Time is of the essence in Carolina. The Hurricanes have now gone nine straight seasons without playoff hockey and are entering a new era with owner Tom Dundon. Ron Francis is no longer GM, coach Bill Peters left for Calgary and the draft combine is less than a month away. Even more harrowing is that the draft itself is less than two months away.
While the Hurricanes don’t have a GM in place yet, president Don Waddell did just bring in old pal and veteran hockey man Rick Dudley to work in the hockey operations department with fellow recent add Paul Krepelka, the former player agent. There is hope in this transition time and Dudley points to some of the holdovers as big assets, starting with the director of amateur scouting.
“Tony MacDonald and his staff have done a pretty good job of assembling a group of young players that are very talented,” Dudley said. “With a few additions, they can be a pretty solid hockey team for a long time. There are a lot of pieces there to work with.”
Finding talents outside of the first round has been a particular strength of the Canes during MacDonald’s tenure. Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Sebastian Aho and Justin Faulk all fall into that category, while Warren Foegele looks like he might be next. Of course, Carolina got a huge boost the other week at the draft lottery, as they won the second pick overall. That could mean Andrei Svechnikov or Filip Zadina (linemate of Canes first-rounder Martin Necas at the world juniors) wearing red and black next season.
“The fact Donny was nice enough to get the second pick for the organization makes it kinda fun to come into,” Dudley said. “I’ve watched a lot of this draft (class) and there are some very strong players. You’re getting a player who will help you a ton.”
The No. 1 center Carolina truly needs is not available in this class. True, someone will emerge eventually (is it Barrett Hayton? Joe Veleno? Isac Lundestrom?), but for the Hurricanes to take a pivot, the only logical move would be to trade down. That route has already been discussed, interestingly enough.
So is there hope in Carolina short-term? Yes, there is. You don’t need a true No. 1 center to make the playoffs, you just need one to win a title. Right now, Carolina just needs to get in and begin building a culture of winning until that pivot emerges.
Goaltending let the Hurricanes down this season and the vaunted defense corps in front of those netminders didn’t look so vaunted. The new GM has work to do, that’s for sure. And the new coach will have to be solid, as Peters was a rising talent (Carolina has an excellent internal candidate in Mike Vellucci, who was a very good OHL coach before joining the Canes).
On the positive side, the Hurricanes weren’t downright awful this season - they finished 10th in the conference. While they will be getting an impact player in the draft this summer (assuming they keep the pick), it’s going to be on the players already in Carolina to push things forward. And for the 69-year-old Dudley, a man who has seen it all in his hockey career, he has a gut feeling about his new franchise.
“I’m probably not that long for the game anymore,” he said. “But I would like my last stop to be a very successful one. I hope this is my last stop.”