If the Carolina Hurricanes are to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, it will be without any help at the NHL trade deadline.
The deadline came and went Monday and general manager Ron Francis stood pat, making no significant move to improve a team that has lost its last five games and was three points out of a wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference
The Canes made one minor deal, acquiring forward Greg McKegg from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for forward Josh Jooris. McKegg was immediately assigned to the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate.
“We explored all things,” Francis said after the 3 p.m. deadline. “Certainly we looked at a lot of pieces we could add to our lineup. I think the prices were pretty steep this time around in our eyes.
“I don’t think we’re at a point where we can give up first-round picks and prospects to try and get something we have for a month or two and hope to get into the playoffs with that rental or a guy who maybe has a year left on his (contract). We didn’t think the prices they were asking for those pieces fit with where we are right now as an organization. … So we ended up sitting tight.”
Canes fans have been asked to be patient as the team has failed to reach the playoffs the past eight years, the longest drought in the NHL. Former owner Peter Karmanos Jr. preached it. Francis, promoted to general manager in 2014, has said much the same, stressing the need to build a strong, lasting foundation through the draft and player development.
“I think from where we were to where we are now is better,” Francis said. “We’re in a playoff hunt. We haven’t been in that. This is a legitimate run and for the next 20 games we will get a pretty good read on our players moving forward.”
It was not a busy day in the NHL, with the Tampa Bay Lightning picking up defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward JT Miller from the New York Rangers, and forward Evander Kane going from Buffalo to San Jose.
With no deals to discuss, Francis spent much of his Monday press conference talking about such things as his team’s position, the job security of coach Bill Peters, the success or failure of his offseason moves in 2017 and other issues.
Peters is in his fourth season as coach, and the shelf life for NHL coaches missing the playoffs four straight years is generally not a long one. Could Peters be in trouble if the Canes don’t make it again?
“No, I don’t get that sense from Tom or myself,” Francis said. “We’ve got 20 games down the stretch, and we’ll see what the guys can do. It’s up to them in the locker room to get over the hump.”
To do that, the Canes will need consistent scoring through the lineup. They’ll need sounder defensive play, positionally and in decision-making, and higher quality goaltending. They’ll need to play with more grit, more urgency.
“We’re in a position where we’re right there fighting for the wild card,” forward Lee Stempniak said Monday. “I like our group. I still feel we can make the playoffs. We need to get this thing turned around. You can’t let this go to six games, seven games. You’ve got to stop it and start winning. We’ve been fortunate we’re still hanging around despite having not won very much.”
Francis acknowledged the recent five-game slide played a part in Monday’s deliberations, saying, “If you win five or six going into the deadline, you feel a lot better about things. If you struggling going into the deadline, you look at things a bit differently.”
Francis said in talking to new team owner Tom Dundon, both believe giving up any of their good young players or a first-round pick in a trade would not be the wise move, short term or long term.
“In my discussions with Tom, that’s the way he wanted to proceed,” Francis said. “He feels good about the core of this team. With the playoff drive here in the last 20 games, we’re going to get some good information on some of the guys playing when the stakes are a little higher than they have been in the past. That will help us assess if there are things we need to do moving forward.”
That will include a new assessment of those offseason acquisitions from last year: goalie Scott Darling, forward Justin Williams, center Marcus Kruger and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.
“In the summer time you do your homework and you make your deals and you think you’ve got some things in place, but you have to get into the season to see how they pan out,” Francis said. “Some work, some don’t and some it might still be early before we have a final decision on it.”