Yesterday, the 2015-16 NHL season came to a early close for the Carolina Hurricanes, who were unable to secure a postseason birth for the 7th straight season since their glorious run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009.
It was a season of ups and downs for the Hurricanes and their fans, who saw longtime Captain and face of the franchise Eric Staal traded to the New York Rangers, saw average attendance dwell to its lowest point since 2000, and will be forced to watch other teams in their quest for the Stanley Cup for the 9th time in the last 10 years.
Despite all of that, the Canes future is looking extremely bright due to transactions made by GM Ron Francis, a good coaching philosophy by Bill Peters, who will be the benchboss for Team Canada at the 2016 World Championships, and promising play from young defensemen Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, as well as valuable experience for other young players like Brock McGinn, Phil Di Giuseppe, Sergey Tolchinsky, Brendan Woods, Brody Sutter and Trevor Carrick.
Other positives for the Hurricanes were the rejuvenated play and leadership of Jordan Staal, who scored 20 goals for his first time as a Hurricane, good contributions from F Joakim Nordstrom, who was considered a “throw-in” in the Kris Versteeg deal, progress from Elias Lindholm, Andrej Nestrasil, Victor Rask and Justin Faulk, and the major revival of Jeff Skinner, who scored 28 goals and led the team with 51 points, as well as playing a full 82 game season for the first time since his Calder-winning rookie season.
There is lots to look forward to for Canes fans, as they’ve added a couple of promising prospects in Aleksi Saarela and Valentin Zykov to an already solid group which includes young phenom Sebastian Aho, as well as highly-coveted defensemen Haydn Fleury and Roland McKeown, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, and under-the radar prospects Lucas Wallmark (who is currently lighting it up in the Swedish League playoffs), Nicolas Roy, a former first overall QMJHL draft pick who slipped to the Canes in the 4th round of the 2015 draft & led the QMJHL with 48 goals this season, and 23-year old speedy Swiss F Gregory Hofmann, a 2010 3rd round pick who scored a career high 17 goals and 31 points in the Swiss-A league.
Another piece to add to the puzzle could be Evgeny Dadonov, an extremely talented Russian forward who is looking to make his NHL return this summer. The Hurricanes hold his rights until July 1st when he will become a UFA, so the potential to sign him will likely have to become before that date.
Another interesting offseason storyline will be that of Cam Ward, the lone player reamining from the 2006 Cup winning team, who will also be a UFA on July 1st, and coming off a few inconsistent, injury-plagued seasons. My opinion would be to resign Ward for another year or two, and let him compete with Eddie Lack until youngsters Alex Nedeljkovic, Daniel Altshuller and Callum Booth are ready to take over.
The Canes will also potentially name their new Captain, as they’ve been without one since trading Eric Staal to the Rangers back on Feburary 28th. Likely candidates for captaincy are Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk, while some others feel Jeff Skinner has worked his way into the conversation.
The Canes have 11 picks in the 2016 draft, including 2 first rounders (one from LA, acquired for Andrej Sekera), 2 2nd rounders (one acquired for Eric Staal) and 3 3rd rounders (Tlusty, Liles). This will give management good leeway to either add prospects they like, or potential package a couple of those picks in a deal for immediate help. Either option has benefits. The Hurricanes will also have an abundance of cap space available, some of which may or may not be used to resign their free agents, and could be used to bring in players to fill holes in the lineup. Players not currently under contract with the Canes for the 2016-17 season include:
RFAs – Joakim Nordstrom, Victor Rask, Ryan Murphy, Michal Jordan, Justin Shugg, Patrick Brown, Brody Sutter, Keegan Lowe, Brendan Woods, Danny Biega, Rasmus Rissanen and goaltender Rasmus Tirronen.
UFAs – Nathan Gerbe, Chris Terry, Riley Nash, Brad Malone, Derek Ryan, Cam Ward.
Any RFAs that dont recieve a qualifying offer by the Canes come July 1st will become unrestricted free agents, and it’s very likely that a number of the players mentioned above will not be back with the Hurricanes organization next fall. Victor Rask and Joakim Nordstrom will likely sign bridge deals, while others like Ryan Murphy and Patrick Brown will likely fight for one-way contracts. The Canes have already started locking up some players, as they signed college FA Andrew Poturalski and recent mid-round draft selections F Clark Bishop and Nicolas Roy to entry-level contracts.
So considering all of this, I would say that this offseason is both the most important, and most exciting for the Canes and their fans in recent memory. With dwindling attendance and rumours of potential relocation (which have repeatedly been put to rest), the Canes will look to make a playoff push in 2016-17 to lure in crowds and hype to their young up-and-coming roster. The Canes and their fans have plenty to be excited about after a season in which they were originally predicted to be in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes, but instead fought hard and were legitimately in the postseason race until late March. As a Canes fan, I’m ecstatic with the direction this team is headed, and hopefully, for our sake, we’ll see results soon than later.
by Alex Ohari – first article of hopefully many for weliveforhockey.com