Luke DeCock

DeCock: Deadline will offer first look at Ron Francis' trade touch

It's been a quiet debut season as a general manager for Ron Francis, who has made a single trade in nine-plus months on the job, and a relatively minor one at that. He has kept his cards to himself, played things quietly, spent his time watching and assessing the Carolina Hurricanes roster he largely inherited.

The time has come to find out what Francis is really made of as a general manager. With less than three weeks to go until the NHL trade deadline, he holds one of the most desirable assets on the market in defenseman Andrej Sekera.

The draft picks and prospects he acquires for Sekera could help the franchise going forward, so the return is important to the future of the Hurricanes. But it's also a chance to see how Francis fares when put to the test in the trade market.

At this point, that's a complete unknown.

Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, only the Hurricanes' second in regulation in the past month, could very well have been Sekera's last home game for the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes play only four more at PNC Arena before the March 2 trade deadline, and the NHL's buying and selling kicked off in dramatic fashion with Wednesday's blockbuster deal between the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres that saw three star players change teams in a seven-player deal, the kind of swap that tends to shake things loose around the league.

Francis has yet to make a single big move, although it's impossible to know just how tightly his hands have been tied by owner Peter Karmanos. The sum total of his remodeling to date is dispatching Jay Harrison for a sixth-round draft pick and claiming Andrej Nestrasil on waivers.

Cam Ward is still here. Eric Staal is still here. And Sekera and Jiri Tlusty are still here, although that's not likely to be true for much longer.

Sekera's departure has become a foregone conclusion because he and the Hurricanes have been unable to find common ground on an extension to his contract, which expires in June. From Sekera's perspective, he stands to be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer, which for a 28-year-old defenseman is a life-changing lottery ticket.

From the Hurricanes' perspective, Sekera is one of the most sought-after rental players at the trade deadline because of his ability and expiring contract, Francis' first, best chance to make a big score with a desperate contender. Scouts from eight teams were in attendance Thursday, including five of the top 10 overall.

Tlusty, who is in the same contract situation, won't bring the same return, but should be an attractive piece for a team looking to add depth on the wing, again without any long-term commitment. There may be others as well, but Sekera and Tlusty are obvious departures.

Francis didn't get much for Harrison considering the Hurricanes retained some of his salary and how desperate the Jets were for defensive help at the time, but it's foolish to draw too many conclusions from such a minor trade.

What Francis can get for Sekera, and to a lesser extent Tlusty, will be a better indication of just how savvy a wheeler-dealer the rookie GM is.

That happens to be one area where his predecessor, Jim Rutherford, tended to do some of his best work. Francis will inevitably be judged on his success in many other areas, especially the assessment, drafting and development of prospects, all of which atrophied in the latter years of Rutherford's long reign.

But trades are still a huge part of the job, and we've yet to really see Francis make a move that matters. It's not far away now.

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