As the losses mount, the tension builds.
The Carolina Hurricanes are winless in their past five games after a 3-1 loss Tuesday to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena. They’re 0-2-1 in what many considered a make-or-break five-game homestand after their mandated NHL bye week.
General manager Ron Francis said before the homestand, “These next five games will give us a better understanding of where we are.” On Wednesday, the Canes were 24-24-8 and last in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, 10 points out of playoff position with 26 games left to play.
The NHL trade deadline is March 1, and the Canes’ slide has made it more likely they will be sellers on the deadline, raising the tension level among the players. Those due to become unrestricted free agents after the season include defenseman Ron Hainsey and forwards Jay McClement and Viktor Stalberg, who may attract interest and could be dealt.
“This is always a stressful time of the season,” McClement said. “You know at some point in your career your name is going to be floating around and the rumors will be there.”
Hainsey has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The veteran has played 891 games, never been on a playoff team and could be moved to a team looking to add a steady D-man.
Stalberg and McClement, both effective penalty killers, have playoff experience. They also have salaries many teams can squeeze in under the cap.
A year ago, Francis traded former captain Eric Staal, forward Kris Versteeg and defenseman John-Michael Liles before the deadline. The Staal deal with the New York Rangers was made a few hours before a Canes game and Staal already at PNC Arena – an awkward situation for Staal and the team.
“If you have an expiring contract and not in the playoffs you’ve got to brace yourself,” Canes forward Lee Stempniak said. “You know it could happen but when you get the phone call it still shocks you a little bit in how official it is and how final it is with a team. You’re moving on.”
Stempniak, 34, has gotten that call more than once. A year ago, he was traded by the New Jersey Devils to the Boston Bruins at the deadline. In March 2015, he went from the Rangers to the Winnipeg Jets; in March 2014 from the Calgary Flames to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and in March 2010 from Toronto to the Arizona Coyotes.
Stempniak was a part of the Stanley Cup playoffs with the Coyotes, Pens and Jets – experience that again could make him a trade target – but leaving the family behind was painful.
“I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” he said. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.
“That part’s hard. The hockey part is going to a team and you’re playing hockey and you make instant friends. That doesn’t change team to team. But it’s tough away from the rink, without the emotional support from your family.”
McClement, 33, was drafted by the St Louis Blues and in his sixth season with the Blues when traded to Colorado in February 2011. That’s the only trade of his career but it’s possible he could be on the move again, making the next week an anxious one.
“You can’t worry about it because it’s out of your control,” he said. “There’s not much you can do but play. But it is a shock when it does happen. The most shocking thing is how quickly everything happens.”
McClement said the Blues had a road game in 2011 and arrived back in St. Louis at 2 a.m., when he was told he had been traded to the Avalanche.
“I was on a 7 a.m. flight to California to play that night,” he said. “It happens quick.”