Luke DeCock

Hurricanes have jobs open, but who will fill them?

ldecock@newsobserver.com

These are the quiet times for the hockey world, the dead of summer when there’s very little going on. The big money has been spent. It’s time for the bargain-hunting to begin, and the free agents who still lack contracts are starting to get antsy.

For the Carolina Hurricanes, it may be time to fill a few holes on a budget. They have spots to fill, on the wing and on defense, and while there may be some in-house replacements who step into those jobs, it’s hard to look objectively at the roster and not see a glaring need for another top-six winger and another reliable NHL defenseman.

The Montreal Canadiens filled a need Friday with former Hurricanes forward Alexander Semin, who the Hurricanes are paying $2.3 million this season not to play for them. After making $7 million per season with Carolina, Semin signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal with the Habs. He could very well have a good season in Montreal, even if it was never going to happen here.

The Hurricanes have yet to adequately replace Semin, but they wouldn’t mind finding a similar bargain in free agency if it presents itself.

“There’s been some dialogue with some guys, but we’re still sitting and waiting to see where the numbers go,” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said Friday. “The guys we’ve talked about are not in a range we’d be comfortable with yet, so we’re keeping an eye on it. I’m not in a hurry to jump in.”

While the Hurricanes hope someone from Charlotte (AHL) can win a job in training camp to fill out the fourth line, there isn’t anyone who’s a natural fit on either of the top two lines. Nathan Gerbe can play there, but the Hurricanes are probably a stronger team with Gerbe in a third-line role.

On defense, even if first-round draft pick Noah Hanifin starts the season in the NHL, the Hurricanes have only four other NHL defensemen – Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey, James Wisniewski and John-Michael Liles. They’ll give younger players like Michal Jordan and Ryan Murphy a chance, but that group cries out for a little veteran help, although Francis wouldn’t commit to any additions.

For now, Francis will wait – for the players he likes to lower their demands, for the offseason business of hockey to continue to play itself out.

“Some of what we’re looking at is not just guys who are out there, but there’s another week of arbitration hearings and teams might have to move guys or make people available,” Francis said.

And all of this assumes there isn’t a bigger move made. The Hurricanes have been listening to offers for Jeff Skinner since before the draft, with nothing yet worth doing.

And all of this assumes Francis adds anyone at all. He likes the idea of leaving a carrot out there for the Hurricanes’ young players, rather than having the roster set with one-way contracts or bringing back a player like Jiri Tlusty.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have a spot open going into camp,” Francis said. “It sends a good message to our younger guys.”

There’s obviously a competitive aspect to that – a third pairing of Jordan and Murphy doesn’t scream “playoff team” – but it’s hard to begrudge Francis for preferring to with inexperienced players ahead of overpaid ones, and he may have no choice if the free agents out there don’t lower their demands.

But this is the time of year where those demands are lowered. This is the time of year when players start to worry about where they’re going to training camp. This is the time of year when teams with salary-cap space are buyers and teams without are sellers.

The Hurricanes have jobs open. It’s just a question of who wants to fill them.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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