By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – His body language spoke volumes as Carolina Hurricanes executive vice president and general manager Ron Francis entered the fourth-floor board room in PNC Arena just past 3. p.m. on Monday.
The National Hockey League (NHL) trade deadline had just passed and local media had assembled to inquire about the Hurricanes’ limited activity, just one minor deal, and the thinking behind it all.
Francis entered the room with pursed lips, wearing golf shirt and slacks, and took his seat at the table behind a set of microphones with hands and elbows crossed on the table, and looked prepared to defend himself.
The first question came: “How would you characterize your efforts at the deadline – were you very active looking to add, or were you looking to sell?”
The GM was ready for it and answered quickly and succinctly.
“I think we explored all things,” Francis began.
“Certainly, we looked at a lot of pieces we could add to our lineup. The prices were pretty steep this time around in our eyes. I don’t think we’re at a point where we can give up first-round picks and any prospects to try and get something for a month or two, and hope to get into the playoffs with that rental or a guy who has a year left on his term. So, we didn’t think the prices they were asking for those pieces fit with where we are right now as an organization.”
That’s all you needed to hear.
Regardless of the subsequent and pointed follow-up questions that followed to which he expected and shielded himself well in answering with previously stated responses, he made it clear that the team’s current roster will once again determine its own fate.
That goes for head coach Bill Peters as well.
The bench boss made strong statements of his desire to not deduct pieces, but to add them.
Well, he didn’t lose anything, but he didn’t gain much either.
Francis’ lone deal of the day moved forward Josh Jooris to Pittsburgh for Greg McKegg, a 25-year-old, former third-round pick (62nd overall, 2010) who’s spent equal time in the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) so far this season.
For anyone who really cares, the deal on paper is an upgrade.
Trading a former college free agent for an experienced AHLer and former third-round pick, in the same draft class and currently with the same results to-date as forward Joakim Nordstrom – two goals, two assists, but with a better plus-minus, showed that.
This is how Francis makes deals, utilizing data and improving on draft stock, looking at how much ‘hockey blue blood’ exists in a player, particularly the blue collar guys, who will and would be critical to a playoff run, if the identified ‘scorers’ and ‘leaders’ on the team do their job.
That’s where the Hurricanes’ troubles exist and have existed in recent years.
What Francis did on Monday was make a decent hockey deal at that level, but by no means one that will pull this team upwards.
No, that will be left to the big-money guys, the loosely-termed ‘veterans’ who aren’t producing as much as they need to – forward Jeff Skinner and defenseman Justin Faulk.
Peters never has, at least not yet, thrown any of his scorers under the bus publicly, and likely won’t.
But if you read in-between his and Francis’ lines, scoring continues to be a problem and that starts and ends with Skinner and Faulk.
If they don’t get the message and perform accordingly, this team will not make the playoffs.
Why has Skinner been rested from the top of the team’s scoring chart, in goals and points?
Why has Faulk, the lone captain now in the absence of co-captain Jordan Staal, fallen so low offensively, and shed more light on equally lacking defensive play?
Skinner sits with a team-worst plus-minus of minus-25 and Faulk follows at minus-21.
These are Carolina’s leaders not leading!
While fans are now far beyond restless with Francis’ conservative, calculated and guarded demeanor in not making major moves to blow up everything he, and with the help of Peters, have built, they must hone in on the real source to not making the postseason – the players.
Loyal Caniacs take action now.
The next time you ask for an autograph from Skinner or Faulk, ask each of them why they’re not scoring, and if the team continues to lose and miss the postseason, that you will not renew your season tickets.
Let’s see how they respond to that source of inquiry.
Francis and Peters have done their job and absorbed the push-back long enough, and both did it again as expected on Monday.
Led by Skinner and Faulk, it’s now in the players’ hands to answer to the most important group of all – the loyal and very frustrated fan base.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport