Luke DeCock

Hurricanes’ expansion drama: Who’s coming, not who’s going – DeCock

Unlike many of their peers, the Carolina Hurricanes aren’t agonizing over who they might lose in the expansion draft. At this point, it’s pretty clear who will be exposed and, more important, who won’t – Lee Stempniak, Joakim Nordstrom, Klas Dahlbeck and both of last season’s goalies made redundant by the arrival of Scott Darling.

Easy enough.

Where it gets interesting, with less than a month to go until the new Las Vegas franchise selects one player from each of the NHL’s 30 teams to stock its roster and system, is how the Hurricanes manage everything else about that process. Still loaded with early draft picks even after the Darling trade, general manager Ron Francis has a lot to offer his Vegas Golden Knights counterpart George McPhee to make sure the right player exits the roster – a goalie to clear up that logjam, most likely Eddie Lack, instead of Stempniak.

Francis also has a lot to offer teams like the Anaheim Ducks, Nashville Predators and New York Rangers who may have a hard time protecting all the forwards they’d like to protect and would rather clear that space with a trade for something rather than lose a good player for nothing.

In that sense, there’s a little bit of a race between teams like the Hurricanes that have room to maneuver and the new Vegas franchise to see who can get to the most desirable exposed players first – at the same time the Hurricanes are negotiating with Vegas over the expansion pick. There are a lot of moving parts, which is why nothing has happened yet. And it’s going to get weird as everyone tries to cut their own side deal right up to the moment Vegas has to submit its list.

But Francis remains optimistic the unique circumstances surrounding the expansion process will allow the Hurricanes to obtain a player who wouldn’t otherwise be available. He may not be able to add the top-line center the Hurricanes need, but he might be able to find a goal-scoring winger that way. Either way, the plan is to add at least one player during expansion while ensuring the Hurricanes lose the right one as well.

“We’ve got the ‘open for business’ sign out there,” Francis said last week . “We’re in a unique situation with the amount of picks we have and the amount of prospects we have. It’ll be interesting. Really what it comes down to is what teams want: Do they want a player back for the asset they don’t have to protect or are they willing to take some picks and prospects?”

Francis said he has had preliminary discussions with McPhee but expects the pace of talks to pick up this week when the NHL gathers in Buffalo, N.Y., for the pre-draft scouting combine.

The dynamics of the Hurricanes’ protected list could change a little. They still have room to protect another defenseman if they acquire one in the near future, and any of restricted free agents Phil Di Giuseppe, Brock McGinn or Andrej Nestrasil could be exposed instead of Stempniak or Nordstrom if they’re re-signed before the expansion draft. But Dahlbeck, Lack and Cam Ward will all be exposed, and possibly Ryan Murphy as well depending on how things shake out.

The real intrigue is less about who’s going than who’s coming, because Francis and the Hurricanes have to find a way to take advantage of these unusual circumstances. It’s too good an opportunity to miss. Vegas isn’t the only team looking to add something for (almost) nothing.

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

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