Despite the amazing feel good ending for Bryan Bickell and the Canes in game 82 of the 2016-17 season, the Canes face the same questions they’ve faced for the last 8 consecutive offseasons: what’s next? And honestly, who knows. Ron Francis will definitely be getting to work, as the Canes have stockpiled 11 picks in the 2017 draft (7 in the top-90) and have built a very talented core of young players led by Jeff Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin and others. These kids will just continue to grow their games and get better. So because of that, the Canes head into the offseason with potentially the most optimism out of any of the last 8 years. Long gone are the likes of overpaid castoffs like Alexander Semin, Tuomo Ruutu, Tim Gleason and such. Gone are the fringe-level NHLers that have occupied the Canes’ bottom-6 like Brad Malone, Nathan Gerbe, Chris Terry, Jay McClement (am i right?!) amongst others. So what can we expect in terms of team improvement and offseason moves for the Canes? There’s a lot of options to consider, so sit back, relax, and enjoy a glimpse into the potential future of the Carolina Hurricanes.
For starters, the Canes have 11 picks in the 2017 draft. Their first rounder, 3 second rounders (one from Pittsburgh-Hainsey, one from NYR-Staal), 3 3rd rounders (one from Ottawa-Stalberg, one from NJ-Ruutu), and then one pick in rounds 4 through 7. Not bad right? Especially considering that those picks can be flipped for immediate help, especially with the expansion draft coming where teams will likely try to get a return for players they’re slated to lose. Last offseason, the Canes shipped a 2nd rounder to Chicago for Teuvo Teravainen. Could a similar scenario happen this year? The Jets have some talented young forwards like Marko Dano and Joel Armia who they may be forced to expose, and some goaltending options available could be Joonas Korpisalo, Philip Grubauer and Marc-Andre Fleury. How about a second-rounder and a prospect for Jakob Silfverberg who the Ducks are slated to expose? Matt Duchene is still out there, and Nathan MacKinnon has found himself in the rumour mill now as well. Intruiging. Could the Canes make some calls and use some of their draft picks and/or deep group of prospects to bring in some players who can contribute immediately? It’s certainly possible, and a situation to moniter as the expansion draft inches closer.
Another route the Hurricanes are bound to try is free agency. Last year, they dipped in and found F Viktor Stalberg, who played some solid bottom-6 minutes for the Canes and netted a 3rd round pick at the trade deadline. Not a bad return for a guy who was signed for nothing. We also brought in Lee Stempniak, who’s been okay if unspectacular, who managed 16 goals and 40 points while being a +2 player for only 2.5 million, which is a reallt solid deal considering some other players’ production around the NHL for much more money (see LA Kings roster). Stempniak should be exposed, and may be lost, to Las Vegas, but isn’t irreplaceable. The other UFAs signed by the Canes were Matt Tennyson, and legend Jakub Nakladal – not much to see here. This summer, the free agent crop is enticing. If the Canes are willing to spend (which they probably aren’t), high scoring wingers TJ Oshie and Alexander Radulov would be at the top of the wishlist. Or maybe they could look to give a chance to a guy coming off a down year at a more reasonable rate, maybe a guy like Patrick Sharp or Jiri Hudler, who both suffered injury plagued 2017 seasons and hit the UFA market July 1. Or maybe they stop somewhere in the middle like Thomas Vanek, or give a shot to a guy like Brett Connolly. Either way, there’s tons of options to fill a hole or two in our top-9 with.
The Canes also need to figure out what to do in the crease. Neither Cam Ward or Eddie Lack have earned the right to go into 2017-18 as the starting goaltender, and with expansion coming, guys available for trade could include the likes of Jaroslav Halak, Joonas Korpisalo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Philip Grubauer amongst others. Potential UFAs include Ben Bishop, Steve Mason, Scott Darling and Mike Condon. Something needs to give, and a move has to be made here. League-worst goaltending just won’t cut it in the NHL.
The Canes also have a lot on the way in terms of young talent. Fans got a glimpse into the future with recalls of Valentin Zykov, Lucas Wallmark, Andrew Poturalski and Sergey Tolchinsky. To me, the wildcard of the bunch is Tolchinsky, who had a bad year in the AHL but came up and showed he’s worthy of playing in the NHL two years in a row now. Some players just perform better on the big stage. All 4 guys, except maybe Poturalski, will battle for an opening night roster spot next year. Elsewhere in the prospect department, Aleksi Saarela has been on a tear in Charlotte after another good year in Finland and has a real shot to make the 2017-18 roster. Nicolas Roy and Jake Bean had good junior seasons, while Julien Gauthier regressed but had a nice 2017 WJC. Neither of these 3 should be rushed, but I’d give Roy the best chance to make next years team. Forgotten man Haydn Fleury makes the team next year in my opinion – he’s really come along nicely in the AHL and is ready. Top goaltending prospect Alex Nedeljkovic, along with the rest of the Canes prospect group, are still a ways away. The guys I mentioned and outlined above are the ones to keep an eye on for next year, and maybe some of them turn into regular contributors. Let’s hope.
Now to break down the Canes contract situation:
RFAs: F Teuvo Teravainen, F Brock McGinn, F Phil Di Giuseppe, F Andrej Nestrasil, F Erik Karlsson, D Klas Dahlbeck, D Trevor Carrick, G Daniel Altshuller
UFAs: F Derek Ryan, F Jay McClement, F Brendan Woods, F Patrick Brown, D Matt Tennyson, G Michael Leighton + other minor leaguers.
There’s not too many decisions to make on the RFA front. Erik Karlsson and Andrej Nestrasil are as good as gone, while the rest of the guys will be signed to one or two year bridge deals, with the exception of maybe Teravainen who could be locked up long term. For the UFAs, I don’t think any of these guys will be resigned before July 1.
My way too early guess at Canes 2017-18 Depth chart:
It’s entirely possible the Canes will give their youth more time to develop in the minors and acquire established NHLers vis trade or free agency, but it’s anyones guess which route will be took. Regardless, the Canes have loads of young talent, draft picks, and current talent that will continue to grow and develop their game at the NHL level. There’s lot of reasons to be optimistic, but it’s time for the Canes to put it all together and take the next step in 2017-18, hopefully right into the playoffs.
Written by Alex Ohari of weliveforhockey.com