk of money to apply to filling a hole or 2. Bryan Bickell and James Wisniewski alone free up $5.5 million in actual salary (not cap hit). With some extra draft picks in hand, there is also a chance that if the team starts hot but still has gaps, that Francis makes a deal or 2 during the season. November can be a very good time for shopping when teams start slow and look to shake things up, and as the Ryan Johansen deal shows, these deals can be for good young players sometimes.
Dueling patience and anxiousness
As a fan who has received far more than I could ever have asked as a Hurricanes fan in 2002, 2006 and 2009 even if those glory years are in the past, I personally am fine with waiting out the current rebuilding process. But as a father of children who are in middle school, not that young and do not remember the Hurricanes going to the playoffs, frankly I am anxious and ready to spend a small amount of futures to improve the today that starts in a couple months. I also think the broader part of our once thriving Carolina Hurricanes fan base that has gone missing needs to see winning to return.
I continue to love where the team is heading, but there is also a part of me that is ready to be there now.