Remember about a month ago when the Canes were only 1 point out of the playoffs with a few games in hand? I do, I thought they had turned the corner. The young guys who were supposed to be the core of the future had arrived a year early. Rask, Aho and Teravainen were clicking and it was time to use the “P” word in Raleigh.
Fast forward to January 17th, Columbus, Ohio, the day the season ended. Coming off four home wins in a row, it looked like we were ready to play with the big boys. In a hard fought game against the Blue Jackets, a team we beat in Raleigh just a few days earlier, they got us. But it was the loss that put the took away the swag and confidence they had built up. This was the first of five consecutive losses, each worse than the previous. We went against the top teams in the league and were reminded of where we stood.
Fast forward to February 21st. You’ll find the Hurricanes are firmly in last place in the Eastern Conference, and because of the dumpster fires in Denver and Dallas, the Canes are in line for the No. 3 pick. They do have a few games in hand on the teams in front of them, but it doesn’t matter. Sitting nine points of the final wild card spot is a pipe dream at this point. After the loss tonight against the Pens, the Canes only have one playoff team in the next five games. Sure, they can rattle off a few wins, crawl out of the basement and squander draft position. It’s what they seem to do every season.
There are plenty of players to point the finger at, nobody is safe. Victor Rask has fallen off a cliff over the last two months. Per usual, Jeff Skinner has been wildly inconsistent. Jordan Staal has been solid, but again is failing to live up to his expectations. While Slavin and Pesce have played pretty well, but have had some inconsistencies. While is numbers aren’t where he’d like them to be, Cam Ward has had a better season than you might think. There have been serious deficiencies with the 2nd and 3rd defensive pairings. I’d say the biggest positive has been the play of Sebastian Aho over the last two months, including his first career hat trick. I would say that he is the only untouchable on the roster. Aho has the potential to be one of the best players the Canes have ever had. Going forward, the build of this team needs to be centered around Aho.
But next season is a long way away and it is time to focus on the trade deadline to get the most out of our expiring contracts and begin that rebuild. There are a handful of veterans that may have some value, but don’t expect to get anything that will make a difference next year. Ron Hainsey, Lee Stempniak and Jay McClement should all be moved. But nothing more than a 4th or 5th round pick should be expected for any of those players. But will GM Ron Francis be willing to move one of the core players in hopes of acquiring a few key veterans? How about making another deal like the Teravainen deal with the Blackhawks last year? There are a few teams that are going to looking to dump salary and are going to attach a good prospect to make it happen.
Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to moving a player like Justin Faulk. He certainly has plenty of value around the league. Much of the rumor has centered around the Avs moving on from Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog. I wouldn’t be mad at pulling the trigger for either of those guys. They are both under contract for a few years under their current deals, which is great for the Canes. We know how tough it is to get top line free agents here. A package of Faulk, Lindholm and a 2018 1st round pick for those two would be a deal I’d make. This year’s pick has a chance to be top three. With the lottery system, that’s too good to move. The Canes are loaded on the blue line with top prospects and at some point they have to play in Raleigh. Moving Faulk would be tough on the fan base, as he is one of the teams most popular players. But landing some players that could add some much need fire power, people would get over it quickly. Jacob Slavin is ready to move in to the spot and be the top guy on the blue line. Paired with Brett Pesce, they make up a solid 1st pairing that could hold down that spot for a few years. I’d even be willing to swap out Faulk for Slavin if the Avs wanted.
But back to Duchene and Landeskog, imagine a line with Aho, Staal and Landeskog. Or Skinner, Duchene and Teravainen. Those would arguably be the best tops lines that have been in Raleigh since 2006. Not to mention that Jordan Staal is the oldest player in your top six is 28. Going in to next season with that lineup, the expectation would be the playoffs and anything short would be a disappointment. The puck is in your hands, Mr. Francis, time to make a splash.