Canes hire a new coach, but Francis faces more tough decisions on players

calexander@newsobserver.comJune 21, 2014 

— The Carolina Hurricanes first promoted Ron Francis to general manager, which was expected.

The Canes then hired a new head coach, Bill Peters, which was a bit of a surprise.

But while those were two major moves for the organization, there are some hard decisions still to be made in the coming weeks.

The Canes have the No. 7 pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Do they want to stay put in the 7-slot in the first round, trade up or trade down?

NHL free agency begins July 1 and the Canes have such players as defenseman Ron Hainsey, forward Manny Malhotra and goalie Justin Peters due to become unrestricted free agents. What will be done with them and other UFAs?

Francis said decisions still must be finalized on which of the restricted free agents will receive qualifying offers. The Canes RFAs include forwards Jiri Tlusty and Nathan Gerbe.

Francis said Friday that his plan was not to make wholesale changes with personnel and totally reshape the team, even after the Canes missed the playoffs the past five years.

“I don’t foresee a major makeover,” he said. “We’ve got some pretty good pieces in place. I know it’s frustrating we haven’t made the playoffs in five years. We finished just outside (the playoffs) by 10 points, which is one win a month (more) over the course of (the past) season.

“We may do some things but we feel we have a pretty good group here that can compete and win, so there’s no real need at this point to make a major overhaul, in my eyes.”

Francis said his inclination was not to use a compliance buyout, although noting Friday it would be a part of discussions over the weekend with owner Peter Karmanos Jr.

“Historically we haven’t done that,” Francis said of a buyout. “We’ll discuss everything with our payroll and where our negotiations are and what we can and can’t do. But we don’t plan to do that at this point, no.”

The draft will be held Friday and Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and it could be a busy week for Francis and the Canes management group. While there may not be a blockbuster trade to match the 2012 deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins that brought center Jordan Staal to the Canes, Francis may entertain offers and be open to trades.

It’s possible the Canes could look to move goaltender Cam Ward, who has had injury issues and has a $6.3 million salary-cap hit in each of the next two seasons. Goalie Anton Khodobin has been re-signed for the next two years.

“We’ve talked to Bill (Peters) and talked to teams about different possibilities and we’ll see what transpires in the next week or so,” Francis said without mentioning Ward. “We’re going to have to make a decision by the end of the month.”

As for the Canes moving up in the opening round of the draft, Francis said it would depend on the price, adding, “And I wouldn’t be opposed to moving down if it was the right deal, as well.”

Francis said he’s hopeful some of the unrestricted free agents can be re-signed before July 1. He also planned to get Bill Peters’ opinion before final decisions were made on the qualifying offers for restricted free agents.

Tlusty, before returning home to the Czech Republic after the season, had a cryptic tweet: “Leaving Raleigh, feels strange … Might not be back, but hopefully I am.” Another RFA, forward Andrei Loktionov, was injured competing for Russia in the IIHF World Championship.

But regardless of who’s on the Canes roster on opening night, Francis and Peters said the players would know what’s expected of them.

“They’ll be taught to play all 200 feet,” said Peters, who spent the past three seasons as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings.

Asked if he preferred a quick, skilled team or a bigger, more physical team, Peters said, “I love it all.”

Francis said he has had several meetings with the players since the end of the season.

“I’ve expressed my concerns and where they have to be better and what I expect from them in the fall,” he said. “It was about as blunt as I could put it in a conversation. It has to be that way.”

Hiring a coach, preparing for the draft, talking to players, contract negotiations, payroll … it has made for a restless time for Francis, who was named general manager April 28.

“Sleep’s been overrated the last month and a half,” he said, smiling. “There’s a lot of nights I wake up at 4 or 5 and your mind just keeps going, thinking about everything.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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