On a quiet, chilly night in Toronto on Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes limped to one of their worst starts of the season, lost both Jay McClement and Andrej Nestrasil to injuries and failed to take a single point from the franchise whose management is now practically begging opponents to do just that.
And in the process, they made general manager Ron Francis’ mindset a lot clearer as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.
The now-indisputable modus operandi: sell.
Sell Eric Staal. Sell Cam Ward. Sell Kris Versteeg. Sell John-Michael Liles (the one player who looked good against the Maple Leafs). Sell every one of the seven upcoming UFAs not currently on waivers and consider selling the handful of other tradable assets on the roster, too.
Francis has proved to be the GM that Carolina truly needed–and a polar change from predecessor Jim Rutherford–throughout his entire tenure in the position so far. Given the overall contract situation of the franchise, the 2016 trade deadline is set up to potentially his biggest signature moment yet.
Thursday, the Hurricanes self-delivered a dagger into their playoff hopes and thus removed the hesitations that could’ve held back Francis’s plans.The team’s postseason chances are down to 13.9 percent after the loss, according to Sports Club Stats. They’ve recorded a mediocre 5-4-2 record in a February that was inevitably slated to determine the course of the 2015-16 campaign.
The slump extends beyond the surface numbers, though.
The team’s overall performance in their last two games, both against teams below them in the standings, has been sloppy at best and cringeworthy at worst. Ward and lucky breaks bailed out a cast of skaters that couldn’t complete consecutive passes to save their lives against Philadelphia, but nothing could save the guys in white in Thursday’s humiliation north of the border.
Against a Leafs team that had lost seven of its last eight, played Martin Marincin for over 25 minutes and Daniel Winnik for over 18 and is in the process of trading away (or placing on injured reserve) every valuable asset they have, the ‘Canes were simply embarrassed.
They were out-attempted 31-13 and out-shot 15-6 in the first period by the worst first period team in the league (in terms of even strength goal differential). They gave up odd-man breaks seemingly every few minutes, ultimately leading to the game-winning and game-sealing goals. They finished the game with eight forwards on the bench and none on the scoreboard.
Toronto didn’t particularly want these two points. No, what they really want is Auston Matthews. And the ‘Canes, with every reason to be as sharp and motivated as they have in years, still came away empty-handed.
Their effort didn’t lack considerably. The culprit was the execution, which has recently resembled that of a middle school club on the afternoon before the school dance. Moreover, it is hard to indict the team itself for their recent struggles, as it was a team never set up for, never expected to and never actually qualified enough to be in this position this late in the season.
It’s time for the fairytale to end, and for Francis to go to work unabated and unchained.
The Hurricanes already have two first-round picks and five selections in the opening three rounds of the 2016 draft. They could easily double that portfolio of upper-tier picks in the next week, given the multitude of productive rentals currently floating around on the salary sheet.
The trade of Andrew Ladd from Winnipeg to Chicago on Thursday night sets an intriguing comparison point for Eric Staal’s market value.
The 30-year-old pending UFA who sports 34 points this season garnered a first-round pick and a promising former first-round pick (Marko Dano) for the Jets. Considering the bidding war inflation that will occur as Monday bears down, Eric Staal, a 31-year-old pending UFA who sports 33 points this season (and boasts a far more impressive career history), could easily fetch a return equal to or better than that.
The values of the other players on the block are harder to gauge, but Versteeg and Ward’s respective worths could also venture into first-round-pick range while the likes of Liles, Riley Nash and Nathan Gerbe could bring back picks or prospects of decreasing yet still significant value.
If a clearinghouse does go down in Raleigh, the 2015-16 season can be viewed in a different light: the season that showed that this core of Hurricanes, once the youth revolution is completed, can be a serious contender without a doubt. It can become an exciting foreshadower of bright times to come.
In time, Thursday’s disaster might prove auspicious after all.