Another year of raised expectations. Another dawn of false hopes. Another season going nowhere.
The Carolina Hurricanes came out of the Olympic break with every chance to make a run at a playoff spot and end a postseason drought that dates to 2009. They have instead lost the first four games of a critical five-game road trip, going 0-for-19 on the power play and giving up three short-handed goals, outscored 15-7.
They had a chance on this trip to make an emphatic statement about their intentions.
They absolutely have: They’re going nowhere.
The Hurricanes still maintain a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, but nothing in their current form indicates they’re capable. By the time they grace the ice at PNC Arena on Friday for the first time in a month, to face the New York Rangers, the roster may look completely different. Or at least it should.
With the NHL’s trade deadline arriving at 3 p.m. Wednesday, there’s no reason for the Hurricanes not to listen to any reasonable offer for anyone, including all three goalies and both Staal brothers. It’s time to start over, at least to the extent possible at this time of year.
Whether Jim Rutherford remains general manager after this season or not – and surely owner Peter Karmanos must realistically assess whether Rutherford is still the right man for this job – he is still in charge at the deadline, and his mandate must be to best prepare the ground for the future.
The good news for Hurricanes fans is that while Rutherford has tied the Hurricanes to a bloated, underperforming roster full of long-term contracts (Exhibit A: Alexander Semin) and no-trade clauses (Exhibit B: Tuomo Ruutu), he can still swap horses with the best of them at times (Exhibit C: Jamie McBain and a draft pick for Andrej Sekera).
So let’s see what he can get for Jeff Skinner. Let’s see what he can get for Cam Ward. Let’s see what he can get for Ron Hainsey. Let’s see what he can get for Jiri Tlusty. Let’s see what he can get for Semin. Let’s see what he can get for Ruutu. Let’s see what he can get for Anton Khudobin, if he doesn’t sign an extension.
Other than Justin Faulk and Elias Lindholm, is there really anyone who’s truly irreplaceable? No, there isn’t, and that includes the previously untouchable Eric and Jordan Staal, because building around them hasn’t worked yet.
Some of those contracts (Semin, Ward and Ruutu in particular) may be too toxic for anyone to touch until the salary cap goes up over the summer, and almost all of the biggest names have no-trade clauses, but strange things can happen when teams panic at the deadline.
Rutherford and assistant general manager Ron Francis were supposed to fly back to Raleigh on Monday from California to bunker down for the trade deadline, but the weather canceled those plans. They’re staying with the team instead, and the whole ensemble will return Wednesday immediately after the deadline – at least those who are left.
It’s time: Four years, going on five, without a playoff berth. If this road trip was a litmus test of this team’s capabilities, the results are resounding. Whether Rutherford or someone else ends up rebuilding this team over the summer, that process has to begin Wednesday.