Ron Francis discusses the start of NHL free agency
It was a day as notable for who the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t sign as who they did. While the Hurricanes added depth forwards Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg as free agents and sat out a high-dollar market that was even more frenzied than usual, the Eric Staal chapter of Hurricanes history officially closed when he signed with the Minnesota Wild.
General manager Ron Francis had made it clear that he and the Hurricanes had moved on from their former captain well before Friday, but Staal signing with the Wild made it official on a day that was otherwise very quiet for the Hurricanes. Their most significant move came Thursday, with the unexpected buyout of James Wisniewski going into the final year of his contract.
Regardless, you have to look at the offseason not in one-day slices but from afar, and the Hurricanes have by various means added Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Bryan Bickell, Stempniak and Stalberg while subtracting Wisniewski, Nathan Gerbe, Riley Nash, Chris Terry, Brad Malone and Michal Jordan.
There are still areas that scream desperately to be addressed – a top-six forward, a dependable veteran depth defenseman with Wisniewski gone and the deja-vu goaltending situation – but the odds of those being tidied up Friday were small anyway. Some dead wood has been cleared out and some new faces added, with some work still left to do over the next four months.
“I don’t think we’ll be running out and signing anybody in the next few days,” Francis said, “but we still have a lot of picks and a lot of time between now and October to look at possible deals.”
Sitting out Friday’s craziness made sense, but the decision to buy out Wisniewski is harder to understand on the surface. His first season with the team was wiped out by a knee injury after only 47 seconds. His second season with the team was wiped out by a very large check. The Hurricanes are in no dire need of cap space – they went into Friday with $24 million of it – and as good as their young defensemen looked a year ago, there’s still the possibility of regression with one or all of them at this point in their pro careers.
Wisniewski would have provided depth, if nothing else, but Francis said he didn’t think Wisniewski was a good fit as a third-pairing defenseman, and the money was better spent elsewhere. The Hurricanes saved $1 million with the buyout.
More curious were Staal’s comments, both on television and to the media covering the Wild, after signing a three-year deal worth $3.5 million per season that represents a substantial pay cut from what he made with Carolina but takes him closer to his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, with considerable job security. To listen to him, the Hurricanes were largely to blame for his decline in production.
“There’s a lot of circumstances that go along with it why they went the way they did,” Staal told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Staal said he was looking forward to joining a team that spends up to the salary cap, unlike the Hurricanes, which was entirely fair. He certainly wasn’t often blessed with terrific linemates. He also rarely made the players around him better, which was fair to ask of a player of his role and salary. In considering his legacy there’s no getting around the fact he never led the Hurricanes to the playoffs as captain while his individual performance played an indirect role in the firing of three different coaches – Peter Laviolette, Paul Maurice and Kirk Muller.
It was all moot, anyway: The Hurricanes turned the page on Staal long before Friday, even though he would have been their biggest addition had they brought him back. Instead, they made a few minor moves and will count on the momentum they gathered after Staal’s departure to carry them forward.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock