These still weren’t the kind of franchise-changing moves that are surely inevitable at some point, but what the Carolina Hurricanes did Saturday could serve as some sort of prelude.
“There’s still potentially more to do,” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis acknowledged.
Eddie Lack, 27, is a potential Cam Ward replacement in goal as Ward heads into the final season of his contract, while defenseman James Wisniewski, acquired for outgoing goalie Anton Khudobin, offers some immediate stopgap help on the power play as the Hurricanes wait for their new posse of younger blue-liners to develop.
But Alexander Semin is still here. Eric Staal is still here, also heading into the final season of his contract. And Ward is still here, but facing new competition from one of a handful of new players.
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That starts with Lack, a veteran of goaltending controversies with the Vancouver Canucks and an extremely popular player there, and extends to Wisniewski and Friday’s first-round pick, defenseman Noah Hanifin, a potential turning point for the franchise.
The Ducks wanted to shed Wisniewski’s $5.5 million cap hit after he didn’t play a minute for the Anaheim Ducks in the playoffs after coming over in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. From the Hurricanes’ perspective, only his salary matters, and he’ll make $5 million this season and $3 million next season, numbers that fit in their budget.
While Wisniewski’s offensive gifts are undoubted, his defensive acumen and concentration have at times been questioned. But the Hurricanes know Wisniewski well – assistant general manager Mike Vellucci coached Wisniewski in junior hockey with Plymouth (OHL), while Wisniewski played briefly for head coach Bill Peters in the AHL – which makes them think they can get the best out of him at both ends. And his big right shot fills a void on the power play.
If Wisniewski has the potential to provide an answer or two, Lack’s acquisition poses new questions.
Lack was one of several backup goalies in demand on the market this weekend, a group that also included Robin Lehner (who moved from the Ottawa Senators to the Buffalo Sabres), Martin Jones (from the Los Angeles Kings to the Boston Bruins) and Cam Talbot (from the New York Rangers to the Edmonton Oilers).
The theory behind each trade was the same: While it’s nice to have a $6 million war horse in goal, you don’t necessarily need one to win in the NHL anymore. Sometimes the best guy is the next guy somewhere else.
That’s changed in the past two decades, from a time when Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur were tremendous outliers, far superior to most of their peers. Their success, and the general acceptance of a more technical approach to training young goaltenders, created a rising tide that lifted many, many boats.
The gap between good and great is much smaller than it used to be, and teams have proven you can compete for a Stanley Cup without a Henrik Lundqvist or Marc-Andre Fleury.
Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick both made less than $3 million when they won their first Stanley Cups, although they were amply rewarded by the time they each won a second, and Antti Niemi and Chris Osgood were each making less than $1 million in 2010 and 2008, respectively.
The Hurricanes were a trend-setter in that regard, riding Martin Gerber to the playoffs in 2006, even if Ward finished the job.
Now Lack will get a shot to supplant Ward, and he has an abnormal amount of experience in these situations, having fought for playing time in Vancouver with Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller.
These aren’t the big changes that are surely to come, but the Hurricanes nevertheless are a different team than they were coming into draft weekend.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947