With July officially coming to a close, we move into August which is easily the slowest month of the year for hockey. We get training camp in September. We get regular season hockey from October to April. We get playoff hockey (ideally with our team in it next year) from April to June. We get the draft in June and the kickoff of free agency and the prospect camp in July. Then there is August. There is NOTHING scheduled. It is a full month of hockey check ins that have a 95% chance of yielding nothing.
Below is a list of what could be 5% for the Carolina Hurricanes for August:
20% Eric Staal re-signing: With the draft over and the heavy lifting on the free agent shopping and trading done, Ron Francis has a bit more time to deal with important but not deadline type issues. The biggest one is figuring out what to do with Eric Staal. There will be discussions between Francis and Eric Staal’s agent over the next 6ish weeks leading up to training camp. And there is a decent chance that a deal could be signed. Then why only 20%, you ask? Two reasons. First, it is not necessary that this deal get done before the season starts. As long as both sides get a decent feel for whether there is a match going forward and that the gap price and term-wise is not insurmountable, they can slowly and methodically work it out really anytime between now and the March trade deadline. Realistically, Staal’s value via trade could ironically be higher in March simply because so few teams could fit him into their salary cap which makes for a big, complicated deal that requires the acquiring team to trade back a similar amount of salary but in the form of players the Canes actually want. The second reason is simply that I think a before the season deal is equally likely to be early September as it is August. I do think that Eric Staal re-signs, but I do not see any urgency to it.
50% Canes sign a free agent forward. Francis’ mantra is to leave a few spots open for kids to win. He did that last summer when he largely passed on free agents at this point in the process adding only Jay McClement at forward early in the free agent process. Chris Terry, Zach Boychuk, Riley Nash, Victor Rask and Patrick Brown won NHL ice time early in the season from their play in training camp. There were positives from this. Victor Rask emerged to and quickly grew to become a pretty good player with upside from there. Chris Terry showed enough sparks of offense to stick around all season and earn a 1-way contract for 2015-16. Riley Nash was very good early before fading a bit as the season went on. And Zach Boychuk continued the gradual transition from being a skilled scorer at the AHL level to a player who needed to be a bit more well-rounded to earn NHL ice time. So at an individual level, there was something gained. But at a team level, it was tough. Jordan Staal’s extended injury was going to hurt the Canes no matter what. By the end of October the Canes were exposed as a team with nowhere near enough veteran depth and looked very much like a team that was rebuilding with you and taking lumps in the process. With virtually no NHL-experienced help at the AHL level and no sure things for rising young NHL-ready youngsters, Francis looks at last summer all over again. And despite being light on budget, I think he will learn from it and adjust. So I think there is a pretty good chance that he signs at least one forward. The reason the number is only 50% is threefold. First, it could slip to September when the prices hit rock bottom especially if Francis does not have any huge preference for one player versus another. Second, a trade is another possible avenue to fill this need. Third, it is at least possible that he just really does not have any budget to do anything.
10% Blockbuster trade of Jeff Skinner. Jeff Skinner’s name has been bandied about both during draft weekend and since. And Francis has even acknowledged discussions in this regard. So it seems like there is a decent chance that Skinner gets traded. Right? I am not so sure. My guess is that the fact that Francis has talked to teams about Skinner and he is still a Cane means two things. First, after working his way through thirty teams, there were no first offers that made sense. More significantly, I think the lack of a deal thus far says that Francis is willing to consider trading Skinner but is not at all in “dump him no matter” mode. Rather, he would consider it for a fair deal that improves the team. I think two things have increased Skinner’s value as a Cane relative to as a trade chip. First, by adding Wisniewski, Francis got the blue line at least up to the point where it is serviceable for opening night 2015-16. And by adding Hanifin via the draft, Francis decreased the need to add young, long-term solutions on the blue line. On defense, he is probably more looking for short-term help (if anything) while Hanifin, Fleury and other youngsters mature a bit. And per my first comment, no way is Francis trading Skinner for some 2-year bridge type defenseman. Second, minus Alexander Semin and plus no skilled scoring additions from a team that struggled to score 5v5 last season, Skinner seems to be what they need. One of the priorities if the Canes do add players at this point is skill/scoring at forward to boost the offense. That is exactly Jeff Skinner. So while rounding out his game is still a work in process and could again be a stumbling block to slotting him in the top 6, he has the upside and the skill set that the Canes need to boost the offense. So at this point, I would be surprised to see Jeff Skinner traded. But then I was on record as saying no way would the Canes buy out Alexander Semin, so who knows.
20% Sign short-term help on defense. I think I am in the minority in putting the addition of one more veteran defenseman (Ehrhoff!) equal to adding help at forward. I take this position for multiple reasons. First, I hate the idea of being an injury away from thrusting Hanifin or another kid up the depth chart prematurely for lack of any other options. Second, as far as building a roster with the best chance to make a surprise playoff push, I think it is a necessity. Finally, I think adding another skating left shot defenseman really balances the top 4 nicely with two left shots, two right shots and enough puck-moving ability to boost the 5v5 scoring via greater ability to move the puck up the ice, play less defense and get some chances off the rush. It seems like forward is higher probability, but I think if prices fall enough that Francis could see the value in getting a pretty good defenseman in Ehrhoff for a bargain price and take it possibly in addition to adding another forward.
10% Aug/75% eventually Justin Faulk becomes and assistant captain. I am cheating and leaping ahead a bit. It seems like the more likely timing for this would be toward the beginning of training camp when the players, coaches and everyone are in town. So unless the Canes want to get a small PR boost during the dead time, this probably happens later. But I think ‘probably’ is the right word.
70% Twitter provides Caniacs with at least some entertainment primarily from new additions to tide us over during an otherwise slow month. First, we had the addition of James Wisniewski and Eddie Lack on the same day, both of whom are fairly active on Twitter. Eddie Lack would probably rate as an NHL Twitter all-star if such a thing existed. James Wisniewski is also active. Then yesterday the FSN Canes TV team added Michelle McMahon as an on-air and web host. She appeared on Twitter shortly after the announcement and seemed approachable and fun. It is early, but a burrito and/or taco eating showdown between Eddie Lack (tacos) and Michelle McMahon (burritos) does not seem out of the question. Here is hoping that any negotiation, trash talking and lead up happens in August and on social media. And all of this should only amp up Zach Boychuk’s game though I fear he is out of any eating contests short-term because of some wasp sting or something on his lip. Slightly more seriously, the Canes seem to maybe accidentally be adding some personalities for social media which is welcome and fun.
I fear it is going to be a bit clunky this time around, but I would love to hear everyone else’s probabilities and predictions for August. This time around it will be a bit more of a process than a conversation. We set it up such that registration to post requires approval by CandC. (That is intended to put at least a small time buffer and road block to any malicious visitors and permanent.) And right now, it looks like comments themselves are running through the approval process. That will be changed such that once users are set up, they can post away. Thanks for the patience while we work through a few details with the site.