This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference and War on Ice, and of course, NHLNumbers.
Things are changing in Carolina. For the better part of the past decade, the face of the Hurricanes franchise has been Eric Staal and Cam Ward, largely because both players were key members of the franchise’s one and only Stanley Cup championship back in 2006. Now they’re both 30 years old, their best years are behind them, and their contracts are set to expire at the end of the season. The Canes have assembled a nice core of young players, including 2015 fifth overall pick Noah Hanifin, so it’s likely that both Ward and Staal are going to be on the way out as Carolina continues to build for the future.
- Signed Chris Terry to a one year, $0.875 million contract.
- Traded a 2015 third round pick and a 2016 seventh round pick to the Canucks for Eddie Lack.
- Traded Anton Khudobin to the Ducks for James Wisniewski.
- Signed Andrej Nestrasil to a two year contract with a $0.912 million cap hit.
- Bought out Alexander Semin. He’ll carry a cap hit of $2.33 million for five years.
- Signed Riley Nash to a one year, $1.150 million contract.
- IN: James Wisniewski, Eddie Lack, Noah Hanifin.
- OUT: Alexander Semin, Patrick Dwyer, Brett Bellmore, Jack Hillen, Anton Khudobin.
It was just a couple years ago that everybody was getting excited over the possibility of a Staal family reunion in Carolina. The Canes had traded for Jordan Staal to play alongside his older brother Eric and they even had the forgotten brother Jared floating around somewhere in the minors. The last piece of the puzzle was Marc, who ended up signing a six year contract extension to continue playing for the New York Rangers. Now, Eric’s contract comes to an end on July 1, 2016, and it appears his days in Carolina are numbered. This time next year, the only Staal brother likely to be back with the Hurricanes is Jordan.
General Manager Ron Francis is going to have to make a difficult decision at some point this year regarding what he’s going to do with the guy who’s been the face of the franchise for over a decade now. Aside from the lockout shortened season in 2013, Staal’s production has consistently dropped since the 2009-10 season. At this point, he’s no longer the point per game power forward he was when he was given a seven year contract with an $8.5 million cap hit, so it would be smart for the Canes to cut ties and start looking at the future. There’s a fair chance they would be able to come up with the money to sign Staal to an extension — and keep the family reunion dream alive — but with the way his game has deteriorated, it really wouldn’t be worth it.
Last year, Staal scored 23 goals and 31 assists in 77 games, resulting in the lowest points per game total of his career since his rookie campaign back in 2003-04. Of course, the Canes weren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, so his 54 points actually don’t look too terrible considering the next highest forward was Elias Lindholm, who had 39 points in 81 games. Staal also boasted the second highest Corsi For percentage at even strength on the team behind only his brother, Jordan. But how much of that can we attribute to Eric? And how much credit should go to Jordan? Jordan missed the first half of the season with a leg injury. While he was out of the lineup, Eric managed a 53.1 Corsi For percentage at even strength, but when Jordan returned from injury, Eric’s Corsi For jumped all the way up to 59.9 per cent. It’s difficult to tell exactly how Jordan would perform without Eric on the team, but evidence seems to suggest that Jordan is the one doing the driving, while Eric is along for the ride at this stage in their careers. As a result, it would be best for the Canes to look to move him so they can get something of value for him before he hits free agency this summer.
Aside from Eric Staal, the Canes only really have two notable forwards hitting free agency at the end of this season: Riley Nash and Nathan Gerbe. Victor Rask will need a new RFA deal at the end of the season, but I’m sure it’ll be a pretty easy decision for the Canes to keep him around, and they certainly have the funds to do so. The decisions with Nash and Gerbe is whether or not they have value on the team in the long run, or if they’re better off using them as chips at the trade deadline. Last season, Gerbe managed 10 goals and 18 assists in 78 games, which isn’t far off his career average. He also managed a 53.6 Corsi For percentage at even strength, which was positive in relation to his teammates. Nash managed eight goals and 17 assists, which was slightly better than the numbers he put up in his first full season in the NHL in 2013-14. Like Gerbe, he also managed to put up pretty decent possession stats, managing a 52.3 even strength Corsi For percentage. Both of them made pretty decent depth players, but both could also nice trade chips, which may make the most sense for a rebuilding team like Carolina.
When it’s all said and done, I imagine the Canes’ forward group is going to look a lot different at the beginning of the 2016-17 than it does right now.
While the future of Carolina’s forward group is somewhat up in the air, their defensive core features a lot to be excited about. First of all, the Canes already have Justin Faulk, one of the best young defensemen in the game, locked up for another five seasons at a really reasonable cap hit. Last season, Faulk managed to score 15 goals and 34 assists, which is really impressive considering the Canes didn’t score a hell of a lot of goals. He also had good possession stats, as he put up a career high 54.4 Corsi For percentage, which was the best on the team being only John-Michael Liles (who made most of his starts in the offensive zone). Along with Faulk, they boast two really solid prospects in Haydn Fleury and Noah Hanifin who could make the jump to the NHL level this season. Right now, it’s safe to assume that one of Fleury or Hanifin will crack the Canes roster, but judging by the depth Carolina has on defence, it’s unlikely that both of them will be on the team.
The Canes acquired James Wisniewski from the Ducks this summer, who’ll likely slot in next to Justin Faulk on the team’s top pairing. He’s signed for two more years at $5.5 million, which will help give the Canes time to ease along both of their young defencemen. After that, the Canes will also give roster spots to veterans Ron Hainsey and John-Michael Liles, and 22 year old Ryan Murphy. I don’t imagine that Carolina would be interested in having either Fleury or Hanifin sit in the press box much during the season, so they’ll likely pick one to play on the third pair alongside one of Liles or Hainsey.
Like with Eric Staal, the Canes are going to have to move on from a player who’s been a face of the franchise for nearly a decade now. Cam Ward is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and it would be ridiculous for the Canes to offer him an extension. They should do everything in their power to try to trade him, but I really doubt many teams are in the market for a goalie who hasn’t had a save percentage above 0.910 since the 2011-12 season. If they retain a good chunk of his salary, they could probably try to pawn a team without much goalie depth, or an injury, to take him on, but even then, it’s unlikely he would warrant much more than a throw away prospect or a late pick. It’s pretty likely we see Cam Ward finish the season with the Canes and then try to catch on somewhere when free agency rolls around, because I really can’t see the Canes offering him a new contract after the difficulties he’s had with consistency and injuries over the past few seasons.
Ward will split games with Eddie Lack this season, unless the Canes find a way to trick a team into taking the final year of his contract. I mean, they managed to trick the Canucks into giving them Lack for a third and seventh round pick, so maybe they can work that magic again and find a suitor for Ward. Lack has split time with Roberto Luongo and Ryan Miller in Vancouver the past two seasons, managing a 0.917 career save percentage through 82 career games. He’s also set to become a free agent at the end of the season, but since they’ll be letting Ward go, they really shouldn’t have a difficult time keeping him around if they decide they want to.
It’s going to be really weird watching Eric Staal and Cam Ward play for teams that aren’t the Carolina Hurricanes. Those two led the Canes to the first and only Stanley Cup back in 2006 and have been main parts of the franchise ever since. At this point, they don’t really fit with the direction the team is going. Ward simply isn’t an effective goalie anymore and the Canes really, really need to cut ties and find somebody who can stay healthy for an entire season. Staal, while he’s still an effective player, isn’t getting any younger and with the way his production has decreased over the past few seasons, isn’t going to be worth what he’s likely going to command on the open market.
It’s going to be difficult for Ron Francis to find trade partners for Staal and Ward, though, because even if he wants to move them, not many teams can take on $6.3 and $8.25 million cap hits right now. The only teams that can are either teams with internal budgets like the Ducks and Predators who could probably spend their money in a more effective way, or teams who are in the same position as Carolina and wouldn’t be interesting in buying players who are set to become free agents right away. As a result, the Canes are probably going to have to retain a substantial amount of salary on both Staal and Ward if they want to get something of value for them before they move on as free agents.
The times are changing in Carolina. It’s going to be a very different team at the beginning of the 2016-17 season than it is right now as the Canes start to build a competitive franchise around guys like Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, and Noah Hanifin.