Luke DeCock

Hurricanes head into offseason of change and uncertainty, starting Monday

The Canes' Elias Lindholm (28) celebrates his winning goal with goaltender Cam Ward (30) and other teammates at the end of the the Hurricanes' season-ending 3-2 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, April 7, 2018.
The Canes' Elias Lindholm (28) celebrates his winning goal with goaltender Cam Ward (30) and other teammates at the end of the the Hurricanes' season-ending 3-2 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, April 7, 2018. cseward@newsobserver.com

And away we go into the most uncertain offseason in Carolina Hurricanes history, a summer when no one – maybe even Tom Dundon – really has any idea what's going to happen.

As many as nine players could potentially have played their last game in a Carolina uniform in Saturday night's overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, there's still no general manager to replace Ron Francis and coach Bill Peters could be on his way out as well.

Dundon will presumably shed light on his plans later today, when the players clean out their lockers and the new owner meets with the media – and the coach, curiously, will not – but the team's ninth straight playoff miss, the uncertainty surrounding Peters and the unfilled vacancy in the front office certainly argues for some kind of change in direction, albeit short of a complete rebuild.

When Francis took over four years ago, he tried to clear a bunch of bad contracts off the roster, find a goalie to supplant Cam Ward and rebuild the farm system. His replacement will find that's still his mandate, if not to the same degree. Despite the progress made, Francis handed out his share of bad contracts, whiffed on Eddie Lack and Scott Darling and has what's turning out to be a rather lackluster record of first-round picks, although he's done better later in the draft.

Based on Dundon's most recent comments after an in-season GM search went nowhere, thanks to candidates' unwillingness to leave playoff-bound teams and the Hurricanes' unwillingness to pay market rates, it's possible – albeit nearly impossible to fathom – the Hurricanes will go into next season with Dundon overseeing a motley committee of hockey decision makers that still includes Francis as well as Charlotte coach Mike Vellucci and team president Don Waddell, former GM of the woebegone and now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers.

It also seems unlikely, while certainly possible, that Peters will be back. His record after four seasons is actually worse than Kirk Muller's after three, although that includes the 2014-15 season which was an unquestioned rebuilding year. (Even with that excluded, Peters' record is only marginally better.) The fact that Peters will not have an end-of-season availability along with Dundon and the players only underlines his tenuous position, even if the decision to depart may well be his in the end.

It was just another way Saturday had the feel of the end of something, whether it was the last dying breath of the Peter Karmanos regime with Dundon now getting as close as he'll get to a clean slate, or the final appearance of some of this team's longest-serving players – Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner, if not the injured Justin Faulk – or even merely the final glimpse of the 2009-era scoreboard, which will be replaced before next season if the Centennial Authority can settle on a winning bid next week.

If all goes well, the gargantuan new scoreboard won't be the only up-to-date addition to the hockey operation. The Hurricanes have some good young talent, but not enough of it, and some veteran leadership, but not enough of it. We'll get a sense Monday of where things are headed, but no one, not even Dundon, knows how this will actually play out this summer.

With no general manager and perhaps no coach, and a new owner who has no interest in following hockey conventional wisdom and believes he can run an NHL team better than his peers, the Hurricanes are headed for an offseason like they've never seen, maybe like no one has ever seen. It may be jarring -- it would be surprising, at this point, if it wasn't -- but after nine years in playoff purgatory, how can it be any worse?

Sports columnist Luke DeCock; 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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