Can Carolina be next year’s Calgary? Here’s what GM Ron Francis thinks

Matt Larkin
Ron Francis.  (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

Ron Francis accomplished a lot as a player. He won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he played in four All-Star Games, and he lined his trophy case with a Selke, three Lady Byngs and a King Clancy. He hit the 100-point mark three times. He’s a top-five scorer in NHL history. ‘Ronnie Franchise’ also did some marvellous things captaining the Carolina Hurricanes in the twilight of his career, sporting a classy swirl of grey in his hair. His 77 points in 2001-02 were the second most all-time by a 38-year-old. He was hockey’s answer to Cal Ripken Jr.

But even someone as decorated as Francis had to realize he inherited a boat full of holes when he took over as Carolina Hurricanes GM last April. The Canes had missed the playoffs five straight seasons. They didn’t have a single prospect outside the NHL ranked in Future Watch 2014′s top 75. Captain Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward, two prime components of their 2006 Cup-winning team, were shells of their old selves. Alexander Semin wasn’t justifying the contract extension that paid him $7 million annually.

At the THN office, we couldn’t have been more bearish on the Canes entering 2014-15. We weren’t confident each of their top six forwards would bounce back and, more importantly, we felt they had one of the NHL’s weakest bluelines behind stalwarts Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera. Things looked bleak for Francis’ Canes, and that’s how they turned out. Carolina has stumbled to its worst points percentage since 2002-03. Semin has somehow gotten worse. Eric and Jordan Staal combined have produced less than what Eric used to singlehandedly.

So it would be forgivable, then, to catch Francis in an ornery mood when it’s time to discuss what went wrong this year. That simply isn’t the case, though. Francis is downright upbeat, and he makes an interesting case as to why his team isn’t nearly as hopeless as it may seem on paper.

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What happened to the modern-era teams that missed the playoffs after winning the Cup?

Jared Clinton
Rod Brind'Amour (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In 1994-95, the New Jersey Devils took their Eastern Conference final appearance from the year prior to the next step. They defeated the Philadelphia Flyers in six games and then went on to capture the Stanley Cup with a sweep of the Detroit Red Wings.

The next year, however, the Red Wings came within two wins of returning to the Stanley Cup final while the Devils became the first club since the NHL expanded to a 16-team playoff format to miss the post-season the year after being crowned champions.

In 2006-07, the Carolina Hurricanes became the second team in the 16-club playoff era to fail to reach the post-season the year after championship glory. And, after Tuesday’s loss to the Edmonton Oilers, the Los Angeles Kings, winners of two of the past three Stanley Cups, are on the brink of becoming the third team to go from top of the heap to outside the sweet 16. For the Kings’ sake, though, they hope their fate is more in line with the Devils than the Hurricanes. Read more

Would Pittsburgh be better off with Jordan Staal and James Neal right now?

Jordan Staal. (Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff chances look grimmer by the day. They took a massive hit over the weekend with deflating losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers.

A thought that has crossed my mind, watching Pittsburgh’s top-heavy squad take bad penalties and struggle to convert chances in recent weeks: these guys miss Jordan Staal. They were a different team with him as their third-line center. He was a big, strong, two-way presence who could break open a game with a shorthanded rush. Few teams in the league had that caliber of player that far down the depth chart.

The Pens had to move Staal in 2012 after he rejected Ray Shero’s 10-year offer, and they did well to land Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the pick that yielded Derrick Pouliot. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use Staal’s skill set right about now.

Interestingly, though, the Hurricanes would be far better off with Sutter, Dumoulin and Pouliot, wouldn’t they? Staal has been a disaster. He has 30 goals in 173 games as a Cane. He had 29 in his rookie season with the Pens alone. He only has, oh, eight years left on a 10-year deal carrying a $6-million cap hit. Woof. Is this a rare trade both GMs involved would admit they want reversed, if we gave them truth serum injections? Oddly enough, that would involve Jim Rutherford trading Staal again. He acquired Staal as Hurricanes GM and now serves as Penguins GM.

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Alexander Semin uses patience, slick deke to score gorgeous goal

Jared Clinton
Alexander Semin of the Carolina Hurricanes

To say that Carolina Hurricanes winger Alexander Semin has had a down year would be an understatement, but when a player possesses the type of skill Semin does, there are going to be flashes of brilliance in even the worst seasons. His goal Monday night goes to prove that.

With the Hurricanes down 4-1 to the Buffalo Sabres early in the third period, Semin picked up the puck in the neutral zone and broke into the Sabres zone on an odd-man rush with Jordan Staal. With Staal loaded up for the one timer, Semin looked for an opening and checked out the passing lane before pulling the puck around Buffalo netminder Anders Lindback and using some slick puck handling for the tally: Read more

Hurricanes’ Patrick Dwyer dances past pair of Sabres defensemen, scores gorgeous backhanded goal

Adam Proteau
Patrick Dwyer (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Carolina Hurricanes and Patrick Dwyer don’t have a lot left to look forward to this season, but the Canes and the veteran right winger received a boost of confidence Monday night when he craftily stickhandled around a pair of Sabres defenders and scored a beautiful backhanded goal on Buffalo’s Anders Lindback.

The Canes were down 4-0 in Buffalo late in the second frame when Dwyer – who had scored only four goals and 11 points in 67 games heading into Monday’s action – picked up the puck along the boards in the Sabres’ zone, danced between two Buffalo players, then roofed a backhander over Lindback’s right shoulder: Read more

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin hits 50-goal plateau for sixth time in ten NHL seasons

Alex Ovechkin (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In his previous nine NHL seasons, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin reached or surpassed the 50-goal plateau five times. And the 29-year-old winger made it six times in 10 years with his 50th goal of the 2014-15 campaign.

The Capitals were home in Washington hosting the Carolina Hurricanes when their captain went to work 11 minutes into the first period, wiring a wrist shot past goalie Cam Ward: Read more

Rumor Roundup: Lecavalier’s future in Philadelphia in question

Lecavalier

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Sam Carchidi reports Flyers GM Ron Hextall doesn’t believe he needs to make many off-season moves. Hextall claims there won’t be a massive turnover, though Carchidi notes the Flyers have limited cap space this summer unless they can shed some salaries.

Topping the list of those who could be moved is unhappy forward Vincent Lecavalier, who has three years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million. Lecavalier, 34, has been largely consigned to fourth-line duty this season when he hasn’t been a healthy scratch.

A report in the Philadelphia Daily News suggests the Flyers’ first preference is to trade Lecavalier. With $12 million of his $22.5 million already paid out, the veteran center could be attractive to small-market clubs. A buyout is an option, though it would cost the Flyers $1.75-million annually in dead cap space for the next six seasons. Lecavalier could also retire, though that’s not an option he considers palatable. Read more

Why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for the No. 1 pick

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?

After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)

The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.

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