With Joakim Nordstrom officially added to the mix with a new 2-year contract, what is next for GM Ron Francis in building the Canes 2016-17 team?
I think the top priority short-term is re-signing Victor Rask. Regardless of who Francis keeps/does not keep from the unrestricted free agents, Rask’s contract is the only 1 up for renewal that has even enough dollar value and potential range to impact the rest of the budget. Rask’s improvement in terms of scoring production and reaching the 20 goal plateau obviously get him a raise over his entry-level contract. The question is how much and also for what term Francis wants to lock in Rask. When you see players like Martin Hanzal ($3.1 million; 41 points in 64 games ), Matt Beleskey ($3.8 million; 37 points), Mikael Backlund ($3.6 million; 47 points), Artem Anisimov ($4.6 million; 42 points), Nick Bjugstad ($4.1 million; 34 points in 67 games), Charlie Coyle ($3.1 million; 42 points) and others, it seems possible to make a case that Victor Rask is worth north of $3 million. But with only 2 years of NHL experience and restricted free agent rights, Francis has some negotiating leverage and ability to keep cost reasonable. I think if Francis can get Rask signed for 2-3 years at less than $3 million per year, he will have done really well. Something in the low $3 million range is probably fair relative to the comparables. And once the price starts getting too much about $3.5 million, I think Francis is paying full price and also taking on some amount of contract risk.
There is no reason why the Rask situation needs to be wrapped up early. The negotiation could stretch into August without becoming anything worth panicking about. But ideally I think Francis would like to finish this contract sooner rather than later, so he knows what the impact is on his budget and what it leaves for signing other players.
The other unrestricted free agents
After Rask, Francis will want to make a decision on the multiple free agents. For those that he wishes to re-sign, ideal would be to do so before the draft weekend and before free agency starts. But the players in this category will largely be inexpensive depth players, so there impact to the overall budget is minimal. Regardless, I think ideal is to sign any of these players who will be before the draft, so Francis knows exactly how many and what kind of players he already has and also what he needs.
The draft weekend
I think there is a good chance that the most important span of days in building the 2016-17 team will be over the draft weekend. This is not because I am counting on 1 of the Canes draft picks to factor into the 2016-17 season. Rather, it is because I think it is very likely that the draft weekend will be used to obtain a player or 2 via trade. There is obviously the chance to make trades at any point during the summer, but remember that last summer Ron Francis made 2 of his 3 big moves (trading for Wisniewski and Lack) during the draft weekend. I think there is a good probability that we see a repeat of that.
Coming out of the draft weekend, Francis will have some combination of actually adding players or at least having a better idea of who might be available at what price in trade market. That information will dictate his aggressiveness in the free agent market which opens on July 1.
With the volume of open slots on the Canes roster right now, it should be a busy summer for Canes GM Ron Francis.