Like the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, the Carolina Hurricanes made major managerial brass changes in the off-season. Longtime Canes General Manager (GM) Jim Rutherford retired, although the retirement period was a very short five weeks in duration after subsequently being tabbed for the same position with the Penguins although his tenure appears to be a transitory hire done in order to mentor and possibly groom Jason Botterill for the position a few years from now. Ron Francis was promoted to the Canes GM position and Francis’ first act was to replace head coach Kirk Mueller with Bill Peters, formerly an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings.
Rather than shaking up the underachieving and moribund Hurricanes, Francis, after striking out in his attempts to move Cam Ward’s albatross of a contract, decided that Peters would have the Herculean task of trying to get more effort and production out of highly paid and underachieving players. Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos has demonstrated the willingness to shell out money for premier players; however, Karmanos has not seen the type of return on investment that should have been expected.
$27 million, or over 1/3rd of the Canes total team salary cap, is allocated to four forwards: Eric Staal, his brother Jordan, Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner. If you remove the 33 goals that Skinner netted, last season, the remaining three players scored only 58 total goals, last season, and that type of production falls fall short from the kind of return that similar investments – $21 million for the three, per season – have yielded with other NHL squads. Much more is expected of this threesome and, unless there’s a seismic improvement for the Staal’s and Semin, the rumor mill will continue to fester that a trade to break up the current, sagging mix is imminent. So, the Hurricanes fortunes as well as the divisiveness that continual rumors creates can most greatly benefit from a massive up-tick in offensive production from this trio.
Defensively, the Hurricanes, particularly their top defensive pairing of U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera, are solid. Sekera surprised many, last season with both his defensive responsibility and offensive production with 11 goals and 44 points, 15 of which were on the man advantage, finishing only behind Skinner in power play production. Faulk displayed a steady overall game as well as some offensive prowess, with 27 assists and 32 overall points. Reliable veteran defensemen Ron Hainsey was resigned to three-year deal and equally reliable veterans John-Michael Liles and Tim Gleason anchor the third pairing on the Canes blueline. Former 12th overall draft pick Ryan Murphy played for a half-season with the parent squad and displayed some promise. If Murphy can deliver on that promise, particularly on the Canes power play, he will make their defensive unit both solid and his offensive potential can help keep them in most games.
In net, Anton Khudobin was rewarded with a two-year contract extension after replacing longtime starter Cam Ward in net, but it remains to be seen if Khudobin is the type of workhorse goalie that can carry a team through the grind and remain healthy doing so. Khudobin ranked 10th in the NHL in Goals Against Average (GAA) with a stellar 2.30 GAA and an equally impressive 4th overall ranking in Save Percentage (Save%) with a .926 Save%. Khudobin’s ascent and steady play has made Ward expendable but it may be difficult to move the oft-injured Ward, particularly with his hefty salary and salary cap hit as well as his diminishing performance in net, as Ward ranked near the bottom of the NHL’s GAA and Save% statistics.
The Canes have come out of the gate very sluggishly, currently with a record of 1-6-2, that lone victory coming in their most recent contest. And unless there’s a major improvement with their forward line core and on-ice record, both a ‘fire sale’ and posturing for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft appears imminent.