The Carolina Hurricanes’ recent decision to replace Ron Francis as general manager has generated ongoing speculation over his potential successor. Whoever gets the job will be expected to shake up a roster that’s on the brink of missing the playoffs for the ninth straight season.
A lack of scoring punch bedeviled the Hurricanes this season. Their 2.65 goals-for per game average was the league’s sixth-worst.
Prior to the Feb. 26 trade deadline, there was anticipation the Hurricanes might acquire a scorer to bolster their playoff hopes. Don’t be surprised if the new general manager pursues on this offseason to address this need.
Goaltending was also an issue this season. Scott Darling, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks last year and signed to a four-year contract, struggled in his first season as an NHL starter. Long-time Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward was pressed back into service, but at 34 his best seasons are behind him. Their combined goals-against per game (3.08) was the league’s 11th-worst.
The next Hurricanes GM could turn to free agency to address these problems. Cap Friendly indicates the clubs has over $48.4 invested in 12 players for 2018-19. New majority owner Tom Dundon seems willing to invest more money in improving the roster. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes long status as a perennial also-ran could take them out of the bidding for the best free-agent talent.
That leaves the trade market. Francis’ successor can draw upon deep defense corps for trade bait. The notables include Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, along with promising rearguards Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean. Francis was unwilling to move any of them, but his replacement might not be so reluctant.
Teams in need of blueline help could certainly come calling if one of those good young defensemen become available.
Among them could be the Montreal Canadiens. They entertained offers for left wing Max Pacioretty at the trade deadline and could do so again in the offseason. Pacioretty, however, is a year away from unrestricted free agent status and would have to be re-signed. Alex Galchenyuk could be a better target. The 24-year-old winger is signed through 2019-20 with an annual cap hit of $4.9 million and could benefit from a change of scenery.
Another possible trade partner could be the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re loaded with young scoring forwards and in need of defensive help. Auston Matthews is out of bounds but an offer of Hanifin or Slavin could tempt the Leafs to part with William Nylander or Mitch Marner.
The New York Islanders have plenty of scoring depth and desperately need help on the blueline. They might listen on forward Brock Nelson, who is closing in on his fourth straight 20-goal season. Perhaps they’ll also toss in promising (but inconsistent) winger Joshua Ho-Sang.
Another rebuilding club seeking blueline help is the Detroit Red Wings. For the right price, maybe they’ll agree to part with speedy Andreas Athanasiou or the 6’5″, 223-pound Anthony Mantha.
The Edmonton Oilers have a long-documented requirement for top-four defensive talent. Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has frequently surfaced in the trade-rumor mill over the last two years. Perhaps there’s a fit there.
If the San Jose Sharks re-sign free agent left wing Evander Kane, perhaps they’ll entertain moving a young forward, such as Timo Meier, for a skilled defenseman. They reportedly expressed some interest in Ottawa Senators’ rearguard Erik Karlsson at the trade deadline.
The long-struggling Buffalo Sabres are a hot mess on defense. There was talk before the trade deadline that Sam Reinhart might be available. The 22-year-old forward is a streaky scorer but has three straight 40-point seasons under his belt.
The Florida Panthers’ defensive depth drops sharply beyond Aaron Ekblad, Michael Matheson, and Keith Yandle. Maybe they’ll part with a forward such as Nick Bjugstad for another top-four rearguard.
The trade market for goaltenders this summer is rather thin. The best of the bunch could be Buffalo’s Robin Lehner, Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson, Calgary’s Jon Gillies or Toronto’s Calvin Pickard. Perhaps one of them could be pried away with a prospect and draft pick.
Free agency might be the better option here. Possibilities could include Arizona’s Antti Raanta, Boston’s Anton Khudobin, Colorado’s Jonathan Bernier or Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen. One of them could make a quality backup for Darling as he attempts to rebound from this season’s poor performance.
Stats (as of March 18, 2018) via NHL.com.