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.

Looking to make the leap: Noah Hanifin

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Carolina Hurricanes prospect Noah Hanifin is hoping to follow the footsteps of Aaron Ekblad and make the leap to the NHL after being the top defenseman selected in his draft class.

The 18-year-old, Norwood, MA native is going to get every opportunity be in the ‘Canes opening night lineup despite the crowded blue line in Carolina.

“We certainly think with his skating ability and his size, he has the potential to step in and play, but we’re certainly not going to rush him in that regard,” GM Ron Francis told the team’s website recently. “I think if you look at history, a lot of young defensemen take a little longer to develop.

“There have been more and more (defensemen) recently that have been able to step in and not only contribute, but have tremendous success.”

Carolina’s fifth overall selection in the June draft scored five goals and 23 points in 37 regular season games with Boston College last season.

His experience playing against older players while with the Eagles is one of the reasons Francis believes Hanifin will be able to make jump to the NHL this season.

“You look at what he did as a 17-year-old, he jammed in a bunch of classes to make sure he’s eligible for college and at 17 was playing against guys in that league that are 22, 23 and not only held his own, but excelled,” Francis said.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound blue liner believes with a full offseason of training he’ll be prepared for the NHL game.

“There’s a lot of good defensemen here and nothing is guaranteed. I’m going to put in a lot of good work this summer up until camp and I’m hoping I’m going to make it,” he said after signing his entry-level contract. “The pace of the game is going to be a lot higher, but with all the training I’m going to be putting in this summer, if I can continue to get better, I feel that I can go in (to camp) and do OK, do well.”

In order to make the leap, Hanifin will have to beat out some stiff competition. The ‘Canes currently have eight blue liners with NHL experience under contract for next season.

Coach Bill Peters is looking forward to watching the competition.

“What I see is there’s going to be an unbelievable competition on the back end between Hanifin, you’ve got (Haydn) Fleury, you got (Brett) Pesce you got (Jaccob) Slavin and then you’ve got all your returning guys,” Peters said following the club’s development camp. “I think the competition there is going to be very high and we’re just going to give everybody an opportunity and see who takes advantage of it.”

It’s Carolina Hurricanes day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite changing their head coach and general manager, the 2014-15 season was more of the same for the Carolina Hurricanes.

For the sixth season in a row (and eight of their last nine campaigns), the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs. Much like 2013-14, they were in the cellar of the East.

Granted, there are murmurs of hope; the Hurricanes subtly improved toward the end of the year and Carolina showed some signs of defensive improvement under head coach Bill Peters. Such patter sounds like baby steps in the grand scheme of things.

Despite some significant expenditures on that side of the puck, Peters identified scoring as a particularly glaring issue.

“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 said, according to NHL.com. “We have to find a way to score more at 5-on-5.”

Off-season recap

GM Ron Francis faces tougher decisions soon, yet he was fairly busy this summer.

It was costly, but the organization cut ties with Semin via a pricey buyout.

In trading Anton Khudobin to Anaheim and acquiring Eddie Lack from Vancouver, Francis gives himself flexibility with Ward, as Lack could end up the No. 1 or even combine for a platoon situation. Swapping with Anaheim also netted an expensive upgrade to Carolina’s needy defense in James Wisniewski.

Optimists may cross their fingers that the Hurricanes will opt for a youth movement. Blueline prospect Noah Hanifin joins Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, Victor Rask and Ryan Murphy as intriguing young talents who aren’t in limbo like Jordan Staal or Jeff Skinner.

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This time it really does feel like a fork-in-the-road season for the Hurricanes, even if it also seems like the organization has been procrastinating when it comes to making difficult (yet crucial) decisions.

Will things finally start to turn Carolina’s way in 2015-16?