Canes NHL draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov
With the Stanley Cup awarded – a full 60 percent of the former Southeast Division has now won it – the NHL offseason begins in earnest, with the draft only 12 days away and free agency queued up right behind that. So far, the Carolina Hurricanes haven't done much, but that should start changing shortly.
With that in mind, here are seven predictions for the rest of the Canes' offseason:
1. Not everyone is going to get traded, but Jeff Skinner probably will.
Despite the “everyone must go” headlines, only Skinner is likely to get moved. The message to the rest of the NHL that everyone but Sebastian Aho was available was, as speculated elsewhere, more of an attempt to get a sense of everyone's value than it was an attempt to turn over the entire roster.
Skinner has been identified as the player who would most benefit from a change of scenery, is most easily replaced and still has some trade value despite only one year left on his contract. It's just a question of whether anyone meets the Hurricanes' price at this point.
Justin Faulk could probably benefit as much from a change of scenery – and may also face the embarrassment of being demoted out of the (co-)captaincy – but the odds of finding a right-shot defenseman who can play the kind of minutes he does are slim. So the Hurricanes will instead hope that new coach Rod Brind'Amour will be able to get Faulk back on the path to stardom he looked like he was on earlier in his career. If he can, these past few years will be forgotten.
As a left-shot defenseman, Noah Hanifin is more tradeable, but it would take a big package to get him.
2. Justin Williams is the Hurricanes' next captain.
Brind'Amour hasn't exactly been shy about this, even if he hasn't come right out and said it, so it's just a matter of time before Williams gets the "C" officially. There should be a spot in the leadership group for Jordan Staal, who did a commendable job as co-captain under difficult circumstances. The real question is whether Aho is ready for his inevitable leadership role or would be better off shielded from that for now.
3. Scott Darling will still be here in the fall and Cam Ward will not.
That's probably not how anyone wants it, but the combination of Darling's bloated contract and an understandable unwillingness to bring both goalies back after a miserable season is likely to leave Ward out in the cold – a shame, since last season he showed that he's a good fit, mentally and physically, as a No. 2 at this point in his career.
The financial window that would enable the Hurricanes to return Darling to the Chicago Blackhawks is probably a year away, so the Hurricanes will hope that Darling can get fit and technically sound enough to contribute, perhaps even as the starter they thought he could be last summer. If not, they'll bury him in Charlotte until they can unload his contract. This much is clear: If he plays like he did last year, he won't be given second, third and fourth chances again.
With some serious competition in the goalie market, it's anyone's guess who the other half of the tandem will be on Opening Night in October.
4. The Hurricanes will take Andrei Svechnikov with the second pick – and might not be done.
While the Hurricanes would absolutely move down within the top six or seven picks if they got a huge return for the No. 2 pick, that would require another NHL team liking Svechnikov exponentially more than the Hurricanes do. The more the Hurricanes get to know Svechnikov, the more they like him. So it's almost impossible to imagine any team parting with enough starpower to make that deal – and most of the teams in the top seven don't have those assets anyway.
What will be more interesting is if the Hurricanes try to move back into the top dozen or so picks if one of the players they like is still there. The Edmonton Oilers' No. 10 pick is reportedly in play and the Hurricanes might have the materials to make that deal. A bit of history: Fifteen years ago, after taking Eric Staal at No. 2, the Hurricanes tried (and failed) to trade back into the first round to take the top player still on their board, Zach Parise. Lou Lamoriello got there first.
5. The Hurricanes will take a run at another Russian, but it's a long shot.
Ilya Kovalchuk has already visited a few NHL teams as he prepares for an imminent return from Russia and the Hurricanes don't have much to pitch the 35-year-old free agent now. But if they're able to add a goalie before July 1 and Kovalchuk is willing to take a two-year deal (he's allegedly looking, at the moment, for three years at $6 million per), the Hurricanes will make a dark-horse run at him.
Kovalchuk played for general manager Don Waddell with the Atlanta Thrashers and the Hurricanes hope some combination of Kovalchuk's relationship with Waddell and a young team ready to take a leap forward would be an attractive proposition, but there's not much of a blueprint for success to show Kovalchuk as long as Darling is still No. 1 on the depth chart.
6. Chuck Kaiton will still be around, in some capacity.
Kaiton's contract negotiations are less about shoving the beloved broadcaster aside and more about the economics of radio. Depending on who you ask, the Hurricanes only have somewhere between 500 and 2,000 people listening to the radio broadcast on any given night. It's cheaper to buy all those people partial season tickets than it is to pay Kaiton and subsidize a broadcast that loses money for the team.
If you're not near a TV now, you can watch or listen on your phone. Score updates pop up automatically. Radio just isn't as important as it once was, and a television simulcast can serve essentially the same purpose. When Kaiton took a one-year deal last summer instead of two-year deals like television broadcasters John Forslund and Tripp Tracy, it moved this reckoning up a year. It was coming, regardless.
Kaiton is a franchise icon and he's not ready to retire, so there's motivation for both sides to find some common ground where he stays on the air and with the team in some way, shape or form.
7. Without some kind of a *big* move, Dundon will start to run out of political capital with fans.
So far, a lot of what Dundon has done are things any new owner would or could have done, whether that's firing Ron Francis, reexamining radio, promoting Brind'Amour, winning the second pick in the draft lottery or putting Hartford Whalers gear on sale.
Even the team's new employee health-care contribution – the first in the franchise's history, amounting to a $6,000 pay cut for employees with families – was in the works before Peter Karmanos sold the team, as unpopular as it is with a staff that isn't exactly generously compensated for the irregular hours it works. (Professional sports, like journalism, tends to draw people who are interested in less tangible rewards.)
With Glen Wesley's contract as director of defenseman development not being renewed, Dundon has cut ties to two of the three men whose numbers hang in the rafters – while elevating the third to head coach – and may do the same to the Hall of Fame radio guy. That's Dundon's prerogative, but it's going to leave a sour taste if it isn't followed with success on the ice, especially since Waddell was an extremely unpopular general-manager hire given his lack of previous success with the Thrashers. The other two front-office hires, Rick Dudley and Paul Krepelka, probably didn't get the positive reaction they deserved because of that.
Dundon promised to do things differently, and while that's been true in some areas, the Hurricanes are still the same team that ended last season so dismally. Drafting Svechnikov will help, but that won't be enough; the Hurricanes still need to make some kind of a splash to indicate this isn't just another Francis-style draft-and-hope offseason.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock