RALEIGH Six weeks ago, Ron Francis anticipated the NHL trade deadline being a busy time for the Carolina Hurricanes, a time to perhaps add a player or two, gearing up to make a push for a playoff spot.
But that was before a five-game losing streak leading up to the NHL All-Star Weekend. That was before a disappointing 1-3-1 homestand after the Canes’ NHL bye week.
Francis, the Canes’ general manager, didn’t wait until Wednesday and the 3 p.m. deadline to start selling off players. Defenseman Ron Hainsey went to the Pittsburgh Penguins late last week. Forward Viktor Stalberg was traded Tuesday to the Ottawa Senators.
And Wednesday? “Nothing happened for us today,” Francis said as he sat down for an afternoon press conference at PNC Arena.
The biggest bit of news Wednesday was that forward Jeff Skinner had been evaluated by team physician Josh Bloom in Raleigh and did not have a concussion. Skinner, the team’s leading scorer, went through the morning skate Tuesday before the Canes’ road game against the Florida Panthers but then returned to Raleigh.
Francis said Skinner, who took an elbow in the head from Calgary’s Alex Chiasson on Sunday, had a stiff neck and was pulled out of the Panthers game as a precaution. Skinner did not return to the team in Florida – the Canes played the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday – but Francis said the winger could return to the lineup Friday against the Arizona Coyotes at PNC Arena.
With forward Brock McGinn injured Tuesday, the Canes on Wednesday recalled forwards Andrej Nestrasil and Patrick Brown on an emergency basis from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.
Francis appeared tired on Wednesday, his 54th birthday, the fatigue of what he called a “crazy six weeks” perhaps taking a toll. The Canes were 21-15-7 and had won four straight before the Jan. 17 road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and a victory would have propelled them into a wild-card playoff position. Instead, a 4-1 loss started the five-game slide, all regulation losses.
The Canes won three in a row after the All-Star break, again spurring some optimism. But they’ve since gone 1-5-2 after the 3-2 shootout loss Tuesday to the Panthers and were 25-25-9 and last in the Eastern Conference before Wednesday’s game, albeit with games in hand.
“It’s very frustrating, very disheartening,” Francis said. “We win a game five and half weeks ago we’re in that wild-card spot and things are going in a different direction. I do have to pause and still look at the big picture, and there’s a lot of positives in what we’re doing and the direction we’re going.”
The Canes picked up another two draft picks – a second-rounder from the Pens, a third-rounder from the Senators – in the deals for Hainsey and Stalberg and have 11 for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in June. Francis said Wednesday the Canes could use some of the draft picks, as well as prospects, to address some needs for next season such as a top-line center.
The Canes were one of the teams mentioned in the trade speculation about Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene, but the Avs did not part with Duchene on Wednesday, which was a fairly slow trade day in the league.
Some Canes names also came up in the NHL media trade chatter Wednesday – Teuvo Teravainen, Ryan Murphy and Lee Stempniak. The Canes also had other pending unrestricted free agents – Jay McClement, Derek Ryan and Matt Tennyson. But only Hainsey and Stalberg are gone.
Francis continued to work the phone Wednesday, saying, “There were some smaller, kicking-tire things but to me they didn’t make sense for us, not only now but in the long term.”