Don’t Call It A Frenzy: Where Do the Canes Stand After Free Agency?
From the moment the doors shut on controversial owner-driven exit interviews until the day of free agency, the 2018 offseason has been a unique roller coaster ride for the Hurricanes. Fans cycle through an array of emotions during the offseason, each year thinking, “Next season has to get better; how could this possibly get worse?” Somehow every year it does.
Who could forget the joys of arguing with amateur plane trackers in Quebec? Remember that time the owner got sued by his three large, adult sons? Remember that time the team was almost sold to a man who was going to build a lazy river but then couldn’t scrape up the cash? Remember that time fans thought the team was going be good and then had their hopes crushed as they were dragged through a miserably awful season?
Somehow the 2018 offseason was poised to rival them all. A franchise legend GM was “reassigned” and then fired. A popular dark horse coaching candidate for pre-season Jack Adams predictions somehow uncovered an out-clause in his contract and expediently used it. The team was headed into another draft with a middling pick and no immediate improvement on the horizon. Fans clamoring for change soon learned what sort they would be getting from the new owner: one that involved heavy usage of the words “culture” and “toughness” and light usage of the checkbook.
But for the first time in nine years of snowballing frustration and failure, the Hurricanes finally had luck break their way. They won the draft lottery. What’s more, they won the second overall pick in a year when the player projected to go first was a defenseman – a position where the Hurricanes possessed strong depth. Though not a center, the opportunity to draft winger Andrei Svechnikov was a turning point for the franchise that no one expected. The opportunity to revive the hopes of a downtrodden fanbase fell into the team’s lap. Now it’s up to them to decide what they want to do with that newfound goodwill.
Drafting Andrei Svechnikov and trading for top defenseman Dougie Hamilton – I’d say these are good starts. So far this skeptical fan has been pleasantly surprised by the “GM-by-committee’s” talent evaluation and asset management. My confidence is not as solid in their strategy with players like Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk, whose names have been littering trade rumors to a concerning degree. My confidence is also wavering in their goaltending strategy.
With Skinner, my concern lies in 1) burning bridges with a player whose scoring they desperately need even though his defensive game needs improvement, and 2) being unable to recoup adequate value should he truly not want to return. With Faulk, I worry that in acquiring Hamilton, they have put themselves in a position where they will need to trade #27 because they now have too many right-hand defensemen. For a year or two it’s seemed apparent that Faulk was the defenseman that would have to be moved due to depth and the amount of money he would command in his next contract, but selling low on him after his bad season is not what the Hurricanes need to do. And instead of filling the need for a left-hand defenseman left open by the Hanifin trade, they are now talking about playing Pesce on his off-side, which seems like an unnecessary strain on Pesce’s talent.
While the Hurricanes needed to move on from Cam Ward – who was a crutch the team used to prevent itself from ever fully committing to another #1 goaltender – the team has put itself into a very concerning boom-or-bust situation by committing to Petr Mrazek as their second goaltender. There were no reliable starters available in free agency, and trading or buying out Darling’s contract was close to impossible. Even if they had been able to do it, what would they have done to fill Scott Darling’s spot? Re-sign Cam Ward AGAIN?
Other than a trade for a proven starter (which would have cost significant assets), there was no good solution in net. And though they tried to trade for Grubauer, it takes two to trade, and the Canes can’t force other teams to deal with them. Now the team is in a situation where they have to hope Darling can recover from a terrible first season and become the starter they paid him to be. The partner they chose to give him, while young, does not inspire trust.
After trying and failing and trying again, the Hurricanes’ only viable option in net appears to be hope: hope that Darling can have a career-altering bounce-back, or hope that a young prospect like Alex Nedeljkovic is not as unprepared for the NHL as he seems. And while they improved significantly up front, the dubious future of Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk in the sightless eye throw much of the roster into uncertainty.
Teravainen – Aho – Zykov
Skinner – Necas – Svechnikov
Ferland – Staal – Williams
McGinn/Martinook – Rask – Maenalanen
While that’s an opening night lineup that looks like an upgrade on paper, it’s still reliant on a lot of hope and a lot of luck in a tough Metro Division to prevent a decade-long playoff drought. I’m afraid this historically unlucky team may have used up what little luck they were granted in the draft.
Some moves may still occur, but barring that, it seems best to ride into next season with cautious optimism. Lightning in a bottle, luck, voodoo – let’s hope whatever it is the Canes possess that landed them the second overall pick hasn’t run out just yet.