RALEIGH — On what is shaping up to be a very quiet draft weekend for the Carolina Hurricanes, at least their first-round pick offered hope for the future.
The Hurricanes broke with past practice with their first-round pick Friday night, taking 6-foot-2 defenseman Haydn Fleury with the seventh overall pick, the first big defenseman theyve taken in the first round in almost a decade.
Thats something theyve desperately needed, from anyones perspective. Depending on ones perspective, some changes to an NHL roster that has missed the playoffs five years in a row might also be on that list.
Hurricanes General Manager Ron Francis said when he hired Bill Peters as the teams new coach last week that he didnt think the team needed a shake-up, and even if he wanted to, he said Friday night he hasnt had the opportunity.
Right from Day 1, I said Im not opposed to moving anybody if its a deal that makes sense, Francis said. I explored some things in the market, but it wasnt going to make our team better. We looked at some things, but nothing really materialized.
Francis this week handed out multi-year contracts to Ron Hainsey and Nathan Gerbe, and there was too much of that under the old regime, but given the lack of free-agent defensemen available, Hainsey had bargaining power and the Hurricanes did not. And no ones going to criticize Francis for the fact Cam Ward is still on the roster. The market for goalies making $6.3 million is slack, to say the least.
The landscape changed Friday, though. The salary cap didnt go up by quite as much as expected, to $69 million instead of $71 million or more, so teams at the upper limit are facing a $2 million squeeze. The Hurricanes, with 16 players signed for $57.2 million and not many big numbers left to sign, may have the chance to pluck a useful player or two off a bloated roster.
Itll be interesting, Francis said. A lot of teams were thinking that number might be higher, a million or two higher. That might spur some activity going forward. Well sit back and see what happens.
While the lack of activity may be frustrating, Fridays first-round pick offers more reason for optimism. Fleury plays junior hockey for Red Deer of the Western Hockey League, the same team that produced Carolina first-round picks Ward and Brandon Sutter in recent years, but other than that, the pick was a step in a new direction.
The Hurricanes hadnt taken a big defenseman in the first round since 2004, when they took Jack Johnson third overall (trading him two years later). There were a lot of small forwards and one very small defenseman in the first round since then under the Rutherford regime.
Rutherford disliked drafting defensemen because of their longer development curve, and Fleury isnt likely to offer immediate help like Jeff Skinner or Elias Lindholm did, but hes a building block for the future and helps fill what is very much a position of need for the Hurricanes. Take it as a sign Francis is looking long term.
Certainly we dont want to rush him at this point, Francis said. If he needs time in Red Deer, thats a good program with good coaching. He can develop there. We want to do whats right for him and the organization in the long term.
After too many years of short-term fixes, this draft pick offers reason to be less concerned about the lack of movement at the NHL level if not quite enough to ignore it entirely.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947