The Carolina Hurricanes are going to miss the playoffs…again. For fans of the team, that statement should not come as any surprise, as the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs six times over the past seven years. Only the lowly Edmonton Oilers can claim to have done worse over that stretch, but even then, Edmonton has the high draft picks and youth potential to fall back on. Carolina has an aging core group of players and no sense of direction on which way to build the team. There comes a time when facts must be faced and tough decisions must be made, and for the Hurricanes, that time is quickly approaching. Another missed playoff berth this year could see big changes in the offseason of the Carolina Hurricanes.
How big is the question. According to TSN analyst Darren Dreger, the Hurricanes could shake the organization (and the hockey world) by moving three of their most important core group of players over the past couple of years: Cam Ward, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. Moving these players would certainly go a long way in getting a much-needed rebuilding process started, but the ramifications of such a move will have a lasting effect on the organization, both on and off the ice. These three faces have been the faces of the franchise for almost a decade, so trading them indicates a complete overhaul for Carolina would be in the works.
Trading Cam Ward is not unexpected. The once-great goaltender is a former shell of himself this year, having dealt with inconsistent play and injury after injury. He has lost his starting job to young goaltender Anton Khudobin and his almost $7 million dollar salary would be an insane price to pay for a backup goaltender. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, that salary would be the same reason why Ward would be difficult to move. Not many teams are looking for a starting goaltender and even less would be able to take that kind of salary coming in. Ward, to his credit, has played admirably since returning from his latest injury, so if he is able to finish the season strong, Carolina may have an easier time moving him.
If the Hurricanes were to trade Eric Staal, it would be the end of an era. Staal was the 2nd overall pick back in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft and he has been one of the most important players for the franchise since his rookie year. His sophomore season, he led the entire team by putting up 45 goals and 100 points in the regular season and 28 points in 25 games during the Stanley-Cup run that year. Since then, he has been frustratingly inconsistent in his play. He starts every season very slowly, which often leads to early season losses and causes the team to start every season behind the eight ball. When Staal finds his game, however, he becomes almost unstoppable, producing point after point regardless of the talent surrounding him.
Moving Staal would be an interesting decision for the Hurricanes. On the one hand, Staal is the highest paid player on the team, the captain and the franchise number one center. And more often than not, he does not play a game that represents any of those titles. He is set in his ways, so it is unlikely that he will suddenly have an epiphany and represent the organization better. Trading the player would likely benefit the organization in the long run, but in the short-term, it is going to be a painful process. Carolina has no one that could come close to replacing the production that Staal brings to the ice when he is on his game, leaving the organization stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they do decide to move him, he should draw considerable interest around the league, despite his $9 million price tag.
Jeff Skinner is the most surprising name on the list, as the 21-year-old star has not given the organization any reason to move him. Ever since the Hurricanes drafted him, he has done nothing but score goals. He won the Calder Trophy his rookie year after putting up 31 goals on the season and his current production this year is on pace to match that. For a team that struggles to score goals, moving Skinner would be a giant step backwards. Even if the organization decides to go for a full rebuild, Skinner is young enough to remain a part of that rebuild along with defensemen Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy and goaltender Khudobin. Trading Skinner would be the most valuable piece the Hurricanes could move, so if they decide to do so, a long rebuild may be considerably shortened, but unless Skinner has asked out of the organization, it would be taking two steps backwards to move one step forward.
Moving these players are not the only big changes in the offseason we could see from the Carolina Hurricanes. It has been hinted, both by Dreger and local beat writer Luke DeCock, that Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford could be on his way out. Likely, it will simply be the long-needed retirement of the general manager, but when teams that he built have missed the playoffs much more often than not, there certainly should be a push to not-so-nicely force him out of the position. This change will happen eventually, but the real question is whether it will actually make a difference. The Hurricanes have been accused of having a “country club” atmosphere, and the obvious next choice for the general manager position (Hurricanes legend Ron Francis) has been exposed to that atmosphere for so long that very little may actual change in the switch.
In the end, it is unlikely any major shake up will happen for the Hurricanes organization. It does not fit the M.O. of the club. They have never been one to make significant changes when things turn sour, rather preferring to make minor changes over a long period of time. Cam Ward may be traded, simply because having $8 million tied up in your goaltending position will make it difficult, if not impossible, to form a decent team surrounding those goaltenders. And Jim Rutherford may retire, simply because he has reached that age and the move is long overdue. But as for the other big changes that could happen in the offseason, they remain speculation and rumors for now. For better or for worse, fans of the Carolina Hurricanes are likely stuck with what they have now.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner
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