The Carolina Hurricanes have undergone quite a transformation in the past 14 months – everywhere but on the ice.
Since April 2014, the Canes have installed a new general manager. A new coach. A new team president and chief financial officer.
“We’ve had almost complete turnover, with the exception of the owner,” Peter Karmanos Jr. said.
Karmanos is the Hurricanes owner, although at 72 he is looking to bring in a new financial partner who will one day succeed him as majority owner. For now, he likes the changes that have been made, with Ron Francis as GM, Bill Peters as the coach, Don Waddell as president and Dennis Moore replacing longtime CFO Mike Amendola.
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“We wanted a more positive attitude, a more professional attitude, and needed less worrying about what’s going to happen next week,” Karmanos said.
The Hurricanes do have to worry about what’s going to happen next season. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, they’ve been a part of the playoffs once, reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.
Last year’s team was out of playoff contention quickly, finishing 30-41-11 in Peters’ first season. The Canes, in turn, have not yet made any sweeping personnel changes, but they did replace backup goaltender Anton Khudobin with Eddie Lack and traded for veteran defenseman James Wisniewski, who is coming off an inconsistent season.
Karmanos, in a press conference Wednesday, seemed confident the Canes were ready for a turnaround, saying, “I’ve never been more excited about the future of the hockey team.”
Karmanos has said such things before, but he quickly touched on the team’s potential, especially on defense. Justin Faulk was an All-Star last season. The Canes made Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin the fifth pick of last week’s draft after taking defenseman Haydn Fleury with the No. 7 pick a year ago.
Ryan Murphy, another former first-rounder, has changed his offseason conditioning program and working harder. The Canes plan to continue to develop young defensemen such as Brett Pesce, Rasmus Rissanen, Danny Biega, Roland McKeown and Trevor Carrick.
“In two years we will have, if not the very best defense in the league, near the top ... eight top-notch guys,” Karmanos said. “I believe you build a team from the goal line out. I’m very happy with the goalie situation.”
Goalie Cam Ward should be pushed by Lack, who took over as the starter and helped the Vancouver Canucks reach the playoffs when Ryan Miller was injured. Both Ward and Lack will be in the final years of contracts unless Ward and the Canes agree on an extension.
As for scoring goals, the Canes won’t miss forward Alexander Semin, whose contact was bought out after a six-goal season. Despite the buzz about forward Jeff Skinner being available for a trade, the 23-year-old winger, who has scored more than 30 goals twice in five seasons, remains.
The Canes were 27th in the NHL in scoring last season at 2.23 goals a game. Skinner’s goal production tailed off to 18, from a career-high 33 the previous season, and he has had concussion issues, but he’s dangerous in the offensive zone.
Francis won’t specifically discuss Skinner’s situation, but said, “I’m willing to listen to offers on anyone on our team. If it makes sense and we think it makes us better, we’re not afraid to make those moves.”
Peters was an assistant coach for Canada in the recent World Championship in the Czech Republic, helping them win the gold. Canes forwards Victor Rask and Elias Lindholm both competed for Sweden, and Peters said Rask, a rookie center last year, had a very strong tournament.
There’s some thought of having Rask center a line with Eric Staal and Lindholm on the wings. Like Ward, Staal is entering the final year of his contract, a seven-year extension signed in 2008.
The Hurricanes open the season Oct. 8 on the road against the Nashville Predators. A year ago, Carolina was winless in eight games during October as it coped with the loss of Jordan Staal to a broken leg.
“Our intent is with some changes, a year under the belt with (Peters) and knowing his system, knowing what he expects, we can hit the ground running in training camp and get off to a much better start,” Francis said.