Luke DeCock

Sellers again, at least Hurricanes can win the trade deadline – DeCock

At least the Carolina Hurricanes can win the trade deadline.

As they stagger toward an eighth straight season without a playoff appearance, imminently the longest active drought in the NHL, they at least were able to turn a couple of expiring contracts into future assets, beyond any expectations.

A second-round draft pick for Ron Hainsey? A generous gift from former Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford.

A third-round pick for Viktor Stalberg? Not bad at all.

Even though both those deals were made before Wednesday’s trade deadline – the Hurricanes were unable to move Jay McClement or Derek Ryan on Wednesday, and Ryan Murphy is still here despite rumored interest – the two draft picks are actually a decent return for depreciating property, if you’re willing to overlook the fact that the Hurricanes were in this position again, dumping instead of adding, out of contention instead of in it.

This is Ron Francis’ third year selling at the deadline. He should be good at it by now. He’s had enough practice.

This year was supposed to be different, Year 3 under Francis and Bill Peters, with the addition of Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and another year of development for the young defense. (Two of those three delivered, for the most part.) That was supposed to be enough to close the gap, to get the Hurricanes into the playoff conversation, if not into the playoffs. Six weeks ago, Francis was making calls as a potential buyer, before the bottom fell out. More bad timing for the franchise; with the top of the draft weak, this would have been a terrific year to move a first-round pick.

Instead, the Hurricanes are back where they have been for years on deadline day: With the hockey equivalent of bootleg DVDs and counterfeit purses spread out on a blanket on the sidewalk, hoping to sucker a tourist out of a few bucks.

The big deals were the ones the Hurricanes never made. They never got serious about a backup goalie to replace Eddie Lack, instead running Cam Ward into the ground. They didn’t meet Colorado’s exorbitant price tags for Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, and had good reasons for not doing so, but there’s also an argument to be made that a franchise that can’t afford free agents also can’t afford to pass up rare opportunities to add that kind of elite talent, even at a price.

Of course, on the same day the Hurricanes officially punted on the season – having unofficially punted weeks ago – they announced a mild overall increase to season-ticket prices for next year, epitomizing owner Peter Karmanos’ ethos of “be even more patient.”

After eight years of this, they ought to put that on a banner on the building: Be Even More Patient. It has been three years since Karmanos uttered those words, during the kind of television interview he doesn’t do anymore for obvious reasons, and it remains as true as ever.

A 3 percent overall hike after a year without an increase actually isn’t all that unreasonable, but with attendance at an all-time low after declining for a fourth straight year and the playoff drought about to be tied for fourth-longest in NHL history, the Hurricanes are asking people to pay more while continuing to deliver less.

The hope is that next year will be the year the Hurricanes get back into the hunt, that the continuing accumulation of young talent pays dividends as it matures into moderately experienced talent. But that was the hope on this day a year ago, and the Hurricanes nevertheless found themselves sellers again.

The return on Hainsey and Stalberg was pretty good, all things considered. The circumstances of their departure were old and tired.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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