In looking ahead to the next few months, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis says, “It’s going to be an interesting summer.”
In the final days of May, Francis is doing what 25 other NHL GMs are doing: attending meetings, analyzing potential draft picks, gauging the value of free agents, working on new contracts, working the phones. With the Stanley Cup conference finals about to conclude, two more GMs will soon be doing the same.
For Francis, perhaps the most pressing issue is how to address the goaltending situation. Cam Ward, long the franchise goalie, becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1 unless he’s re-signed before the start of free agency.
Asked Monday if he believed he would be able to re-sign Ward, Francis said, “We’re still looking at that. We plan to meet in early June to see where we’re at.”
Ward, 32, had a $6.8 million salary last season, the final year of a six-year, $37.8 million contract extension signed in September 2009. That extension was signed after Ward helped Carolina reach the Eastern Conference finals in 2008-09 – the Canes’ last playoff appearance.
Francis said “term and money” would be the key elements of the contract discussions – that is, the length of contract and salary being proposed. At the same time, Francis said the Canes would evaluate free agents or possibly goalies whomight be available in a trade.
The Canes have 10 draft picks in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, including two first-rounders and seven of the first 74. Some of the picks could be packaged as part of a deal.
Carolina also has a lot of salary cap space available. It’s possible the Canes, who need to add a scoring forward, could be in the free-agent mix.
For now, Francis said he’d like to sign center Victor Rask to a new contract. Rask is a restricted free agent, but Francis indicated the Canes might offer something similar to the contract given forward Elias Lindholm last summer – a two-year, $5.4 million deal.
“We’ve reached out to his agent and waiting for a response,” Francis said of Rask. “We are looking to negotiate something. As for what that might be, it would be premature to say.”
Rask, in his second NHL season, scored 21 goals and had 48 points, and was one of the Canes’ better defensive forwards. He played a chunk of the season with an injured shoulder that Francis said required surgery soon after the season ended.
“The surgery went really well, and he should be ready for training camp (in September),” Francis said.
Lindholm (foot) and forward Joakim Nordstrom (wrist) had “minor” procedures, Francis said, and both responded well.
Francis praised Canes coach Bill Peters for winning a gold medal as Canada’s head coach atthe recent IIHF World Championship in Russia, and was impressed with the play of forward Sebastian Aho for Finland and defenseman Noah Hanifin for Team USA.
Hanifin was the Canes’ first-round draft pick last year, beginning play in the NHL at age 18. Aho, a small but dynamic forward, was a second-round draft selection last year who stayed in Finland last season and helped the Finns win the silver medal at the worlds.
Former Canes captain Eric Staal suffered a serious knee injury in the 2013 Worlds, and Francis said while the international experience can be invaluable for the players, it can be stressful for their respective GMs watching from afar. So it was with Hanifin and Aho.
“Every night you kind of go crazy,” Francis said, laughing. “You’re just glad when it’s over and they get back healthy.”