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Rumor Roundup: Will the Hurricanes deal Staal, Semin, Skinner or Ward this summer?

Having missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth straight season, the Carolina Hurricanes could face significant off-season changes. Ron Francis stood pat in his first summer as Hurricanes GM last year, but now he could make significant moves.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Having missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth straight season, the Carolina Hurricanes could face significant off-season changes. Ron Francis stood pat in his first summer as Hurricanes GM last year, but now he could make significant moves.

The process began leading up to the trade deadline, when Francis dealt away pending free agents Andrej Sekera, Jiri Tlusty and Tim Gleason. Other players could follow them out the door later this summer.

Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer believes Francis has some “meaty decisions” to make. He must determine if captain Eric Staal, who is a year away from unrestricted free agency, is part of the Hurricanes' long-term plans.

The 30-year-old Staal tells Alexander he loves living and playing in North Carolina. While he wants to help the Hurricanes return to the playoffs and compete for another Stanley Cup title, Staal admits it's up to management.

Staal led the Hurricanes in scoring this season for the sixth straight year and the eighth time in his NHL career. However, his production's been in a slow but steady decline in recent years. He has an annual cap hit of $8.25 million, though in real salary he'll make $9.5 million. That's a hefty amount for a forward who last reached the 70-point mark in 2011-12.

If Francis decides to keep Staal, Alexander expects it'll be for less money on a multi-year extension. If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement, or if Francis feels it's time for new blood, Staal could hit the trade block. The veteran center has a full no-trade clause, though he tells Alexander he could waive it depending on the trade destination.

Francis must also figure out what to do with unproductive winger Alexander Semin, who has three years at $7-million annually on his contract. Alexander notes Francis hopes to find a defense partner for rising star Justin Faulk. He could also bolster his blueline depth via trades or free agency.

Like Staal, the 31-year-old Semin's best days are behind him. Unlike the Hurricanes captain, Semin's received significant criticism for indifferent play over the past two years. He was a healthy scratch for several games this season.

Semin lacks a no-trade clause, but his poor play and high salary make him very difficult to move. Earlier this season, Francis bluntly dismissed the idea of buying out Semin, but that could be the only means of getting the under-performing winger off the roster.

Alexander also notes left winger Jeff Skinner faces an uncertain future. While Skinner is signed through 2018-19 at an annual cap hit of $5.75 million, the 22-year-old suffered the third concussion of his career earlier this season.

Though Skinner missed only five games, he was slow to regain his scoring form. After netting a career-high 33 goals last season, the young winger's production declined this season to 18 goals and 31 points.

Skinner possesses a no-trade clause, but it doesn't kick in until 2017-18. Francis could ship the young winger anywhere this summer without his permission. Given Skinner's youth and offensive skills, Francis could give him a chance to rebound next season.

Long-time starting goalie Cam Ward is also entering the final year of his contract. He's been dogged by trade rumors since 2013-14. The 31-year-old’s improved performance this season could increase his trade value, as well as speculation over his future. Like Staal, Ward also has a full no-trade clause.

Salary cap space may also govern Francis' decisions. The Hurricanes have more than $54 million invested in cap payroll for 2015-16. Ownership could be unwilling to spend up to the cap ceiling, whatever it may be.

Francis has several restricted free agents (Riley Nash, Rasmus Rissanen, Andrej Nestrasil) to re-sign, plus pending UFAs like Chris Terry, Brett Bellemore and Jack Hillen to re-sign or replace. Fortunately, none of them will be expensive to retain, but keeping them could limit the space necessary to add talent.

Dealing away Staal, Semin, Skinner or Ward will free up considerable cap space, but it remains to be seen if any of them hit the trade block this summer.


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