Congratulations to the Charlotte Checkers for wrapping up a first-round AHL playoff series win in short order with a three-game sweep over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Thursday night.
Lost on no one who follows the team is the sarcasm in declaring the significance of the days ahead for a position that is currently unfilled or I guess filled by a committee.
The summer shapes up to be a big one for general manager type decisions regardless with a number of situations that could impact that long-term success of the team.
1) Hiring (or I guess naming) the next head coach
Earlier this week I made cases for and against internal candidates Rod Brind’Amour and Mike Vellucci. On my writing list is a third article that considers at least by category the options outside of the organization. Regardless of which direction the team goes, the choice for a new head coach is a huge decision that will play a significant role in the fate of the 2018-19 season.
2) Sorting out the goalie situation
Like a broken record, one of the Achilles’ heels of the 2017-18 Hurricanes was again goaltending. As such, the new general manager will have tough decisions to make. Don Waddell has suggested that the team could retain Scott Darling but still possibly add another goalie. Cam Ward is a free agent who could be cut loose. There is the possibility of trying to trade Darling in a package deal that eats a bunch of salary or just buying him out. Regardless, the team needs to be better at the goalie position in 2018-19 and has an interesting set of 3-5 interrelated decisions that must be made in that regard.
3) Mid-tier free agents likely in a high price range
This summer, high-pedigree draftees Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin must be re-signed. Both are restricted free agents, so it is not as if they could depart, but the situation is still complicated. The reality of today is that both players are middle of the roster players at best and not truly difference-makers. But as high draftees still with high ceilings, the potential for much more remains and invariably factors into salary. Were Elias Lindholm a veteran free agent who was priced based on today and not draft pedigree or potential upside, he would probably price out at $2.5 to $3.5 million per year. But as a young player with upside, how much higher can his agent push the price for a player who is well-rounded and serviceable in any situation but also seemingly locked in at very modest mid-40s depth scoring in terms of offensive production. Hanifin’s situation is even trickier. He took a step forward offensively in 2017-18, but at the end of the day, he is still a third pairing defenseman. On the open market, an above average offensive third pairing defenseman who was priced based on role not draft pedigree or potential upside would probably price out at $1.5 to $2 million per year. As a highly-drafted player with upside coming off of his entry-level deal, Hanifin will price nowhere close to that range. Because of the disparity between actual role today and price for a higher role, the new general manager has important decisions to make with both players. Does a bridge deal at a medium price make the most sense until the players shift from potential to actual in terms of playing in the top part of the lineup? Or is it wiser to lock these players up before they have a break out year? Tough decisions for certain.
4) Looking forward to next summer with Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen
Both halves of the Finnish duo are signed through 2018-19. As such, they become eligible to be extended this summer. One would figure that extending both players early could make sense, but the question is for how many years and how many dollars. With both players in the mid-60s in 2017-18 for scoring, any big discounts are certainly gone. But is it still a good time to lock both up and not risk a break out season to the point per game level in 2018-19?
5) Committing or moving on early on the older veterans
Also signed for the 2018-19 season (and one more year for Faulk) but due for new contracts soon are Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk. Both had down campaigns for the 2017-18. Skinner’s scoring was still respectable but of concern was his relapse to two-way struggles of his younger days. In my opinion, Faulk just had a tough season altogether. His offensive production dipped, and he trudged farther away from the times with Andrej Sekera where defensive acumen was the foundation of his game. On a team that had six plus players from the regulars and most of the others grouped between even and minus 10, Skinner and Faulk were the lowest on the team at minus 27 and minus 26 respectively. With both players approaching unrestricted free agency, best would be to make a long-term decision on each.
6) The search for more offense
Another key decision will be deciding if the current forward group plus AHL reinforcements is enough offensively or if the team needs to add from outside. Last season, Francis added veteran Justin Williams and depth forwards Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris, but mostly bet on improve scoring from within. After another sub-par year scoring-wise, the new general manager will be faced with the exact same situation again this summer.
7) Other free agents
Though some of the other contract situations are more significant, the new general manager will need to make decisions on a few depth players who are scheduled to become free agents on July 1. Lee Stempniak and Derek Ryan will become unrestricted free agents on July 1, and all of Klas Dahlbeck, Joakim Nordstrom, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Phil Di Giuseppe are Phil Di Giuseppe are restricted free agents who must be re-signed or let go.
What say you Canes fans?
1) With the slate of big decisions to be made are you concerned that there seems to be little news in terms of hiring a new general manager?
2) How would you aim to resolve the most important of these situations?