This is an expanded version of the column that ran in early editions of Wednesday’s paper. On Monday, after Jakub Nakladal’s release, I tweeted that it was not the finest moment for the Francis regime.
That provoked some questions about why the signing of Nakladal was so bad. Was it not, some asked, a low-risk, potentially high-return move that had little downside? On the contrary, I’d argue, it was not.
The very brief and eminently forgettable Carolina Hurricanes tenure of Jakub Nakladal lasted three games and just a little more than a month. Nakladal's signing on the eve of the opener and exit Monday will not go down as one of the highlights of Ron Francis' time as general manager.
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The Hurricanes released Nakladal from his contract Monday, allowing him to return to Europe instead of play in the AHL, saving the Hurricanes the better part of $600,000 in the process. He appeared in only three games, two losses and a shootout loss, and was minus-4 with no points.
There was nothing in his time with the Hurricanes to suggest that Nakladal, who had played 27 games in the NHL with the Calgary Flames last season, was even close to an NHL-caliber defenseman.
And so he ends up in his own little chapter of Hurricanes history. There's never really been anything like this. The Canes signed him out of the blue after training camp was over, after Nakladal wasn't in camp with any NHL team (he did play for the Czech Republic in the World Cup), threw him into the lineup in their third game, which turned out to be their first regulation loss of the season, then put him on waivers a month later.
The closest comparison is probably Josef Melichar, a Jim Rutherford bargain-basement signing in 2008 who was a 15-game disaster before he was left at the curb for the Tampa Bay Lightning to pick up. Melichar, at least, was an offseason signing who was part of training camp. Nakladal was brought in at the last minute, wasn't very good and was gone before Thanksgiving.
It's hard to figure out what was worse: That the Hurricanes' front office thought Nakladal was actually better than anyone they had, or that they thought Nakladal was better than anyone they actually had?
The former is an indictment of the scouting and assessment process, the latter an indictment of the Hurricanes' organizational depth. That was further highlighted by the fact Nakladal wasn't the only defenseman the Hurricanes added after training camp was over, with Klas Dahlbeck claimed on waivers as well after the Hurricanes were unable to add any competent veteran blue-line depth over the summer – a dynamic complicated by finances and the uncertain state of the franchise.
Meanwhile, after all the years the Hurricanes were desperate for a young player to fight his way onto the roster in training camp – all the Boychuks and Bowmans and Dalpes and Murphys and on and on – Roland McKeown did everything he could to make the team, was sent to the minors anyway and was passed over again when the Hurricanes called up Matt Tennyson instead. (Tennyson, a right shot who can play with Noah Hanifin, has been solid in his two appearances).
Keeping McKeown in the minors for an entire season in an attempt to foster his development is noble, but at what cost? A few NHL games wouldn't have hurt him, especially if he was sent back down when Ryan Murphy returned from injury. What message does it send not just to McKeown and Trevor Carrick but to all the young players in the organization when the Hurricanes bring in two new guys ahead of them on the eve of opening night, and one of them can’t play a lick and doesn't even last a month?
And this was no harmless experiment. Real damage was done. The struggle at the sixth defensive spot – Nakladal, Dahlbeck and Murphy – was a key factor in the 2-4-2 start that put the Hurricanes in this deep hole. The Hurricanes are 2-0-0 against two of the best teams in the NHL with Tennyson in that spot.
Francis has gotten a lot right, and he has steadfastly taken a long-term view, but the Nakladal signing, with its distinct whiff of panic, was not his finest moment.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock