With the beginning of free agency less than an hour away, I figured I’d bring up a couple of reminders in order to set everyone’s expectations at the right level. NHL Free Agency, for many, has been called their “Christmas”; a time when numerous roster changes take place and teams take completely new shapes for the upcoming season. It involves managerial strategy, financial planning, and the will to spend a little extra to get over the playoff threshold. Then we are reminded of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Canes; I’m a fan through and through. I was a fan during the Stanley Cup run and through the past 5 playoff-less seasons. But there comes a time when any fan, or a fan base, calls for change. Luckily, we got that this Spring/Summer when Ron Francis took over for Jim Rutherford and Bill Peters succeeded Kirk Muller. Will that be enough, though?
As we have seen in the past couple of days, teams started to gear up for free agency by utilizing compliance buyouts, where a team could waive a player and not be charged with a cap hit for the remainder of the player’s contract while paying a lump sum. Teams have also had the ability to qualify Restricted Free Agents (RFA) in order to extend the negotiation period in hopes of retaining the player/prospect. The Canes decided against using their compliance buyout on the likes of John-Michael Liles and/or Jay Harrison. Cam Ward was even involved in this discussion. GM Ron Francis made the call to qualify Jiri Tlusty, Zach Boychuk, Justin Shugg, Jared Staal, Rasmus Rissanen, Michal Jordan, and Greg Nemisz. The likes of Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman, Aaron Palushaj, Tommi Kivisto, and Kellan Tochkin did not receive qualifying offers and became Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA). While I agreed with most of these choices, I do not see why Francis did not qualify Loktionov. He is young, he came on near the end of last season, and he would come relatively cheap to remain a Hurricane. But, what’s done is done.
Past Hurricanes like Tim Gleason and Jamie McBain have found themselves on the outs with their respective teams (Toronto and Buffalo). The former Canes D-men did not perform to the level that they have achieved in the past and could not warrant a roster spot, or contract spot, on their teams. These are just two examples of Jim Rutherford creating bad contracts for players that do not necessarily live up to the demands. Sure, we got rid of them via trades in past seasons, but in the end, Jim Rutherford and the rest of the staff distorted their values.
So, now the task of revamping the roster falls to newly minted GM Ron Francis. His modest free agency goals, 4th line and defensive depth, merely mask the true needs of the Carolina Hurricanes. Power play help would be nice, a top 4 defenseman would be wishful thinking, and a top 6 scoring winger would most likely be out of the question. I do understand that we are a budgeted team, but there have to be ways to improve a little more drastically than what we are used to. It is also entirely possible that Francis is just waiting for the perfect deal to go down at the right moment. Maybe we will break the chains of mediocrity. Maybe something different will happen. But, my expectations, just like yours, should remain relatively low for now.