Hurricanes looking ahead entering tilt versus Senators

RALEIGH, N.C. — This was supposed to be the stretch where the Carolina Hurricanes inched back into the playoff picture, with a five-game homestand and several games in hand on all the teams they were chasing.

Instead, with three straight losses at PNC Arena heading into Friday night’s game against Ottawa, the Hurricanes executed the first of what may be a series of moves leading up to the March 1 trade deadline, dealing defenseman Ron Hainsey to Pittsburgh for a minor leaguer and a second-round draft pick.

“It is a situation I’ve seen too many times here,” said All-Star defenseman Justin Faulk, who was Hainsey’s playing partner along the blue line. “It’s tough losing guys. It obviously tells you where you are in the standings and what is going on.”

Coach Bill Peters said the recent losing streak, relegating the club to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, made it easier for general manager Ron Francis to trade the veteran Hainsey, who has logged an NHL record 891 games without a playoff appearance.

“I don’t think it is ever easy,” Francis said. “Ron has been a good guy for us for a long time, playing more than 200 games with our organization and being a leader for our young defensemen. It’s never easy when you get around this time of the season and you have to make a decision like that.”

The trade now gives the Hurricanes 10 picks in this summer’s NHL draft.

“It has been interesting,” Francis said. “Five weeks ago if we win a hockey game we’re in a wild-card spot for the playoffs. So, it has been kind of disheartening and frustrating stretch here for us. I still believe in the guys in the locker room; I still feel we have a lot of good young pieces and this is a good opportunity for some of those young defensemen to step up and take more minutes and more roles and continue to develop. We’ll see how everybody responds.”

Hainsey logged 22 minutes a game and was a big part of the NHL’s second-best penalty-killing unit, as well as a vocal leader in the locker room.

“It’s never fun being in a situation like this,” said goalie Cam Ward, who last saw a playoff game with the Hurricanes in 2009. “You look at the standings and you realize it is a business and it’s that time of year again. I am not the general manager so I don’t know what is in store but it’s important we keep a positive mindset, too. When you see a trade you immediately think it’s a fire sale, but we’re still trying to win hockey games here.”

Carolina (0-4-1) has had trouble scoring lately with just four total goals during its five-game winless streak.

The Hurricanes have dropped a pair of 2-1 decisions against the surging Senators (two points behind Montreal for the lead in the Atlantic Division) in November meetings.

“They play a lot of hard-fought, low-scoring games,” Peters said of Ottawa. “You have to wrap your head around the fact that it is going to be that type of game.”

The injury-plagued Senators have won five of their last seven.

Bobby Ryan is out for a month with a broken finger, while wingers Mark Stone (neck strain) and Mike Hoffman (groin) are likely out until next week.

“We’re going to take our time with these guys,” said Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion. “It’s not a 100-meter race until the end, it’s a marathon, and we would like our players to be able to do the whole marathon.”

Dorion said Stone and Hoffman, the second and fourth leading scorers on the team, are doubtful for Friday’s game at Carolina.

“If either one plays before early next week then it will be a bonus for us,” he said.