After playing their first 12 games of the 2015-16 regular season in 25 days, a stretch that included a two-leg, seven-game road swing, the Carolina Hurricanes have four days off in between games. It’s the first of just two such stretches, not including the extended breaks around Christmas and All-Star Weekend.
With that in mind, what better time to sit down with Hurricanes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis? So we did just that, and we discussed the team’s start (5-7-0, 10 points), a crop of impressive young players taking advantage of their opportunities and much more.CarolinaHurricanes.com:
Through 12 games, how would you assess the performance of the team, especially compared to the beginning of last season?Ron Francis:
We kind of started off the same way in losing a body early. 47 seconds into his Hurricane career, we lose (James) Wisniewski for the year. That hurt. I thought we played well enough in the first game to win and definitely well enough in the second, but didn’t. So that was a little frustrating out of the gate. I thought, all in all, with the amount of travel we’ve had, we’re still in a good position here as we head into the month of November.CH.com:
Thanksgiving is a telling mile marker in the season. How well do you feel the team is set up to be in good standing by that holiday?Francis:
There are no easy games, and even though we are at home, there are still a lot of tough opponents coming up in the month of November. We’re certainly better now than we were after the San Jose game. I thought the LA and the San Jose games were both games we played well enough to win but didn’t. To bounce back with a win in Detroit, a win in Long Island and come back home and win against Colorado, now you’re starting to get excited about going in the right direction, and you’re 5-6.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was really disappointed with our loss on Sunday. That’s a chance to get back to .500 and gets you feeling good heading into the four days off, but I do understand we’ve been on the road for a while, come home and that’s a three in four. There were a lot of factors stacked up against us.
The guys believe in the guys in the locker room. I sense that they all get along and believe that they can win. We have a chance here to rest up, regroup and get ready for the next stretch. Hopefully we take advantage of the games we have at home.CH.com:
Where do you think the team could most improve as we look toward the last two months of the calendar year?Francis:
Last year, our special teams were really good. I think we’ve kind of struggled here in the first bit of the season. Historically, you use the number 100; you add up your percentage on the power play and penalty kill, and if those numbers add up over 100, then you feel good about it and if they don’t, you don’t feel good about it. When we add them up overall, we’re about 91 percent, so we’re not where we want to be. But when you look at it closer, in only four games at home, we’re at roughly 110 percent and with eight games on the road, we’re about 80 percent, so that’s where the discrepancy is. Hopefully some of that corrects itself, but that’s certainly an area we want to improve on.
For me, I’d like to see our puck possession and how we enter the offensive zone be a little better. I think if we can do that with a little bit more consistency, that will lead to more offense and things will be better for us.CH.com:
With how tight the league is and how many one-goal games are played, are special teams often times the deciding factor?Franics:
Yes and no. I think you can get away without a strong power play, but I think your penalty killing has to be good. I think the year Boston went to the Cup Final, I don’t think they had a power play that was really effective, but they got to the Cup Final. (Ed. Note: In 2012-13, when Boston lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, the team’s power-play percentage was just 14.75, ranking 26th in the league.)
I think the difference is being mentally strong, willing to stick with the game plan and not cheat. It gets frustrating, especially if you’re an offensive player and you want to produce offense to help your team win. If it’s 0-0 or 1-1, it’s tight and there’s not much room, the tendency at times is to maybe cheat and try to create something. Usually that’s when the other team scores against you, and you put yourself in a hole. I think we’ve done a better job of that as of late, and hopefully we can continue to learn moving forward.CH.com:
The team has a young blue line, and you brought Wisniewski in to add a veteran element. How have you liked how the defense has responded after he went down so early?Francis:
On a lot of nights, we’ve had (Justin) Faulk at 23 [years old], (Ryan) Murphy at 22, (Brett) Pesce at 20 and (Noah) Hanifin at 18. That’s four really, really young defensemen in our lineup, and all in all, they’ve handled it extremely well. I think they’ve done a good job at defending and moving the puck out of our zone. In the short term, it’s been positive. We’ll see how it continues to go moving forward.CH.com:
Guys like Hanifin, Pesce and Brock McGinn seem to have taken advantage of their opportunity in a big way. How have they impressed you with their play?Francis:
In the case of Hanifin, we had him here out of camp, and the plan was to continue to work with him. We felt with the teaching and opportunity, he’d get better and better every game. He’s a sponge, and he wants to get better, so we expect that to happen. He’ll certainly be a better player 30 days from now, and that will continue to happen.
In the case of McGinn and Pesce, they both started in Charlotte and were playing extremely well down there. They got an opportunity to come up because of injuries, and really have played so well that it’s not possible for us to send them down. That’s what you want to happen. You want guys to go down there with the right attitude and work hard, and when they get their chance, to come up and take advantage of it. They’ve certainly done that.CH.com:
Why did it make sense for the team to keep Hanifin on the NHL roster rather than season him in the AHL for a bit?Francis:
If he played 10 games, really the only thing is the contract slide. We certainly felt that wasn’t going to be an issue because he was going to play more than 10 games. We wanted him to be here, be with our coaches and work in our system every single day. We wanted to keep a close eye on him and make sure we’re not affecting his confidence. He seems like a very mature kid. He’s very willing to work and learn. From a physical standpoint, he’s really not an 18-year-old. He’s a big, strong kid. We felt with all those things, it was important to have him here working with our guys day in and day out.CH.com:
Charlotte spent the entirety of October on the road, and they finally return home with a 6-4-0 record. What have you liked from that group and head coach Mark Morris?Francis:
We felt going into the season that they had a real good team and a chance to have some success. It’s obviously real tough to start with your first 10 games on the road, and one of your trips being an 18-day road trip, those are tough. They can sort of make you or break you. For them to come through 6-4, especially after we pulled up McGinn and Pesce, to come through that and still be in the position they’re in is extremely positive. They’re heading home now to a new arena and the excitement there. We think the players have done a good job, and we think the coach has done a good job. They’re definitely headed in the right direction, and hopefully they can continue with that success.CH.com:
The prevailing question: any additional news regarding contract extensions for either Eric Staal or Cam Ward, or are you still letting that play out as it is?Francis:
Nothing has changed. It’s kind of what we said before. At this point, we all know where each other stands, and we were going to go into the season and see how things play out. At some point here, we’ll have conversations, but not at this point, no.
is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.Email