It’s time. There’s no other way to say it.
In this, the third season under Ron Francis and Bill Peters, the Carolina Hurricanes’ time has come.
It is not unfair, in fact it is entirely proper, to expect the Hurricanes to make the playoffs this season, or at the very least be in the race down to the final few days.
After seven years in the postseason wilderness, a streak exceeded only by the Edmonton Oilers, it’s time for the drought to come to an end. This is the season. This is the time.
Francis has been given considerable leeway from fans aware of the need for a retooling, even if Francis spent the previous three years as part of the front-office team that put the franchise in this position. He has carefully and deliberately followed that slow and winding path, waiting until the last moment to trade Eric Staal, letting contracts expire, amassing young talent, sticking with Cam Ward.
Only eight players remain from the team Francis inherited. Only three of them are on contracts signed before he took control. Whatever changes he wanted to make, whatever changes he could make, he has made. This is his team now, not the previous regime’s.
Francis has proven to be a cautious and careful general manager who has established a more solid footing, reloaded the farm system and put the franchise on an unquestioned upward slope. Other than the expensive and unavoidable buyout of Alexander Semin, he chose not to make drastic immediate moves, choosing the presumably safer but unquestionably slower long game.
Even the long game must produce results eventually.
Meanwhile, Peters deserves credit for instilling in this group a ruthlessly efficient style of play that should bring them success, that creates scoring chances the Hurricanes just haven’t been good enough to finish. The addition of Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho and Lee Stempniak along with the presumed continuing development of still-young players like Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask gives the Hurricanes a chance to close that gap.
If they can’t, then it’s on Peters. There’s no more decrying a lack of talent. After two years of mixing and matching the old and new, these are Francis’ players. This is the hand Peters has been dealt.
“In my mind, I think we’re going to be right there battling for a spot,” Jordan Staal said. “That’s what I think. Everyone’s got their own opinions.”
While the Hurricanes have not arrived at this point quickly, they enter their third season of this regime in a position to make this some kind of turning point, whether an interim position of increased competitiveness or finally putting an end to the postseason drought.
Andrej Nestrasil, a waiver claim in the middle of the 2014-15 season, has witnessed the process, start to would-be finish.
“First year, when I got here, we were out of the playoffs already, and it was the beginning of the season,” Nestrasil said. “Last year, we were on the edge of playoffs the whole season, so it would only make sense we were going to take another step forward.”
That hinges on many unknowns, Ward staying healthy being perhaps the biggest based on Eddie Lack’s play last season. Sticking with that goaltending tandem was Francis’ biggest gamble, one predicated on his assessment of the options elsewhere in terms of both quality and finances.
Regardless, we have reached a point where everyone – Francis, Peters, the players – can be held accountable for the team’s on-ice performance now, not some undefined time down the road.
Every rebuilding team must make a transition to being about the present more than the future. That moment has arrived for the Hurricanes this season. The rebuilding process may not be fully complete, but it’s far enough along where it’s fair to expect some results.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock