Canes’ Ron Francis talks free agency, trades
The Carolina Hurricanes’ training camp is just a month away and everyone is ready to get this thing started.
General manager Ron Francis, busy in the off-season, has given Canes coach Bill Peters more to work with – goalie Scott Darling, veteran forward Justin Williams and others. That could put more pressure on the coach. The Canes haven’t been in the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009, testing everyone’s patience, but Francis stressed that doesn’t mean Peters will go into his fourth season on a coaching hot seat.
“I think Bill Peters is one hell of a hockey coach, so I would not put him on the hot seat and in that category. Not at all,” Francis said this week. “This is guy who has shown he’s a hell of a coach with a very young team. I don’t think you hold him accountable for missing the playoffs the last couple of years, based on the situation we were in and what we were trying to build.”
That said, here are nine questions to ponder:
Can the Hurricanes make the playoffs?
With the off-season moves that have been made, Francis believes the Canes have enough to reach the playoffs.
“I think we’re happy with what we were able to accomplish to this point, and we’re comfortable starting the season with the lineup we have,” Francis said. “I think we can be a very competitive team and get our foot in the playoffs.
“As we saw last year with Nashville, all you have to do is get an invitation to the dance and you have a chance to do some damage.”
The Predators, once in the playoffs, “danced” their way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Anything can happen.
What are the GM’s concerns?
Injuries, to name one. In Peters’ first season, Jordan Staal broke his leg in a 2014 preseason game against Buffalo and missed the first 35 games of the regular season. Jeff Skinner also suffered a concussion in a preseason game. As Francis said, “There’s always that risk.”
“Another concern, with the team being as young as it is there’s always concern about the progression from year to year and how they respond and mature,” he said. “I do feel comfortable about our young guys, and the kind of character they have, that we should be all right in that regard.
“A third concern is we’ve made some changes and brought in some different faces. There’s always concern about how well things will jell and how quickly things come together.”
Any more moves to be made?
The Canes added Darling, signed Williams, then brought in center Marcus Kruger and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk – like Darling, former Chicago Blackhawks – in deals with the Vegas Golden Knights.
“If the season started tomorrow this is our lineup,” Francis said. “Again, we’re comfortable with what we have and starting the season the way we are.”
“If something came along that made more sense for us to look at and make a move on, we’re open to doing that, too, if we feel it makes us better.”
What about a No. 1 center?
Peter Karmanos said the Canes may not have a top-line center but did have “four No. 2 centers.”
“If you look around the league and you say ‘This guy is a legitimate No. 1, top-line center,’ there’s probably 16 of those guys in the entire league,” Francis said. “They are not easy to find, and a lot of time you have to draft those guys and develop them. We’re hoping we have that kind of guy in our system already, but I certainly feel the guys we have in the middle are elite center men.
“Jordan (Staal) has shown year after year that he’s kind of a horse for us. Victor (Rask) had a little bit of an up-and-down year, but I think he’s hungry and ready to come back and show what he can do over an 82-game schedule. You look at a guy like Marcus Kruger, and he’s won a couple of Cups and the World Championship and know what it takes, and then Derek Ryan after kind of being up and down and not sure where he’s going to be is going to get that full-time opportunity and he certainly showed near the end of last season that he can handle that.
“So we think we’re fine up the middle. We may not have what everyone calls that ‘elite No. 1 guy’ but there’s not a lot of those guys in the league.”
New extension for Hanifin?
Defenseman Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce each signed lengthy contract extensions this summer – Slavin for seven years, Pesce for six. Like those two, defenseman Noah Hanifin is entering the last year of his entry-level contract.
Francis said there have been no negotiations with Hanifin and his agent – for now. “I’ve had discussions with his agent, and I told them we were open to doing an extension,” Francis said.
Where will Necas play?
The Canes made center Martin Necas of the Czech Republic their first-round pick, 12th overall, in the June NHL draft. During the Canes’ prospects camp, Necas said he might stay home for another season with HC Kometa Brno in the Czech league, again playing on a line with former NHL forward Martin Erat.
Francis indicated Necas may stay put another season, saying, “As of now he would like to play in Czech. I let the player choose.”
The Saginaw Spirit selected Necas in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft and hope to entice him to come to North America this season. The Spirit sent a group to Raleigh during Canes prospects camp to meet with Necas.
Necas alter suffered an abdominal injury in a summer camp game between the Czech Republic and a Swiss team and had to be helped off the ice but Francis said, “He’s feeling good, with no issues.”
Sales talk a distraction?
Karmanos is looking for a buyer and may have found one in Chuck Greenberg, a sports attorney heading up a group looking to cement a sale.
Karmanos said the sale speculation and media coverage have not been a distraction for Francis or team president Don Waddell.
“My job is to run this team and organization the way Peter hired me to do and Peter is my boss,” Francis said. “Unless that changes that’s how I operate. There’s been nothing different on my end. It’s been business as usual”
Spending other people’s money?
Francis said before free agency began – before the two-year, $9 million signing of Williams – that he had the “blessing” of Karmanos to spend money to improve the team. With a potential franchise sale in the works, could that be seen as spending other people’s money?
“All my conversations when it comes to those contracts are dealing with Peter, absolutely,” Francis said.
Francis said he did not meet Greenberg during Greenberg’s recent trips to Raleigh to talk with potential team investors. But he has met Greenberg. Francis said the two first met years ago in Pittsburgh through Mario Lemieux, Francis’ former Pens teammate.
Expectations too high?
Francis has been praised within NHL circles for his off-season moves. As part of the 31-in-31 team previews on NHL.com, senior writer Dan Rosen predicted the Canes would end their playoff drought this season.
“It all starts with us and we have a lot of belief in our players and we think we’re capable of having a good year and doing some good things,” Francis said. “I have no problem with people talking about that and putting those kind of expectations on us. Hopefully, they’re right.”