With the NHL trade deadline a week away, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis on Monday looked to end one bit of speculation.
Disputing media reports out of Pittsburgh that the Penguins could be interested in reacquiring Canes center Jordan Staal, Francis said, “We’re not moving Jordan Staal.”
Francis said the Hurricanes, 15th in the Eastern Conference with a 21-30-7 record, likely would be moving some players, saying it could be “sooner rather than later.” But he indicated they probably would be pending unrestricted free agents that the Canes have not been able to re-sign.
Francis did not name names, but Carolina’s unrestricted free agents include veteran defensemen Andrej Sekera and Tim Gleason and forwards Jiri Tlusty, Jay McClement and Pat Dwyer. Any could be of value to a playoff contender or hopeful looking to bolster its lineup before the March 2 deadline.
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“You never say never on re-signing them, but at this point we’re headed down the road of moving as many pieces as we can and getting back pieces when we can,” Francis said. “I think at this point we will be moving UFAs, but you always get a lot of calls on players at this time of year.”
Several teams, including the Penguins, have been scouting recent Canes games. There has been speculation the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and others could have an interest in picking up Sekera, a good puck-handler and savvy player.
Gleason is more of a physical, stay-at-home defender. Tlusty is a solid two-way forward who could help on the power play, and McClement a center who is a good penalty killer and one of the league’s better faceoff men; Dwyer also could help a penalty-kill unit.
It’s hard to say what the Hurricanes could get in return for a player such as Sekera. A first-round draft pick and a prospect? That could be the Canes’ asking price, although Francis did not specify any potential deals Monday.
The Hurricanes, who face the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday at PNC Arena, are 11-7-3 since the start of the new year. Jordan Staal returned to the lineup Dec. 29 after missing the first 35 games of the season with a broken leg, and the Canes’ penalty killing has been almost flawless and the goaltending has been solid.
But while the Canes have played better in 2015, they also have played without the game-to-game pressure of being in contention for a playoff berth. That also factors into a general manager evaluating his team and deciding on what personnel moves should or shouldn’t be made.
“I said from day one I would take a look at what we had, make assessments and then do what’s right for the franchise in the short term and the long term,” Francis said. “We’re building for the long haul.”
Jordan Staal figures to be part of the building process. Obtained from the Pens in a June 2012 trade, he soon signed a 10-year, $60 million contract extension and has been the Canes’ top-line center – with brother Eric Staal on his left wing – in recent games.
For the Canes, losing games doesn’t have to be a losing proposition. The entry draft should be top heavy, and the top three prospects in particular – forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel and defenseman Noah Hanifin – are said to be talented enough to make an immediate impact on the NHL level.
The Canes, with 49 points, were 27th in the NHL after Sunday’s games, ahead of Arizona (47), Edmonton (44) and Buffalo (39). The draft picks for the 14 non-playoff teams will be set in the 2015 NHL lottery, with much at stake.
As Francis put it, “If the ball bounces the right way, it could change things a lot.”