The winds of change have blown through Carolina this off-season, and it seems as though the Hurricanes could be one of the more active franchises this summer.
Since the end of the campaign, Carolina has already made a change behind the bench, installing Rod Brind’Amour as the new coach following the resignation of Bill Peters, as well as replacing longtime GM Ron Francis with Don Waddell, who was officially announced as the Hurricanes’ new front office architect on the same day Brind’Amour was hired. And it was Waddell, who has been with the organization for the past four seasons as team president, who suggested we could be seeing some significant changes to the roster ahead of next season.
Speaking with NHL Network Radio’s Steve Kouleas on Wednesday, Waddell said the Hurricanes have to look at “every position” on the team given Carolina is mired in the NHL’s longest active playoff drought, which stretched to nine seasons in 2017-18. Asked specifically about star scorer Jeff Skinner and co-captain Justin Faulk, however, Waddell said the Hurricanes have told other teams that Carolina is looking to make changes, continuing by saying, “Certainly when other teams are calling they usually want to call about your better players. We’re in discussions with not only those players, but multiple players.”
Skinner and Faulk are no strangers to the rumor mill, of course. Over the past few seasons, both have had their names crop up in trade talk. But if the Hurricanes were actually going to pull the trigger on trading one or both, two players who were once viewed as cornerstones of the rebuild, now might be the time.
When it comes to Skinner, who is a legitimate 20-plus goal threat each season and a three-time 30-goal scorer, the timing could be right to move him along for a couple of reasons. First, when it comes to getting value, trading him with one season remaining on his current deal, a contract that will carry a $5.725-million cap hit this coming season, might allow the Hurricanes to get the most back. True as it may be that he could prove more valuable at the trade deadline if Carolina were sellers at that point, we’ve seen instances over the past few seasons — Evander Kane this past season comes to mind — where a valuable deadline asset garners less of a return than expected come the trade freeze.
Not only that, but moving Skinner now could bring the Hurricanes additional draft choices heading into the 2018 draft, for which they already possess the second-overall selection. And while that may fly in the face of the idea of Carolina snapping their playoff drought, the Hurricanes’ prospect pool only narrowly ranked 10th according to a panel of scouts in THN’s Future Watch 2018. This despite finishing outside the post-season for nine consecutive seasons, too. The Hurricanes had only three players inside the top 100 prospects, only one of whom, sixth-overall Martin Necas, cracked the top third.
And not to put too much pressure on whoever the Hurricanes select second overall, be it Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina or Brady Tkachuk, but all three are wingers who can potentially make an NHL impact next season. With Skinner on the roster, there’s a potential logjam on the wing that could keep the Hurricanes top pick out of the top six, even if he’s capable of playing there.
That said, moving Skinner might not be as valuable to the Hurricanes as shipping out Faulk, who could potentially slide out of the Hurricanes’ top three defenders as early as the coming campaign. While he’s a steadying presence on the blueline, teams looking for a right-shot defender could be willing to ante up to pry Faulk out of Carolina, particularly given his rather palatable $4.833-million cap hit through 2019-20. And the emergence of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin, the latter of which will need a new contract this summer, has created a solid enough top three that the Hurricanes could potentially part ways with Faulk for a pretty tidy return without so much as missing a beat on the blueline.
To be sure, Skinner and Faulk aren’t the only trade options in Carolina, but they seem the two most likely to move as the Hurricanes appear ready to shift to a team built around a younger core that could include Slavin, Pesce and Hanifin on the blueline with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen — the Finnish duo terrorized the opposition at the World Championship — Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask and Necas up front, along with the soon-to-be second-overall selection. That foundation looks relatively solid and the additions made through moving out a Skinner or Faulk could supplement the younger stars now and in the future.
If you’re looking for one near-guaranteed move for the Hurricanes, though, look no further than the crease.
Throughout former coach Bill Peters’ entire tenure, the Hurricanes suffered through some of the league’s worst goaltending performances and were sunk on a near annual basis by the play of their masked men. To wit, from the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign to the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season, Carolina had an overall .899 save percentage. Of course, the Hurricanes believed they had found the answer to their goaltending woes last summer when they acquired and subsequently signed Scott Darling to a four-year, $16.6-million contract. Unfortunately, Darling’s performance — which included a bloated 3.18 goals-against average and .888 SP — left much to be desired. “We know we have to make change there,” Waddell told Kouleas. “We know we can’t bring the same two guys back.”
In all likelihood, however, Darling will be around when the campaign begins. The changes then will most likely come in the form of an experienced backup who can push Darling for the starting job and effectively replace Cam Ward, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. There are a number of options, too. Among those set to hit the open market are Jonathan Bernier, Anton Khudobin, Carter Hutton, Michael Hutchinson and Chad Johnson. Carolina could also entertain trading for a top restricted free agent who’s stuck behind an incumbent starter such as Washington Capitals netminder Philipp Grubauer.
Most likely, though, the changes that start in the crease will continue on throughout the lineup, and as the Hurricanes take aim at halting their playoff drought, moving out one of the former core pieces like a greater possibility than ever before.
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