Luke DeCock

Hurricanes still hoping to make big splash at draft, but NHL market remains stagnant

Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, left, and general manager Don Waddell asked the Centennial Authority for changes to the team’s weight-room area at PNC Arena last year.
Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon, left, and general manager Don Waddell asked the Centennial Authority for changes to the team’s weight-room area at PNC Arena last year. Chris Seward

Even though this is Tom Dundon's hometown, a place where the new owner of the Carolina Hurricanes is a father and a community figure surrounded by friends both old and new, and he'll be on stage as much as anyone else at the draft in his first big NHL event, that's not the reason he wants to make a splash this weekend.

After owning the team for six months and watching it fizzle down the stretch, Dundon's urge to make a deal, to shake things up, has less to do with being on this stage and everything to do with trying to drag the Hurricanes forward.

“Look, I want to do something desperately that makes us better, that gets us fair value, but I wouldn't say because it's Dallas or because it's my first time, that it's any more or less,” Dundon said Thursday. “We just want to make good decisions. I don't think there's any impetus on today as opposed to any other day, but because of the draft, it just feels like people will make a decision now.”

Friday night's No. 2 overall pick and Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov fell into the Hurricanes' lap thanks to general manager Don Waddell's lottery-lucky mock turtleneck, but that's not enough.

The question isn't whether Dundon and Waddell and the Hurricanes want to make a deal. The question is whether they can.

Every year, it seems like there's one huge domino that has to fall. This year, it's superstar Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. None of his suitors want to give up any assets until he moves. Once he does, if he does, the pace of change should accelerate.

“There hasn't been a lot of movement yet so far in the league,” Waddell said. “Every year, it's a different value of the assets. It really hasn't been established. Some of the free agents out there are probably slowing down some of the other deals. You're going to see over the next 24, 48 hours, there will be some deals made for sure within the league. That'll get things going.”

The NHL draft isn't just a draft, the way it is in football or basketball. It's a hockey convention, a place where tire-kicking general managers are placed in close proximity and bounce ideas off each other until they reach critical mass, with a comparable density of angling agents acting as the catalyst for trade fission.

Thursday afternoon, while Waddell was in the general managers' meeting, Dundon and assistant general manager Paul Krepelka spent hours meeting with a parade of agents in the lobby of the headquarters hotel.

That's part of the draft-week routine. The playoffs are over, budgets are set, draft picks are negotiable currency and free agency is mere days away. This is hockey's grand bazaar, and the deals that aren't consummated here often gestate later in the summer. The Hurricanes don't want to wait that long.

If there's one trade they'd really like to pull off this weekend, it's to bring in another option in net so they aren't hoping and praying for some kind of bounce-back year from Scott Darling. The Hurricanes are one of five or six teams with serious interest in the Washington Capitals' Philipp Grubauer, a restricted free agent, but there's stiff competition for the top goalie on the market.

“He's the best option, I think, that's out there,” Washington general manager Brian MacLellan said. “You maybe look at the past goalies that have gone, it's probably a late first(-round pick), maybe an early second. ... He wants to be a No. 1 somewhere. He doesn't want to be a No. 2 anymore, and we want to accommodate his wishes.”

The Hurricanes have a second-round pick, 42nd overall, to offer, but the New York Islanders, who could flip first-round picks with Washington – the 11th or 12th for the 31st – are considered the front-runners. Any Grubauer deal involving a swap of first-round picks would have to happen by Friday night, so there's some time pressure on the Capitals to get that done.

The Hurricanes have also inquired about Minnesota Wild winger Jason Zucker, a restricted free agent who scored 33 goals last season and is apparently available, but there are also questions whether the Wild is really willing to trade Zucker or just floating his name as leverage in contract negotiations.

While open in their willingness to entertain offers for everyone but Sebastian Aho, the Hurricanes are only seriously considering moving a player or two, starting with those with impending contract issues like Jeff Skinner. Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm could possibly fall into that category as well, depending on how negotiations proceed. They have so far been stymied by their inability to find common ground with any other team on anything other than the disposal of Marcus Kruger's contract, and hope that the unique circumstances of the draft weekend will change that.

“We've been in these meetings all morning and all night,” Dundon said. “We have lots of deals we're trying to do. We haven't had any success doing them. It would be impossible for me to know if we can come up with something that's fair for both sides. But we are willing.”

The Hurricanes will make one kind of splash when they add Svechnikov with the second pick Friday night, adding a player they believe has legitimate and tangible starpower to a core group that already includes Aho and, shortly, Martin Necas. The Hurricanes hope that trio has the skill and sizzle to lead the team into the future.

But Necas and Svechnikov will only be able to do so much as first-year pros, assuming both are even capable of making the leap. The Hurricanes need more immediate help as well: in goal, to be sure, but also in the dressing room, where trading a popular player could help eradicate that group's stubborn complacency.

That's the splash they really want to make: The new owner, surrounded by family and friends, not only drafting a potential future star but making a deal to deliver a message that would resonate both in Dallas and Raleigh.

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

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