The 2017-18 NHL season has passed its midway point and the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26 is less than three weeks away. With that in mind, NHL.com is sitting down with some of the biggest names in the game. Today, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis talks about his approach to the trade deadline and the influence of new majority owner Tom Dundon.
The Hurricanes entered this season optimistic that they were ready to take the next step in their rebuilding plan and qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Heading into their game against the Vancouver Canucks at PNC Arena on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-CR, SNP, NHL.TV), they are 24-21-9, one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. So, they're about where most expected them to be.
"Going into the season, some people had us making it, some people had us not making it," Francis said. "So we were probably considered a bubble team, and 54 games in we're a point out. "So, we're right there, but we're battling with a bunch of teams and we'll see what we can do here moving forward."
Like last season, when the Hurricanes finished 36-31-15, eight points out of the second wild card in the East, they have been plagued by inconsistency. After going 7-1-0 from Dec. 12-29, they went 3-7-1 in their next 11 games. That slump was followed by a three-game winning streak from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1, but they've lost three straight since then (0-2-1).
Francis attributed some of that inconsistency to a youthful roster that includes 13 players age 25 or younger. He also points to the Hurricanes' lagging shooting percentage.
Since Jan. 6, they have a 3.8 shooting percentage 5-on-5, which ranks last in the 31-team League. They've averaged 2.14 goals per game and gone 5-8-1 over that stretch.
"We've got to find a way to get pucks into the net," Francis said.
Video: MTL@CAR: Pesce rifles shot past Price from the point
Whether Francis will be able acquire some players to help the Hurricane before the trade deadline remains to be seen. In his four seasons as GM, Francis has been patient in his long-term rebuilding plan and remains committed to that.
"If we feel it makes our team better, we're going to do it, but we're not going to give up key pieces or key picks just to try to get into the playoffs," Francis said. "We're going to try to keep building this thing the right way to build a championship team. That philosophy is going stay the same."
Francis said that approach is supported by Tom Dundon, who became the Hurricanes majority owner on Jan. 11.
"Talking to our new owner, that's the philosophy he has as well," Francis said. "Like I said, if there's a deal we think helps us and gives us a chance to be better today and tomorrow, we're going to do it. But if it's something [where] we're going to roll the dice and try to get in, and if we don't get in it sets us back two years, that doesn't make any sense."
As the Hurricanes prepare for the stretch run, Francis took time to discuss a variety of topics with NHL.com.
His assessment of the Hurricanes' play this season
"At times we've played well, and at times we haven't. So, there's been a little bit of inconsistency, but I thought our effort the last game (a 2-1 overtime loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday) was real good and our compete was good. I know we didn't get the outcome we wanted, but if we can get that [effort] on a nightly basis, we can gain some traction and I think we can do some good things."
On if there's an urgency to qualify for the playoffs this season
"You want to make the playoffs every year. If you don't make it, it's frustrating, but I think it's making sure we do the right things, as I said from Day One, in the short term in the long term for this organization."
On the Hurricanes' biggest needs
"Well, I think everybody's talking in the same ballpark, right? Everybody can use scoring. Everybody can use depth on D."
On the trade market being tight because so many teams are in the playoff hunt:
"It will be good for the sellers, no question, if that [remains] the case. I think that's why teams are kind of [waiting] and trying to figure out if we'll get any more clarity over the next few weeks."
On why forwards Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris were put on waivers Thursday. They were assigned to Charlotte of the American Hockey League on Friday
"We put the lineup in [Tuesday] that we thought was good. These guys were on the outside looking in and we put them on waivers to give them a chance if somebody wants them, and it gives us the opportunity to open some roster spots moving forward, too. So, if we want to give some more young guys a look, we can do that. That's certainly something we're talking about and exploring. We do feel we've got some good prospects [in Charlotte] and they're developing well, and at some point maybe we'll give them a look here."
On goaltender Scott Darling's struggles this season
"I think he started off and he was playing all right. I don't think we were great in front of him. Then, I think he certainly went through a tough stretch, and he would admit that. But there's signs he's turning that around here lately in his game. He's had some tough starts from the standpoint of whether it was back-to-back, and one start was [a 5-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 21]. They had been playing all week and we had five days off and had to go play at Detroit [a 3-1 win at the Red Wings] the night before and then had to come home against Vegas. Those are tough starts for anybody. So, it's some of that, but I think he's certainly tracking in the right direction."
Video: DET@CAR: Darling makes pad stop on Mantha's redirect
On if Dundon has been active in hockey operations since becoming majority owner
"He's been active within the entire organization. He's trying to wrap his arms around everything and get an understanding of the business side, hockey side, you name it. He's passionate, wants to put a good team on the ice, a team that's good in the community so Caniac fans and the people of Raleigh are proud of what we do."
On the impact Dundon has had in the past four weeks
"There's a lot of things he wants to do. He's tried some things. There's some more things he wants to try moving forward. It's exciting to see the passion and the energy and the effort that he's putting into it right out of the gate. And I think it's exciting what some of those things can do as we move forward down the road. So, yeah, he's brought some positive energy to our organization and our fans."