Carolina Hurricanes

Liles curious to see if Zadorov will make the Avs next season

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Former Avalanche d-man John-Michael Liles has been getting an up-close look at new Avalanche d-man Nikita Zadorov.

The two players, along with some other NHLers, have been skating together in the Denver area during the offseason.

Liles, now a 34-year-old member of the Carolina Hurricanes, is curious to see what kind of an impact, if any, Zadorov can make with the Avs next season.

“He’s a big kid, obviously very skilled, skates well,” Liles said of Zadorov, per the Denver Post. “It will be interesting to see because at 20 years old it can be a daunting task to jump in when expectations are high. It’s never easy playing D in this league.”

Zadorov was drafted 16th overall by the Sabres in 2013. He was dealt to Colorado in June as part of the Ryan O’Reilly blockbuster trade.

“We really like the potential of Zadorov,” Avs GM Joe Sakic said after the trade, per NHL.com. “He’s could be a solid, solid [defenseman] for the next 10 years.”

The Avs can afford to be patient with the big blue-liner. Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie are all 24 years or younger, so it’s not like the clock is ticking loudly on their core.

Zadorov is also waiver exempt, raising the possibility he could be sent to the AHL next season.

Related: Sabres angry that Zadorov keeps showing up late for stuff

Under Pressure: Ron Francis

With two key members of the franchise heading into the final year of their respective contracts, ‘Canes GM Ron Francis is under pressure to make some big decisions in Carolina.

Both Eric Staal and Cam Ward are set to become unrestricted free agents after the 2015-16 season. Both players were first-round picks of the ‘Canes and have spent their entire careers in the Carolina organization.

“We’ve had some conversations with Rich (Curran). When Eric and Cam get back into town, I’m sure we’ll have conversations with them,” Francis said. “I feel pretty comfortable with my relationship with Rich, and with both players that when the time is right and the numbers are right that we can get something done.

“Am I in a hurry to get this done this week or before camp or into the season? I really don’t have a timeframe on it. It’ll get done when it gets done.”

Ward, who went 22-24-5 in 51 appearances last season while posting a 2.40 G.A.A. and a .910 save percentage, is no stranger to being the subject of trade rumors. The 31-year-old expected to be dealt last summer.

“There was a lot of chatter about it last year and I learned a lot from that too,” Ward told PHT in January. “(Last) summer I was really able to take a break mentally and realize that I can only control what I can control – that’s just having fun and enjoying the game of hockey.”

Staal scored 23 goals and 54 points in 77 games last season registering his lowest totals since his rookie season.

“We’ll look at the whole situation and try and figure out what’s best,” Francis said. “As we said from Day 1, it has to make sense for our organization. We always talk about the term of the contract and the money in the contract – making sure we’re not blocking things going forward either.”

In addition to Staal and Ward, Francis will have to make decisions on Nathan Gerbe and Riley Nash up front. The only defenseman set to become an unrestricted free agent is John-Michael Liles while Eddie Lack is also headed into the final year of his contract.

Related: Poll: What should the ‘Canes do with Eric Staal?

Poll: What should the ‘Canes do with Eric Staal?

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With captain Eric Staal entering the final year of his seven-year, $57.75 million contract, GM Ron Francis has a big decision to make.

Does he ink the 30-year-old to a new multi-year extension? Or does he deal the former first-round pick in the hopes it returns some scoring help?

Staal is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2015-16 season.

He could be eyeing another significant payday on the open market, especially given what the likes of Jason Spezza got out of Dallas and Ryan Kesler signed for in Anaheim. All three are in their early 30’s.

“We’ll look at the whole situation and try and figure out what’s best,” Francis told the team’s website recently. “As we said from Day 1, it has to make sense for our organization. We always talk about the term of the contract and the money in the contract – making sure we’re not blocking things going forward either.”

Carolina’s offensive woes have been well documented.

If Francis is to deal the former second overall pick, he’ll likely be seeking young forward prospects with offensive upside in return.

Given the youth movement on the blue line, it might be the right time to deal Staal for some youth up front.

OK, time to vote:

Carolina Hurricanes ’15-16 Outlook

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As nice as it would be, you can’t hit the “snooze” button forever.

Even after making Ron Francis their GM, the Carolina Hurricanes basically replicated the same tired results: a mix of disappointing play and injury-fueled “What if?” questions ultimately resulting in a failed playoff bid.

One would think that the 2015-16 season will finally jostle this franchise from its coma … depending upon the choices Francis makes, of course.

Deadlines approaching

The Hurricanes cannot procrastinate much longer with longtime stalwarts Eric Staal and Cam Ward, as both Stanley Cup remnants need new deals as their old, disappointing ones expire. Everyone involved has been saying the right things about keeping the band together, yet one must ask if that’s really the best choice.

It’s not the only challenging call, either. Do you cut bait on concussion-ravaged young forward Jeff Skinner at 23? Would Jordan Staal stand his brother being traded (and is he worth keeping regardless)?

There’s even the question of do you welcome 2015 first-rounder Noah Hanifin into the lineup right away or do you let him get a little extra seasoning?

One thing’s clear: none of these decisions will be as easy as buying out Alexander Semin.

What to expect

Recent history suggests that the Hurricanes could very well be a lottery team once more in 2015-16.

Some of the big names on this roster do sort of rope you in, however. Better things could happen with improved injury luck, contract year motivation and growth from the youngsters. Perhaps the tandem of Ward and Eddie Lack might push each other to stellar years, too?

The smart money seems to pencil Carolina into another failed playoff bid, which would mark seven straight seasons without a postseason.

As painful as that may sound, the most important battles must be won by those wearing suits, not hockey sweaters in the next year or so.

Hurricanes’ biggest question: Where will the goals come from?

Heading into their second season under head coach Bill Peters one of the biggest questions surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes is where the goals will come from.

Carolina averaged 2.23 goals-for per-game last season, which ranked 27th in the league. The ‘Canes scored one or fewer goals in 31 contests including a six-game stretch in December, which saw them score just one goal in each game.

“It’s no secret, we need to find away to score more goals,” said GM Ron Francis. “We lost, whichever way you look at it, but potentially could be 34 one-goal games when you take empty net goals (and) overtime (goals) into the equation. We need to find away to score more goals.”

Francis hasn’t done much to address the scoring issue. In fact, he bought out Alex Semin who just two seasons ago scored 22 goals. The 31-year-old, who signed a one-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens, has averaged 23 goals per season over the course of his 10 years in the league.

“Bill and his staff have already been looking at tape and come up with ideas,” Francis said. “It’ll start in practice and in training camp and different things to get into the tougher areas to score goals. Hopefully if we can do that, we can turn our fortunes around.”

Barring any further additions, the ‘Canes will rely on the likes of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner to carry the offense next season. Elias Lindholm had a career season last year scoring 17 goals and 39 points in 81 games – more will likely be expected out of him.

Eric Staal led the ‘Canes with 23 goals and 54 points in 77 games last season, but those were his lowest numbers since his rookie season (2003-04).

“We like where we are in terms of being able to take a step forward; it will depend on us having the ability to score,” Peters told NHL.com. “We have to find a way to score more at 5-on-5.”

Skinner, who is entering the third year of his six-year, $34.35 million deal, scored 18 goals and 31 points in 77 games last season – a far cry from the 33 goals and 21 assists he produced during the 2013-14 season.

His drop in production had the ‘Canes reportedly trying to move the 23-year-old prior to the NHL Draft.

“We need Jeff Skinner to have a bounce-back year,” said Peters. “He’s an offensive guy; he’s proven he can score at the NHL level. We need to get him back to being a consistent 25- to 30-goal scorer.”

After breaking his leg in the preseason and missing 35 games, Jordan Staal scored just six goals and 24 points in 46 games last season.

Jordan Staal and Skinner are due to have bigger goal totals this season, but how much will it help a Carolina team, which scored 127 even strength goals and missed the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season? Only time will tell.