Risk, reward, and Ron Francis


As PHT’s Scott Billeck chronicled upon word of the Carolina Hurricanes firing, er, “re-assigning” Ron Francis out of the GM position, goaltending is the one big thing that doomed Francis. At least in the big picture.

Publicly speaking, new Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon made it clear that he wants to take a hands-on role with some of the Hurricanes’ decision making. He told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that a cricket-chirp of a trade deadline wasn’t the deciding factor.

One thing Dundon disagreed with is the idea that something happened at the deadline that caused the final rift. He said the team was considering adding before a home-heavy stretch in February, but it didn’t go well. Therefore both he and Francis decided it wasn’t worth what it would take to acquire more at the end. The cost, in terms of Carolina’s best young players/prospects, was too great.

Still, it’s tough not to notice the timing of this firing and not think that this comes down to a tepid trade deadline, and Carolina’s slow-burn team-building approach.

What can other GMs learn from Francis’ demise, beyond “Make sure you’re on the same page as your owner?” Let’s see:

Not too hot, not too cold

When a GM runs too hot with trades, he could get burned. I mean, unless that GM is Steve Yzerman or David Poile. Then other GMs should just click the “ignore call” button.

Peter Chiarelli (Oilers) and Marc Bergevin (Canadiens) both could have done well to take a cold shower instead of making moves that look worse with each passing month.

Every night seems to bring about a new insult to Chiarelli, whether it comes from Mathew Barzal generating a highlight-reel goal or Taylor Hall bolstering his Hart Trophy credentials. Bergevin, meanwhile, gets to watch P.K. Subban chase a Stanley Cup while his locker room crumbles.

It must burn Francis to see Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff make a big splash after years of people making “dayo off jokes,” with Paul Stastny‘s parallels to Francis making for especially cruel timing. While Francis only served as Hurricanes GM for four seasons, Cheveldayoff has been at his perch since 2011. Cheveldayoff bests Francis in trade volume because just about everyone does, but this was really his first major trade since moving Evander Kane for Tyler Myers in 2015. Cheveldayoff got time to wait things out; Francis did not.

During the last few years, the Hurricanes assembled an enviable warchest of defensemen, hired a competent coach who’s helped them hog the puck, and collected some nice forward assets. That’s not enough in a tough Metro division, and so the Hurricanes idle by.

While there’s some talk about the Golden Knights greasing the wheels for Francis’ exit, it’s difficult to shake the notion that the Hurricanes failed to add that “extra oomph” to their lineup while other teams did.

Sure, it might make you flinch to trade a young defenseman, whether that is Noah Hanifin or an older, still-young piece like Justin Faulk, but look at the Predators. It couldn’t have been comfortable to trade Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, and maybe history will smile upon the Blue Jackets’ take more than Nashville’s when it’s all over. That trade, and others like it, helped Nashville go from a team of extremes to a more balanced attack. It wasn’t long before they were two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, stand as fancy stats darlings that haven’t tasted playoff play since 2008-09, and that was their only playoff appearance since that stunning Stanley Cup win in 2005-06.

No doubt, if you look at the Hurricanes PDO (or shooting percentage and save percentages individually, if that’s more your speed), you’ll see that they’ve been unlucky much of the time. Still, sometimes you have to “make your luck.”

(And do note that, bad goaltending aside, this team scored goals at a rate far fewer than league average. Wouldn’t that lack of punch inspire you to hit the phones a little harder during deadline time? Just saying.)

Backup plan

And, hey, it’s not like Francis took zero risks.

You can bellow about hindsight being 20/20 all you want, but there were some leaps of faith when it came to goaltending moves. For one thing, there was little evidence that Cam Ward would deliver on the two-year, $6.6 million extension he’s playing out. (Few deals truly say “We don’t have any better ideas” quite like that.)

There’s little sense arguing that Scott Darling was a safe choice, either.

Now 29, the big goalie didn’t come in with much pedigree as the 153rd pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. His pre-NHL stats are a mixed bag, though he was starting to pick up steam starting in 2013-14.

No doubt, his .923 save percentage with the Chicago Blackhawks was fantastic, yet that mark came in just 75 regular season games. It makes you wonder if the Hurricanes should have hedged their bets a bit. That said, few would have expected the Darling signing to blow up in Carolina’s face to this degree.

Goalies are a tough breed to gauge, with even mostly bright franchises whiffing at times. Still, maybe the Hurricanes were better off following their overall MO of not making bold, dangerous moves for the sake of making them? If you’re not truly certain a goalie is a franchise fit, maybe it’s better to leave your options open?

This Hurricanes situation provides additional evidence that NHL teams might be wise to put more resources into finding capable backups, whether it mean scouting, cap space, or both.

Take a look at the Calgary Flames. They defied critics by landing Mike Smith, who’s been great … only now he’s injured, and even after taking care of business against Buffalo last night, Calgary is up against a tough haul to fight its way back into the playoffs. Some of that is bad luck, some of it’s poor preparation; after all, Smith is 35 and has an injury history.


Look, it feels quite unfair to see Francis get such a short leash while other GMs continue to blunder away, even though they seem less capable. Even with the nitpicks in this post, it’s important to note that Francis leaves Carolina behind in a position to contend in the near future.

Sports, like life, can be cruel and unfair, though.

There’s a thin line in managing risk and reward. Ultimately, Francis couldn’t successfully walk that tightrope. It’s a reminder to other front offices just how difficult it can be to find the right balance.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

#MelnykOut billboards go up in Ottawa as Senators fans urge change

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The billboards in Brooklyn want the general manager out. The billboards in Ottawa, which went up Monday morning, are calling for the owner to sell.

As the dissatisfaction with the state of the franchise continues to intensify, Ottawa Senators fans have come together to purchase four billboards calling for Eugene Melnyk to get “out.”

The campaign was started by Spencer Callaghan, who raised $5,000 in the first 24 hours after the GoFundMe page was opened.

“What I want to accomplish mainly is for people to just start asking questions, like why is this organization in such turmoil,” Callaghan told CTV News in February. “It’s at the point where if we need a change of ownership to get this organization back on track then that’s what we need to push for.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the four billboards will be up for two weeks and a fifth will go up for one week on April 2.

It’s been a strange year in Senators land. They went from being within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final to having their owner threaten to move the team to then having him walk that back a few months later to now looking at the NHL draft lottery and coming to the realization that captain Erik Karlsson may be dealt in the off-season.

So you can see why they might be ready for some change.

Meanwhile, it will be a very interesting off-season for the New York Islanders. They are going to miss the playoffs for a second straight season and have to worry about whether John Tavares will decide to re-sign with the organization. Fans upset with GM Garth Snow’s lack of progress with the franchise put up their own billboards in February calling for his removal. Head coach Doug Weight doesn’t seem to have any answers, so will ownership decide to clean house and start fresh as the franchise begins to split games between Barclays Center and a renovated Nassau Coliseum next season as they wait for their new home to be built near Belmont Park?

If the campaigns in Ottawa and New York succeed by reaching their ultimate goals, how much of an inspiration will they be for other fanbases who are sick and tired of the lack of direction with their teams?


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

If there’s one thing the Kings need right now with 10 games left in the regular season, it’s some consistency. John Stevens’ charges have alternated wins and losses in their eight games in March, leaving them in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 84 points.

LA is tied with the Dallas Stars in points, but have the ROW advantage (37-34) while also owning a game in-hand. The Kings are battling on two fronts. Not only are they in the mix for a wild card, but they are on the heels of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division’s third seed.

So as the Kings begin a four-game road trip Monday night with three games against playoff teams (Minnesota, Winnipeg, Colorado), the road doesn’t get any easier. After a disappointing 3-0 loss at Staples Center on Saturday, they need to rebound quickly.

“You lose a game, you move on and get ready for the next one,” said Stevens via the Orange County Register. “We’ve got an important week coming up this week, so we’re in playoff mode. We’re thinking about Minnesota now, and we’ll get ready for the game after that when that comes.”


The Wild have a little bit of a cushion in the Central Division’s third spot and are looking at four days off following their meeting with the Kings before they host the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Minnesota grabbed four huge points with back-to-back road wins over the weekend against Vegas and Arizona. In their favor is a very strong record at Xcel Energy Center (24-6-6) and the fact that they’ve taken points from 24 of their last 26 home games.

A victory would give Bruce Boudreau his 500th as an NHL head coach and make him the 26th bench boss to reach that milestone. In his 10 seasons as a bench boss, he’s won eight division titles and one Jack Adams Awards.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL GMs to meet; Lamoriello’s future with Leafs

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Joe Thornton’s long-lost brother was apparently at the game Saturday night. [Instagram]

• Goalie interference will be a big topic at this week’s NHL general managers meetings. [The Star]

• Lou Lamoriello’s future with the Toronto Maple Leafs remains up in the air. “Any decisions about the organization won’t be made until after the season is over,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told Elliotte Friedman. [Sportsnet]

• The NCAA men’s bracket is set with St. Cloud State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Cornell grabbing top seeds. [College Hockey News]

• For the third time in five years, Clarkson’s women’s team won the NCAA title. The overtime goal, which was scored by Elizabeth Giguere (No relation to J.S.), was a terrific one. [NY Times]

• Daryl Watts, freshman forward at Boston College, took home the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s top women’s collegiate player. [USCHO]

• With Ilya Kovalchuk interested in an NHL return this summer — and his rights no longer being owned by the New Jersey Devils — the New York Rangers should be all-in on the forward. [NY Post]

• A good look at how these Winnipeg Jets have been built into a contender. [ESPN]

• This season’s Hart Trophy race is quite the crowded field. [Tampa Bay Times]

• The New York Islanders have really wasted what could be John Tavares‘ last season with the franchise. [Sporting News]

• We’re coming up on a full NHL season without any head coaches being fired. [TSN]

• General managers around the NHL muse about the Detroit Red Wings and rebuilds. [Freep]

• Should the Carolina Hurricanes continue the changes and move on from Bill Peters? [Section 328]

William Karlsson doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down as he continues this surprising season. [Toronto Sun]

• How a minority hockey program helped one man become an officer in the Marines. [Color of Hockey]

• Finally, Declan Farmer was the hero for the U.S. Paralympic hockey team, who won their third straight gold with a 2-1 win over Canada. [NBC Olympics]


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: William Karlsson’s wild night; Hart Trophy race intensifies

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Players of the Night: 

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: MacKinnon’s MVP campaign got a serious boost on Sunday, as he picked up two goals and an assist in a win over the Detroit Red Wings. The Avs forward is now riding a 12-game point streak. He better start making room on a shelf for a Hart Trophy.

William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights: Karlsson continues to be one of the biggest surprises of the 2017-18 season. His natural hat trick against the Flames puts him at 39 goals on the season. Who would’ve thought that we’d be talking about him as a 40-goal scorer?

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: Even though MacKinnon is rolling right now, Kucherov won’t go away quietly in the race for the MVP crown. The Lightning forward picked up two goals in Sunday’s win over the Oilers. Kucherov has 36 goals and 93 points in 70 games this season.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks: DeBrincat scored his third hat trick of the season in a losing effort. The rookie has 25 goals and 45 points in 73 games this season. He has a chance to score 30 this year.

Alex Pietrangelo and Vincent Dunn, St. Louis Blues: The Blues came away with a huge comeback win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrik Berglund scored the game-winner in overtime, but Pietrangelo and Dunn each had four points in the victory.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: Laine has been a scoring machine of late. He found the back of the net twice in Sunday’s win over the Dallas Stars. He’s now scored 43 goals in 72 games this season. Laine’s picked up at least one point in 15 consecutive games.

Highlights of the Night: 

A wicked one-timer from Wild Bill:

That’s an incredible backhander from MacKinnon:

Here’s an unorthodox save from Fleury

Factoids of the Night: 

Dunn Deal


Oh and Laine is a teen sensation

DeBrincat’s having an impressive rookie season:


Avalanche 5, Red Wings 1
Golden Knights 4, Flames 0
Lightning 3, Oilers 1
Hurricanes 4, Islanders 3
Flyers 6, Capitals 3
Blues 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)
Jets 4, Stars 2
Ducks 4, Devils 2

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.