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Hurricanes have much to do, but headed in right direction after blockbuster deal

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There’s a long way to go to rebuild the Carolina Hurricanes into a contending hockey team, but they took a nice step in the right direction on Saturday.

The hockey world has had 24 hours to digest that five-player blockbuster trade on the second day of the 2018 NHL Draft — one that included defenseman Dougie Hamilton heading to the east coast once again and defenseman Noah Hanifin heading to Cow Town.

The verdict? That we won’t know for some time yet (as with any trade in its immediate infancy), but for a Hurricanes team desperate for a sheet of ice in the playoffs, the move certainly turned their aim in that direction.

Calgary got younger with 21-year-old Hanifin and 23-year-old Elias Lindholmbut the move broke up one of the league’s premier defense pairings in the process. Carolina added one-half of that pairing, and it seems more clear that the Hurricanes — who also used their second overall selection on Andrei Svechnikov earlier in the day — got better.

Worlds like “elite defenseman,” “career-year” and “highly-touted” were all uttered to help explain the three players — Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and Adam Fox, respectively — that Carolina snatched up in Saturday’s wheeling and dealing.

Not too shabby, right? The Hurricanes got immediate help on defense and forward with a quality prospect on the backend developing (if he eventually signs).

Winning trades has been something of a foreign concept when attached to Don Waddell during his tenure as an NHL general manager. His exploits as the GM of the Atlanta Thrashers meant years of needed repair after the team moved to Winnipeg in 2011, for instance.

So Saturday’s deal was a win-win for Carolina fans, who had to fear what Waddell might do to their team after being handed the reigns earlier this year.

“We’ve gone nine years missing the playoffs… we’re going to try to change up the culture a little bit,” Waddell said from the draft. “We feel that all three pieces are going to make our hockey club better not just today but going into the future.”

The Canes received a beefy, skilled defenseman in Hamilton who’s good for 40 points a year and can play big minutes. He’s also still just 25 and comes in at a nice price point at $5.75 AAV with three years left on that deal.

With Jaccob Slavin, captain Justin Faulk, Haydn Fleury and Trevor van Riemsdyk also in that rearguard, it became all the more formidable with the arrival of Hamilton.

Hamilton seems to carry around an aura of split opinion on his ability (and personality, apparently). But his underlying numbers suggest he’s among the best defenseman in the game. Elite, even.

Carolina also acquired fellow d-man Adam Fox in the deal, a promising 20-year-old prospect who’s been showing great signs playing at Harvard in the NCAA.

And they got Micheal Ferland, a physical terror on the ice who found his scoring punch this past season with 21 goals.

(It should be noted that Bill Peters — now the coach in Calgary — coached Hanifin and Elias Lindholm in Carolina. He knows the duo like the back of his hand.)

What’s next?

This bit is critical now.

With one issue squared away, the Hurricanes can now turn to other areas that need addressing.

The futures of the aforementioned Faulk (UFA ’20) and Jeff Skinner (UFA ’19) need attention, of course. Both have been churning in the rumor mill and would likely command a nice haul in return. Keeping Faulk in that now-formidable backend might seem like a no-brainer. Or maybe not…

If Faulk is expendable, then he’d be best used in a deal that shores up Carolina’s most pressing issue — its goaltending.

Scott Darling hasn’t worked out and Cam Ward isn’t coming back.

With Philipp Grubauer going to Colorado (perhaps, in part, by design), the list of unrestricted free agent goaltenders capable of being starters is slim at best.

Carter Hutton has shown flashes, as has Anton Khudonbin (who already had one stint in Carolina). With Grubauer out of the picture, those are the two best options with UFA status

Skinner and/or Faulk could be the carrot dangled in a potential move that would see a goalie in return and Waddell told reporters in Dallas on Saturday that he intends on landing a netminder.

A trade involving either could also be used to help Carolina find a left-handed defenseman. They have a glut of right-hand shots now with the arrival Hamilton and the departure of Hanifin on the backend, so perhaps something that turns Faulk into another top LHD helps Waddell pull the trigger.

For the moment, Hurricanes fans can rest on the fact that their team got better over the weekend. And they can hope that the direction from this weekend will filter down into next when the free agency window opens up on July 1.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canes coach Peters making tweaks with emphasis on being more dangerous offensively

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The Carolina Hurricanes endured a rough campaign in 2014-15 and their biggest overall issues surrounded their offense. Now going into his second season as head coach, Bill Peters hopes to address that.

“We’re going to tweak a few things from what we did last year, with an emphasis on being a more dangerous team offensively,” Peters told The News & Observer.

The Hurricanes had a number of key players that didn’t live up to expectations in that regard last season. Alexander Semin, who was bought out this summer, is the most obvious example, but Eric Staal led the team with just 54 points, which was his lowest total in an 82-game campaign since 2003-2004. Meanwhile, Jeff Skinner went from scoring 33 goals in 2013-14 to 18 last season and Jordan Staal was limited to 46 contests due to a fractured fibula.

There’s some hope that this season can be better though, in part because 20-year-old Elias Lindholm and 22-year-old Victor Rask may be ready to take another step forward.

As for the system itself though, blueliner Justin Faulk — who ranked second in the Hurricanes’ 14-15 scoring race — rose to its defense.

“It’s not a matter of trusting the system. It’s a matter of trusting the players to make sure everyone that’s in the lineup that night is ready to go,” Faulk said. “The system is there, it works. Guys believe that.”

Lindholm signs two-year extension with Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes announced that they have inked Elias Lindholm to a contract extension that could prove to be a bargain.

Lindholm received a two-year extension that will come with a $2.7 million annual cap hit. He still has a season left on his entry-level contract, so he’s now signed through 2017-18.

“Elias played well last season, nearly doubling his offensive numbers from his rookie year,” said Hurricanes GM Ron Francis. “We expect he will be a very important part of the Hurricanes as he continues to develop as a professional.”

The 20-year-old forward had 17 goals and 39 points in 81 contests as a sophomore in 2014-15. He went on to score two goals and six points in eight games with Sweden during the 2015 World Championship.

Taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Lindholm has the potential to develop into a significant offensive threat.

The Hurricanes’ situation has only added to the importance of Lindholm’s continued development. Eric Staal has declined in recent years and might not even be with Carolina beyond 2015-16 as he’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. Carolina is also coping with the uncertain future of 23-year-old Jeff Skinner given his injury history and his disappointing showing in 2014-15.

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

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.

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.

***

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?