Carolina Hurricanes at the deadline

The Hurricanes are in an interesting spot. They are hanging onto a playoff spot by 3 points, have benefited from a bit of luck this season and have loads of expiring contracts on the roster which they could get a decent amount of value for. Canes GM Jim Rutherford is going to have to make a decision on whether or not he wants to trade players like Erik Cole and Joni Pitkanen for future considerations or keep them and see if the Canes have another Cup run in them. One things for sure, the Canes need to have better special teams if they are going to go anywhere in the playoffs.

I always thought Carolina had a solid team and the only reason they were out of the playoff race last year was due to a horrible start where the team was riddled with injuries. It’s tough deciding whether the biggest blow was either to Eric Staal or Cam Ward. This year, if the Canes didn’t have Ward, I am willing to bet they would be in the same position as the Leafs are right now in the East. Ward has a marvelous .922 EV save percentage and he plays on a team which is outshot regularly. Taking nothing away from Staal as he’s having another really good season and will probably have at least 80 points by the end of the year. The play from the two of them along with rookie Jeff Skinner has the Canes in a good position to make a playoff run but what separates them from the other teams trying to make the playoffs and is it worth not selling at this deadline? Last season, Rutherford traded away a lot of players for prospects and picks but it’s not looking like it will happen this year even though it would be a good time to do so.

Big Picture:
The Canes haven’t spent close to the cap this season and have about $10 mil in space right now and will have a lot more next season with all of the potential free agents on the roster. All of the holes for the middle and bottom-6 forwards will probably be filled by re-signing Sutter, Tlusty and Bodie. They will probably call-up Zach Boychuk next year and there are some solid prospects waiting in the AHL like Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe and Oskar Osala that might be called up, as well.

Top 3 Forwards: Staal, Ruutu, Skinner $13,450,000
Middle 6 Forwards: ???, Boychuk, ???, ???, ???, ??? $1,708,333
Top 4 Defensemen: Gleason, Corvo, McBain, ??? $5,850,000
Goaltending: Ward, Peters $6,825,000
Bottom 8 Players: Lawson, Samson, ???, ???, ???, ???, ???, ??? $552,500

UFA: Cole, Samsonov, Larose, Jokinen, Carter, Dwyer, Pitkanen, Harrison
RFA: Carson, Joslin, Sutter, Tlusty, Bodie

One question going around Canes Country this whole season is whether or not the team is “re-building. It’s hard to say that they weren’t last season with all of the trades they made and the young talent on the roster but I don’t think they are in full rebuild mode right now. If the Canes were losing then I would think they would try to deal players like Cole, LaRose and Pitkanen in a heartbeat, especially since they’re UFAs but that isn’t the case so it’s hard for me to judge what they will do. Out of the players that are UFAs, the ones who I think they could get the most value for are Pitkanen, Cole and Jokinen, but I think that they will re-sign Jokinen since he’s still young and is a good fit on their first line. The Canes didn’t do much in free agency last off-season because they were saddled with a lot of these contracts but it will be the opposite of that this summer so I think they will be more active this time around. This deadline will be a different story, though. They already dealt Ian White to the Sharks for future considerations and they traded for him earlier in the year for Anton Babchuk and Tom Kostopolous, clearing some salary cap room. They also tried to help their penalty kill by trading for Ryan Carter of the Ducks but it hasn’t helped too much since they are still 22nd in the league on the PK. Let’s look at their depth chart to see what moves they can make that would boost their chances of making the playoffs.

Jokinen-Staal-Cole
LaRose-Ruutu-Skinner
Tlusty-Sutter-Samsonov
Samson-Dwyer-Bodie
Boychuk (AHL), Carter (Inj.)

Corvo-Pitkanen
Gleason-McBain
Harrison-Carson
Joslin
Lawson (AHL)

Ward
Peters
Pogge (AHL)

Those first two lines are very good at putting the puck at the back of the net as they’ve combined for 105 goals between the six players. After that, there isn’t much aside from Brandon Sutter, who is a very underrated two-way player. Sergei Samsonov is probably the most overpaid player on the team but you could argue that Tuomo Ruutu is also overpaid even if he’s been solid on the powerplay. Pitkanen is always among the NHL leaders in ice time but his production on the PP isn’t there. Only 9 assists and that’s it. Joe Corvo, on the other hand, has been quietly having a good season and I think they will hang onto him. Rookie defenseman Jaime McBain is also coming along nicely but it helps that he plays with someone like Tim Gleason and doesn’t exactly spend a lot of time on the PK. Cam Ward has been the one keeping them in most games and I think that’s how it will be for the rest of the season.

As I mentioned earlier, the Canes are going to be looking for powerplay and penalty kill help them over the next couple of months. The two who they will get the most for are Cole and Pitkanen but I could see a few teams looking at Jokinen as well even though I don’t think the Canes will trade him. The problem with trading with someone like Pitkanen is that they will be looking for the same thing the Canes are right now; special teams help, which Pitkanen has only been delivering on the PK this year. Corvo would also generate a nice return even though he’s pretty valuable to the Canes right now if they’re going to be buyers. Cole is also having a nice year so far and one plus with trading him would mean that Skinner would get bumped up to the first line with Staal and that could be a lethal combination. It would take away from the team’s depth, though. Ultimately, I think the Canes will be quiet this deadline and we’ll see a few moves to get some bottom-six forwards or a depth defenseman that can help on the PK. Special teams are going to be what decides if this team will sink or swim in the next few months. That and if Ward can continue being his usual self.

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