Risk, reward, and Ron Francis

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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.

The Buzzer: Faulk the natural; Tavares hits 600

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Player of the Night: Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

There were some other great performances on Tuesday, including Mark Scheifele powering the Jets past the Capitals with three points and Zach Werenski collecting three points of his own as a defenseman in Columbus’ win, but Faulk takes the cake when he correct for rarity.

Faulk generated not just a hat trick, but also a natural one, becoming just the fifth player in NHL history to achieve such a feat. You can see footage of that in the video above this headline.

Highlights of the Night

The Predators managed quite the comeback against the Blues on Tuesday, rallying from a 3-0 deficit almost halfway through the third period to send the game into overtime. Filip Forsberg took the cake in OT, locking down the win with a penalty shot. Watch all of their goals, which included a beautiful set of passes to set up one of Austin Watson‘s two tallies:

It’s been a middling season for the Red Wings, but Dylan Larkin has enjoyed a fantastic rebound. This time around, it was all about the takeaway:

This probably ranks as a lowlight, but still:

Factoids:

As lousy as that 4-1 loss was for the Islanders, John Tavares did collect his 600th career point. He hit that milestone in just the 645th game of his NHL career. Outstanding, especially for a guy who hasn’t always had the greatest linemates.

Another feather in the cap for the Vegas Golden Knights:

Put this in Taylor Hall‘s Hart Trophy file:

Then again, there’s this in Patrice Bergeron‘s favor:

Hot take: they’re both excellent. (No punches pulled.)

Scores

Bruins 5, Flames 2
Sabres 5, Lightning 3
Blue Jackets 4, Islanders 1
Devils 5, Flyers 4 (SO)
Penguins 6, Senators 3
Hurricanes 7, Kings 3
Red Wings 2, Ducks 1
Predators 4, Blues 3 (OT)
Wild 3, Rangers 2
Jets 4, Capitals 3 (OT)
Golden Knights 5, Blackhawks 2
Coyotes 2, Sharks 1

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.

Metro movement: Penguins gain, Islanders suffer

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Tuesday was a busy night around the NHL, but that was especially true in the Metropolitan Division, as there were some significant games ending in regulation, blowouts, and comebacks. Let’s see who made gains and who failed tonight in the Metro.

(The results go in order of where teams ended the night in the Metro.)

Capitals (first in Metro) see a point slip away:

Mark Scheifele scored two goals, including a tally with 15 seconds remaining in regulation to send this game to overtime. The talented center than grabbed the lone assist on Tyler Myers‘ OT-winner, grabbing a comeback win for the Jets against the Capitals.

Washington remains pretty comfortable at 71 points in 56 games played.

Penguins (second) pummel Senators:

The Pens have now won nine straight games at home, making it clear that they have added incentive to try to grab at least the second seed in the Metro. (They’re 21-7-1 at home versus an ugly 11-15-3 road record.) Zach-Aston Reese scored the first two goals of his career, both assisted – of course – by Sidney Crosby. Crosby ended up with three helpers in Pittsburgh’s 6-3 win against the eventually-Dion-Phaneuf-less Senators.

Pittsburgh is now at 68 points in 58 GP.

Flyers (third) fall to Devils (fourth) in three-point game:

It looked like the Flyers were going to win their fifth in a row while the Devils would see their losing streak extend to five games. Instead, Taylor Hall shook off a huge hit by Radko Gudas to tie things up in the third period with his second goal of the game, helping New Jersey rally for a 5-4 shootout win.

Philly is at 66 points in 57 GP; NJ is at 64 points in 56 GP. New Jersey has the first wild-card spot in the East.

Hurricanes (fifth) blow Kings away

Justin Faulk hasn’t been as explosive this season, so maybe he’s making up for lost time by collecting a hat trick in Carolina’s 7-3 dismantling of the Kings, who might relish shifting the attention to that odd Phaneuf trade.

Hurricanes grab second wild-card spot with 63 points in 57 GP.

Blue Jackets (sixth) bombard Islanders (seventh):

Yikes.

The Islanders’ defensive struggles continued on Tuesday, as they allowed 26 shots on goal in a single period and a whopping 51 overall. Jaroslav Halak held off some of the barrage, but eventually Columbus broke through, and did so in regulation with a 4-1 decision.

Let’s just say things are getting pretty ugly for the Isles.

The Blue Jackets have 62 points in 56 games; the Islanders have 60 points in 58 GP.

Rangers (eighth) lose in regulation

After winning two straight games since management sent out a letter basically acknowledging defeat, the Rangers fell short of collecting any standings points on Tuesday, losing 3-2 in regulation to the Wild. Minnesota scored the first three goals of the game in just a bit more than six minutes, and that ended up being enough to keep the Rangers humble.

Rangers have 59 points in 57 GP.

***

As you can see, there were some noteworthy developments in the Metro tonight, particularly in the case of regulation decisions. There are some other significant head-to-head divisional matches this week, so with things this tight, fortunes can change quickly.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Pierre McGuire feels ‘great’ after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer

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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.

• The Buffalo Sabres had an emotional practice yesterday, as Evander Kane and Justin Falk got into it.  As if that wasn’t enough, Zach Bogosian also suffered an injury during the session. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk triggered a “fat trick” when he scored a big goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning the other night. The goal allowed ‘Canes fans to take advantage of a bunch of promotional food specials at different local restaurants. (Charlotte Observer)

• Bruins defenseman have done a much better job defending the slot in front of their goaltenders. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• William Hill sports book will take a pounding if the Golden Knights make the playoffs (that seems likely). They’d lose $1 million if Vegas takes home the Stanley Cup. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

• NBC Olympics announced unveiled their hockey commentary teams for the upcoming Pyeongchang games. (NBC Sports)

• USA Today recently sat down with Team USA GM Jim Johannson to discuss the potential his team possesses. (USA Today)

• Some people in the hockey world were stunned when they found out Alex Carpenter had been cut from Team USA’s women’s team. She led the U.S. in goals as a 19-year-old at the Sochi Olympics. (Sporting News)

• Former NHLer Richard Park has been serving as an assistant coach for South Korea’s hockey team that will be making their Olympic debut this year. (USA Hockey)

• Next week, Team USA’s women’s team will play exhibition games against the NWHL’s best players. 10 of the league’s best players come from the Metropolitan Riveters, who are undefeated this season. (The Ice Garden)

• Cale Makar just won a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship, but he turned down an invitation to play for his country at the upcoming Winter Olympics. (TSN.ca)

• Here’s a nice love story. A Bruins fan and a Canucks fan got married in a cool hockey-themed wedding. (Daily Hive)

• Nic Riopel, who’s a goaltender in the Lightning organization, helped get Louis Domingue drafted in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The two knew each other because Riopel had been dating Domingue’s sister. (Syracuse.com)

• NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire announced that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. McGuire underwent surgery to remove the tumor already. We want to wish him all the best in his recovery. (USA Today)

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.

Awesome dog Charlie drops puck before Hurricanes – Islanders (Video)

Screen via NHL.com

Every now and then, you get that rare opportunity to celebrate two of your favorite things coming together.

Beavis and Butt-Head reuniting for a season. Peanut butter and chocolate teaming up in many glorious candy bar iterations. High on that list: dogs and hockey.

So, kudos to VetDogs.org and the New York Islanders for sharing this treat with us, and credit Charlie with not treating the puck as an actual treat:

Not going to lie, it bums me out a bit that superb dog Charlie didn’t get to “shake hands” with John Tavares and Justin Faulk, but it might have confused the pup, who’s being trained to help a U.S. army veteran.

Charlie seems to be a star at the site, as the front page features “Support Charlie and the Vet Dogs mission,” which is driving a fundraising effort. You can even follow along for … “pupdates.”

There’s a ton of video on Charlie, and it’s pretty much all great. Apparently Charlie was quite the hit on “The Today Show,” and the good news is that all this spotlight isn’t going to his furry head.

Hopefully I’m not speaking out of turn when I upgrade Charlie from “very good dog” to extremely good dog.

Here’s another cool moment from tonight:

More dog fun at PHT:

Watch some very good dogs race during AHL game (Video)

Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s dog paintings are very good.

Teams celebrate National Dog Day, and it is good.

Matt Murray, pup, Stanley Cup.

Dog gets ice time with puck.

Hampus Lindholm’s absurdly cute, skate-sized puppy.

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