First, it is important to note that the situation could change significantly between now and the February 29 NHL trade deadline. As of right now, the Carolina Hurricanes sit right at the edge of the teams still playing for the 2015-16 season. Even a modest 2-week stumble out of the gate after the all-star break could see the Canes clearly focused on 2016-17 and beyond.

But right now the Carolina Hurricanes are in the thick of things. And right now, the Carolina Hurricanes are winning at a pace that suggests that might not change. In the past 10 games, the Canes are an impressive 7-2-1 which is fourth only to some pretty good company in Tampa Bay, Washington and San Jose.

If the Canes do find themselves out of the playoff hunt come late February, I think the decision is fairly easy for Francis. He needs to collect whatever futures he can for players who are unrestricted free agents this summer and continue stocking players for the future. Even in the should he stay or should he go case of Eric Staal, I think it makes sense to part ways even if it is only temporarily to collect some high-end futures and then possibly reunite in July. And Ron Francis set a precedent at the 2015 trade deadline for how he will likely handle this scenario. Last year, when unable to reach the deals he wanted, he indiscriminately traded anything not bolted down including Andrej Sekera, Jiri Tlusty and Tim Gleason. Eric Staal is a different situation, but other than him I would expect similar if the Canes are out of it come late February.

But the real dilemma occurs if the Hurricanes are still in the playoff hunt come late February. In that scenario, does he stay the course and maintain a heads down focus on the future and trade impending free agents? Or does even the potential of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009 slow things down? I would be shocked to I see Ron Francis become a rental buyer at the trade deadline at the expense of the future, but just maybe with an extra first and third round pick already banked for 2016 he keeps the key components of the Canes roster in place.

The other interesting factor is Eric Staal’s no-trade clause. He has the legal right to just refuse to leave. If the team was out of the playoff hunt, I would expect him to do the right thing and offer some flexibility to help the team. But if after a struggle over the past 6 years, he is captaining a team that is playing well and has a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, might he just tell Ron Francis that he wants to exercise his right to be a part of it? It is definitely possible.


There are multiple angles to this dilemma:

1) What does it say to the team and the fan base if Ron Francis dismantles a 2015-16 that has a even a decent chance after a long and painful wait?

2) As much as the 2015-16 season has been a success so far, I still think the team desperately needs to add at the forward position to become both better and deeper. With some high-end rental assets available, this February represents the greatest potential to move that process forward significantly and possibly even ahead of schedule if an actual player or 2 can be obtained instead of just the usual draft picks.

3) Is it time to anoint Justin Faulk as the leader of this team, and if so is parting ways with Eric Staal the only non-awkward way to make this happen?

4) Is it possible for Francis to at least use this situation as leverage with Eric Staal putting forward an offer to re-sign at a significant discount or otherwise asking him to waive his no-trade clause?


Because so many potential trade deadline buyers are up against the salary cap, I would not expect much to happen until very close to the deadline (whether Francis wanted to move sooner or not). This does afford him the chance to push deeper into the season and get a better read on whether this team has a chance for the 2015-16 season. That makes for an exciting 3 weeks of hockey with the 10-year Stanley Cup celebration right in the middle of it followed by an equally exciting trade deadline week.

If nothing else we get both hockey games that matter and a dose of drama as Canes fans in February.


Go Canes!

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