A month into his first season as general manager, Ron Francis is still waiting to celebrate his first win in charge. As Francis sat Friday in the back row of the lower bowl at PNC Arena watching practice, all of the Carolina Hurricanes’ problems were there on the ice before him.
There was his most dangerous goal-scorer, who officially as of Friday had played his way out of the lineup entirely. There were his two highly paid goalies, neither of whom has been good enough. There was his defensive group, which makes the goalies’ play look good. And, in the renewed presence of Nate Gerbe and Pat Dwyer, the personification of an overwhelming injury crisis that might finally be starting to abate.
All of that contributed to an 0-6-2 October, culminating in Alexander Semin’s third-period benching at the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. The $7 million man and his zero goals are expected to be a healthy scratch for Saturday’s return home against the Arizona Coyotes, a move both Francis and coach Bill Peters indicated would have come earlier if there had been healthy bodies available to replace the disengaged Semin.
Still, it’s quite a dilemma and no easy decision. (Semin never left the lineup like this as long as Jim Rutherford was general manager.) Scraping for that first win, still missing a key forward in Jordan Staal for the foreseeable future, it seems like a difficult balance to strike, between keeping an unarguably talented player on the ice and enforcing the accountability Francis and Peters talked about when taking over this summer.
“No question,” Francis acknowledged Friday. “We’re a better team with him in the lineup if he’s playing the way he can play. But we talked about accountability, and we talked about having guys compete and work. We feel like he’s not moving his legs at this point, and we need to stress that message.”
Trying to figure out what to do with Semin has been merely one element to a trying month for Francis, who knew things would be difficult when Jordan Staal broke his leg in a preseason game but never imagined Eric Staal, Andrej Sekera, Gerbe, Dwyer and a handful of others would follow him out of the lineup.
Meanwhile, goalies Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin have remained healthy so far, one of the Hurricanes’ pitfalls a year ago, but inconsistent.
“I don’t think they’ve been Godawful, but they haven’t been really good,” Francis said. “Probably consistently we’re giving up at least one bad one, and for a team that’s in the situation we’re in, that’s tough to overcome. We need to have better goaltending, there’s no question about that.”
As for the rest of the roster, and the defense in particular, there’s not much Francis can do without severely mortgaging the Hurricanes’ future, which isn’t a route anyone thinks would be wise to take. As bad as this start has been, there’s still hope – scant hope, admittedly – for a turnaround as the Hurricanes get healthier, and even a dismal season has the potential for a franchise-changing draft pick at the end of it.
“The mentality has to be, we have to keep fighting and find a way,” Francis said. “It’s not like anybody’s going to feel sorry for ourselves. We have to work our way out of this thing. ...
“I had a GM call me a couple days ago, asking what we’re doing. He said ‘I’ve been calling around for a couple days, and I haven’t seen anything or heard any names I’ve gotten excited about.’ I said, ‘You should have called me first. I’ve been calling for three weeks. It would have saved you all the phone calls.’ That’s just kind of the state we’re in. Hopefully we can get some bodies back and start rolling in the right direction.”
October is over. November is here. With the new month comes new hope for that first win.