For the Carolina Hurricanes, the waiting game continues.
The Canes left Monday for Florida, for road games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. General manager Ron Francis has said he would not be making the trip but would remain in Raleigh through Wednesday’s 3 p.m. NHL deadline to tend to business.
With the Canes on their way to missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for an eighth straight season, Francis already has traded veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That left the Canes players wondering when the next shoe would drop, guessing what other moves Francis might make.
“It’s a nervous time around the league,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Sunday. “It’s an uncomfortable time for everybody – coaches, management, everybody. It’s a tough time of the year. The decisions you make impact your franchise and the decisions you make can impact families and people.”
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A year ago, the Canes parted ways with their captain, Eric Staal, trading him to the New York Rangers. That was unsettling for Canes center Jordan Staal, seeing his big brother leave before the deadline, and Francis later traded forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman John-Michael Liles.
Unless Francis decides to trade some of the core players and make major moves, which seems unlikely, the possible Canes departures still remain those players due to become unrestricted free agents after the season – forwards Jay McClement, Viktor Stalberg and Derek Ryan.
McClement and Stalberg have been a big part of the league’s best penalty-killing units this season. McClement often has been called on for important defensive-zone draws, and Stalberg has two shorthanded goals and numerous shorthanded chances.
Ryan also is strong in the faceoff circle – he won seven of 10 draws Sunday against Calgary – and can be used on the power play, on different lines and at center or the wing. With a $600,000 salary, he also can fit on teams squeezed by the salary cap.
These are the kind of moves Francis hoped he would not have to consider. But after what he called a “disheartening and frustrating” stretch of games capped by a disappointing five-game homestand that ended with Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Calgary, anything could be expected and justified.
Some big trades were made Sunday in the NHL – Tampa Bay sending goalie Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings and Arizona trading forward Martin Hanzal to Minnesota.
“It’s a unique market in the sense there are a lot of teams who still feel they’re still in it,” Francis said. “They’re not sure they’re in it but think they’re in it. Should they buy, should they sell?”
Not long ago, Peters was talking about wanting to keep “the group” together, maybe add to it for the stretch run. After the 1-3-1 stumble at home coming off the Canes’ NHL bye week, that won’t be the case.
The Hainsey trade with the Pens brought back forward Danny Kristo and a second-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. That gave the Canes three second-round picks and 10 in all, providing Francis numerous options leading up to the 2017 draft in June.
The NHL’s new addition, the Vegas Golden Knights, will start play in 2017-18 and will put its roster together in an expansion draft this summer. Francis and the other NHL general managers have to keep that in mind, as well, in planning for the trade deadline.
“A lot of guys are trying to factor that into what they do or don’t do,” Francis said. “There are a lot of unique factors this year.”