It's one thing to identify the Carolina Hurricanes as sellers as we head toward the March 2 trade deadline. It's another thing to consider whether there are any buyers that will come anywhere near the Hurricanes' wares.
As the team heads toward a sixth straight season outside the playoffs, rookie GM Ron Francis is faced with trying to remake this team on the ice while placating a fan base that's been fed a steady diet of "Be patient." Francis' task isn't easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Available: The Hurricanes have a few spare parts that could be attractive to teams looking to fill in around the edges, both up front and along the blue line. Jiri Tlusty is about to become an unrestricted free agent and makes a relatively affordable $2.95 million. Tlusty has good skills and might be a good bargain fit for the New York Rangers or Pittsburgh Penguins. Jay McClement is a good two-way forward with good faceoff skills.
On the blue line, Andrej Sekera would be attractive to a number of teams looking to add skill on the back end, although given the Hurricanes' lack of depth along the blue line it's believed Francis will be looking to re-sign Sekera, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Needs: The Hurricanes have more needs than we have space to describe them. In short, there is promising depth down the middle with Jordan Staal, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask and youngster Lucas Wallmark (who is developing in Sweden). The elephant in the room is what to do with veterans Eric Staal -- the captain who recently vacated his normal position at center to play wing with brother Jordan -- and Ward.
Each has one year left on his deal, but will Eric Staal take a significant pay cut to remain in Raleigh after next season? There is no way the Hurricanes will pay him what he's earning now (he's owed $9.25 million in real money and carries a cap hit of $8.25 million). And if he doesn't fit long term, can the team improve its lot by moving him either at this trade deadline or at the draft? Staal controls his own fate with a no-move clause, and it's unlikely he'll be moved this season, but it's hard to imagine how this will work out where both sides are happy.
The same dynamics exist for Ward, who won a Conn Smythe as playoff MVP and has played better this season but is still not a long-term option for a rebuilding team. Plus, he isn't a particularly attractive asset given his price tag.
Finances: We mentioned the Staal brothers, but lots of issues are confronting Francis, and it's likely the trade deadline won't solve many (or any) of them. No team is going to take Semin, who has three more years at a mind-boggling $7 million per. The Canes also have $9.3 million in goaltending signed for next season in Ward and Anton Khudobin, and no real heir apparent to the top spot in the pipeline.
Carolina is 13th in goals allowed per game, but that's still too much money committed to one position. And then there's Jeff Skinner, who is owed $6 million per year for four more seasons; but he has seen his production and level of play drop off dramatically this season after scoring 33 goals last season.
Throw in the fact that owner Peter Karmanos is trying to unload a portion of the team, which is a signal that payroll is being cut rather than added as the team moves forward. Of course, the wild card in all this is that the Hurricanes will have a decent shot at landing either Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid in the draft, which could herald a shift in interest among local fans.