Welcome Caniacs, to Part 2 of the Hurricanes rebuild in-depth. While, in Part 1, I wasted far too many words talking about teams who were not the Hurricanes, Part 2 will entirely revolve around the Carolina effort. So sit back, grab your cup of coffee, and if you’re about to go to bed….you’re welcome.
A little over two years ago, Peter Karmanos infuriated the fan base by stating that he “needs the fans to be even more patient than they have been.” It was the exact wrong thing to say to a fan base, craving success five and a half seasons into a bitter playoff-free streak that has still not yet abated. Fans have every right to complain, after such a run of bad play, and a very fresh 5 game losing streak. It’s frustrating, I get it….. and that’s all the sympathy you’re getting from me. Teams lose. Sometimes a lot. It sucks. I don’t care about your gripes. Especially when I see light at the end of the tunnel. All hail Ron Francis.
Cooking Up a Hurricane (Hockey Roster)
Okay, so I may have a high opinion of our boy Ron, but let’s (as objectively as possible) look at the Hurricanes roster right now, and how they got there. There are currently three players on the team who Francis (either as Director of Hockey Operations, or GM) had nothing to do with their coming to Raleigh. Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Cam Ward were all Hurricanes pre-2011, and we’re not including re-signings in this particular exercise. That said, for the rest of the roster, Francis had at least a say in their inclusion. So let’s take a look and see how this Hurricanes roster came to be constructed:
The Trade (Prev. Tm, Traded For)
Jordan Staal (T-PIT, Sutter, Dumoulin, 2012 1st [Pouliot])
Teuvo Teravainen (T-CHI, 2016 2nd, 2017 3rd)
Bryan Bickell (T-CHI, 2016 2nd, 2017 3rd)
Joakim Nordstrom (T-CHI, Robertson, Massie, 2017 5th)
Eddie Lack (T-VAN, 2015 3rd, 2016 7th)
Draft (Round, Year)
Ryan Murphy (Round 1, 2011)
Elias Lindholm (Round 1, 2013)
Noah Hanifin (Round 1, 2015)
Victor Rask (Round 2, 2011)
Brock McGinn (Round 2, 2012)
Sebastian Aho (Round 2, 2015)
Brett Pesce (Round 3, 2013)
Jaccob Slavin (Round 4, 2012)
Free Agency (Year, Prev. Tm)
Ron Hainsey (2014-WPG)
Jay McClement (2014-TOR)
Derek Ryan (2015-Switzerland)
Victor Stalberg (2016, NYR)
Lee Stempniak (2016, BOS)
Matt Tennyson (2016, SJ)
Michael Leighton (2016, CHI)
Free Agency: The Shortest Paragraph
So yes, Ron has used all the tricks of the trade to implement the rebuild. He tends to use free agency more for cheap buys, but hey if he can find players like Derek Ryan under Central European rocks, more power to him. Further, every one of those free agents has had a tangible positive impact for the Hurricanes over the last few years, so kudos to Francis for finding some great bargain bin deals. He even has gotten contributions from the waiver wire. I don’t know if thats impressive or depressing. If he only had a budget…. Sore subject, I know. I’m sorry. Moving on.
The Jordan Staal Trade: Good or Bad?
Looking at the trades, the acquisitions of Teuvo Teravainen and Joakim Nordstrom have yielded significant positive results (thanks Chicago) not to mention a trove of draft picks. I think we can all agree that Lack has been a giant bust so far in his Carolina career. As for Jordan…..that was a very steep price. Much like Columbus traded for Jeff Carter to try and placate Rick Nash, Rutherford, Francis & Co. traded for Jordan to placate his brother Eric. While Jordan has been an absolute rock for the team defensively, his offense never blossomed like Canes fans expected in a larger role. Brandon Sutter was a good defensive center too, though not the faceoff king that Jordan is. The prospect included in the Staal deal, Brian Dumoulin, hasn’t been a gamebreaker, but he has played 120 games for the Pens, and was a dependable blueliner for their 2016 Stanley Cup champions. The 1st draft pick turned into defensemen Derek Pouliot, who’s been something of a disappointment, shuttling between the Pens and their AHL club, but Pouliot doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, two of the three picks after Pouliot were Jacob Trouba and Filip Forsberg. Either of them would have been a great rebuilding piece, and I’m sure all of us would love to see Forsberg on the other side of Skinner and Rask right now. Alas, Rutherford did not read his tea leaves, and the result is that the Jordan Staal trade seems like it might have set the future rebuilding effort back a year or two. Yay, Captain Hindsight!
The Decent Draft Skills of Ron Francis
Thankfully, Rutherford is gone and Francis, a savvy former playmaking center like Steve Yzerman, seems to have taken a leaf out of the Lightning GM’s book of building hockey teams. Francis and the Hurricanes have drafted 8 regular contributors since he joined the club in 2011 (Murphy, Rask, McGinn, Lindholm, Slavin, Pesce, Hanifin and Aho). Yes, we can safely chalk up Ryan Murphy (Francis first pick as DHO) as a bust. Everyone else has played a very valuable role. And that’s just through the 2015 draft, out of 35 total drafted. Of course, that’s also assuming that NONE of the other 27 players develop into NHL talent. Just an FYI, that list includes, among others:
- Phil di Giuseppe
- Alex Nedeljkovic
- Lucas Wallmark
- Nicolas Roy
- Warren Foegele
- Haydn Fleury
- Trevor Carrick
Of course, that also doesn’t include the 2016 draft class, with Bean, Gauthier and Kuokkanen. Nor does it include the prospects that Ron added through trading away his veterans (McKeown, Saarela, Zykov). This is the foundation of a potentially Top-5 ranked prospect pool in the NHL. This is a very, very good sign.
Where Do the Hurricanes Find Elite Talent?
Yet, while I firmly believe in Ron Francis’ draft skills, our fearless leader Matt made a very valid point while we took in the Canes-Kings snoozer. Of the players that the Hurricanes have drafted over the years, none of them can really be termed as elite. While it’s a subjective term, and the Hurricanes haven’t drafted higher than 5th since 2005 (Jack Johnson, 3rd overall, ahead of Carey Price, Anze Kopitar, Tuukka Rask, TJ Oshie……ow), the fact of the matter is, in order to even contend for a Stanley Cup, a team needs elite players who can take over the game and win games when the team plays terribly. Jeff Skinner is not that. Justin Faulk is not that. Sebastian Aho could possibly be that down the road, but he’s not right now. Every Stanley Cup champion that has won the cup since….the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, has done so with a core of elite players that they drafted.
- Detroit had Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Lidstrom
- Pittsburgh had Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Fleury
- Chicago had Toews, Kane, Seabrook and Keith
- Los Angeles had Kopitar, Brown Doughty, and Quick
The Hurricanes won with Eric Staal and rookie Cam Ward, but Rutherford also built a solid core of veterans and elite (albeit old) players like Rod Brind’Amour, Doug Weight and Mark Recchi who played crucial roles during the playoff run. The point is, in today’s NHL, the draft is the most efficient way to acquire elite talent. And no, I do not want to hear any complaining that it’s because we don’t spend money on free agents. The only 2016 free agent signing on pace for 70 points this year is…..Eric Staal. Fun side note, the last free agent signing to score even 60 points for his new team? Zach Parise, who’s getting paid $7.5 million a year until he’s 40.
Now trading for an elite player happens far more often than finding free agent gold. Taylor Hall to the Devils is a recent example, though he’s being outpaced by Skinner AND Rask right now, scoring-wise. Which leads to the Catch-22 of this whole situation. You can’t usually trade for an elite player when they’re playing at an elite level. The solution, as far as trading is concerned, seems to be getting young players before they reach the elite level. Philadelphia’s trade for Jakub Voracek and Dallas’ absolute steal of Tyler Seguin are the shining examples of this. I’m guessing that was the pie-in-the-sky scenario for the Teravainen trade, though I’m not sure Teravainen is much more than a serviceable NHL regular.
Carolina is at a Crossroads
So what do Ron Francis and the Hurricanes do from here? Well, that’s really the question. The Hurricanes are at a crossroads in their rebuild right now. Right on the cusp of playoff contention, but not quite there yet. As Matt wrote last week the Hurricanes are desperate for two things:
- Goalie help for Cam Ward
- Players who can put the puck in the net
Goalies are a strange breed, in that you can find a good one as often with a high priced free agent as with a 7th round pick from Slovakia. It’s a freaking crapshoot, and I think the strategy of stockpiling goalie prospects with later round picks, is probably the best method. Ron’s got that down. Check. The scorer is the tricky part. Given that the free agent route is impractical for a team like the Hurricanes, and I highly doubt Ron’s going to find the next star in his weekly waiver raidings, that really leaves two feasible options:
- Keep building through the draft and hope that 1-2 players develop into elite NHL producers
- Go all-in and trade a package of talent for a proven scorer
Well, since Ron Francis is more tight-lipped about his plans than a corrupt politician, we can only speculate. Legitimate scorers like Duchene, Landeskog and Nugent Hopkins are rumored to be available, but at what cost? If a package could be built around a prospect like Fleury or McKeown, along with a proven talent like Elias Lindholm, that could be ideal. But given the defensive woes on both Colorado and Edmonton, the demand would likely be one of Faulk, Slavin, Pesce or Hanifin. For a team built from the defense up, like the Hurricanes, that is just unacceptable (Trading the 20-year-old Hanifin during his sophomore slump is moronic. Period.) At the same time, we can’t just wait the whole time and hope it works out for the best. Crossroads indeed.
The right answer may not be the most popular one. This writer believes that the Hurricanes have nearly enough talent, defensively, to start trading it without sacrificing the rebuild. The trouble is we’re very short on legitimate Top-6 forward talent. With two extra picks in the 2017 draft, and Ron Francis proven eye for NHL-quality talent, I believe the answer is to embrace the rebuild for at least the rest of this season. As part of that, were I in the scary situation of being the Hurricanes GM, I would do three things:
1. Take what we can get via trade for Ryan Murphy and pending free agents Jay McClement and Ron Hainsey
Ryan Murphy has not seized any of the multiple opportunities to earn a role with the Hurricanes, he still has 24 games to play in 34, in order to be eligible to be an expansion shield, and he needs a new start. It’s time to call it on him. McClement and Hainsey could bring a later round pick at least and we know what Francis can do with those (see Slavin, Jaccob)
2. Call up Lucas Wallmark, Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown
Wallmark has been playing very well in the AHL this season, and deserves a shot at McClement’s spot to see what he can do. Fleury and McKeown may be legitimate NHL defensemen, or they may not. We, and more importantly, other NHL GMs don’t know. It’s time to bring them up, see if they can claim a role, or at the very least improve their trade value.
3. Bring back $1 hot dogs
Another year without the playoffs, do the fans a solid. The team is almost good again, the diehards have been patient, and there would be far fewer empty red seats in the stands. I feel like this is Marketing 101. The more you avoid this Hurricanes, the more I believe you brought in Don Waddell to wreck another team to the point of moving. You know this will work.
The Night is Darkest Before the Dawn
As for the rest of it? Well we do what fans of all losing teams do. We suck it up. We complain a bit (I’m still not listening) and we dream of brighter playoff-filled futures. I’ve seen my share of long-term rebuilding efforts in multiple sports. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. I can confidently say, however, that I believe in what Ron Francis is doing. The track record of recent NHL success, more often than not, is built around the draft-and-develop strategy. This season is what it is, a great learning experience for all the young players. Ron is putting his stock in the young talent. I am too. Just wait til next year…