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Canes Fill Out Forward Ranks as Free Agency Opens

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
Free agency opened at noon on Friday in a frenzy. The Carolina Hurricanes steered clear of much of the mayhem and inked three deals, including the signings of veteran forwards Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg.

“I think we’re pleased with today,” said Hurricanes Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis. “When we talked at the end of the season, we talked about adding skill to our lineup. We talked about adding size. We talked about adding leadership. We think, from where we are today versus the end of the season … we’re pleased with where we are.”

Stempniak, 33, is a veteran of 11 seasons and 790 regular-season NHL games. After totaling 51 points (19g, 32a) in 82 games with the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins in 2015-16, Stempniak joins the Hurricanes on a two-year, $5 million deal.

“Guys we looked at in conversations with our coaches, this is a guy we felt fit in to the style we’re playing and what we’re looking for,” Francis said. “Veteran leadership. By all reports, a real good guy. I know he’s played for a lot of teams, but everyone speaks extremely highly of this guy. I know Ricky Olczyk is happy because he’s an Ivy Leaguer. We think he’s a good addition to our locker room and our team.”

At 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, Stalberg adds size and depth to the Hurricanes’ forward corps. He tallied 20 points (9g, 11a) in 75 games with the New York Rangers last season and inked a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Hurricanes.

“I think he has the flexibility to move up and down [the lineup],” Francis said. “I think the beauty of some of the things we’ve done is that now allows Bill Peters to move around his forwards in different scenarios. If he wants to add a size guy with some skills guys, he can do that. If he wants to put three big boys together and run that, he can do that.”

The signings, including the addition of depth winger Andrew Miller on a one-year, two-way contract, weren’t among the high-dollar, high-term splashes of the day – and Francis is just fine with that.

“I’m always surprised by July 1,” Francis said with a smile. “I think I said it when I took the job: for me, it’s one of the more dangerous days.”

Francis’ philosophy is to build the organization’s success through drafting and nurturing players into everyday NHL products. No different than in years past, the Hurricanes weren’t fishing in the high-end pond of this year’s free agent pool.

“My real concern is getting into a long-term deal with somebody that prohibits me from signing one of those younger guys moving forward,” he said, mentioning Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Noah Hanifin and others by name. “It really wasn’t a consideration for me at this point, based on where we’re at.”

Considering the acquisition of Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell and today’s signings in conjunction with the departure of other unrestricted free agents such as Nathan Gerbe (who signed with the Rangers) and Riley Nash (who signed with Boston), among others, and the readiness of prospects such as Sebastian Aho, Francis said he feels comfortable with the current pieces in place.

“I think we have some pieces there that are ready to go,” he said. “We have a couple spots that are open, and we feel we have some young kids that are ready to earn them. It’s up to them to come in and grab them.”

On the eve of free agency, the Hurricanes bought out the final year of defenseman James Wisniewski’s contract. Wisniewski played 47 seconds with the Hurricanes before suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in the season opener. He was due to be paid $3 million this season; the Hurricanes, in addition to seeing some cap relief this year, will pay him $2 million over the next two years.

“Based on where we are with Faulk, Hainsey, Pesce, Slavin and Hanifin, we felt it probably wasn’t the right fit for us in the 5-6 pair,” Francis explained.

The team now has options on how to fill out its defensive pairs heading into the 2016-17 season. Ryan Murphy, who has logged 124 career NHL games, could be one option.

“Murph has kind of realized in the last two seasons – with a lot of kids, in general, who are very skilled and things come easy to you – it takes a while to understand how hard you really have to work,” Francis said. “I think last summer was the first summer that he really started to bear down and put that time in. I’m assuming he’s doing the exact same thing this summer. With that, hopefully comes the maturity on the ice … and he can take that next step.”

There are also players such as Trevor Carrick and Haydn Fleury perhaps knocking on the door. And then there’s the option of a free agent acquisition or trade. Francis isn’t ruling anything out at this point in the summer.

“We’re looking at some possibilities,” he said. “I don’t know if we’ll be running out to sign anybody in the next few days, but we still have a lot of (draft) picks and a lot of time between now and October to look at possible deals if there’s something there that makes sense.”

Augmenting the Staff

Away from the rink, the Hurricanes made three staff-related announcements this morning, headlined by the news of Curtis Joseph joining the team as a goaltending consultant.

His resume is not unfamiliar. Joseph, 49, appeared in 943 career regular-season games for six teams in his 18-year NHL career. He also logged 132 career Stanley Cup playoff games, is a three-time NHL All-Star (1994, 1999, 2000) and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

As the organization’s goaltending consultant, Joseph will spend roughly 7-10 days each month in Charlotte working with the Hurricanes’ top netminding prospects. He will also travel across North America to work with goaltending prospects in the junior and college ranks and complete various special assignments.

“Curtis is, in my mind, the perfect guy for it,” Francis said. “He has a ton of experience, and he’s a real quality individual. He’s been there and done that, so he can add a lot of experience especially to our young guys.”

The Hurricanes also added Bill Burniston to their full-time training staff. Burniston, who has worked with the team on a part-time basis since 2013, will serve as the Canes’ Assistant Strength Coach and Fascial Stretch Therapist.

Finally, the Canes announced a trio of hires in Charlotte: Peter Andersson as an assistant coach, Myles Fee as a video coach and Bryn-Marc Conaway as a strength and conditioning coach.

“As we accumulate the draft picks and draft these young players, this helps that process of making sure that we’re giving them every opportunity to be successful as well,” Francis said.



Michael Smith
MICHAEL SMITH is the Web Producer for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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