Southeast Division Free Agency: Carolina Hurricanes

Over the next few days I’m going to look at all of the teams in the Southeast Division to see what kind of position they are in heading into free agency. What are their needs? Can they do enough to become contenders next year? Will they need to overpay for a player or are they best suited to not worry about free agency and let their younger players play. This is similar to what I did with the Southeastern teams at the trade deadline only this will be focused on their more recent transactions and have some focus on which players they could possibly target in a few days. I’m doing this in alphabetical order and since the Atlanta Thrashers no longer exist, the Carolina Hurricanes are first in line.

The Canes just barely missed the playoffs last season and they even had a chance to clinch a spot on their last game of the season but ultimately laid an egg against Tampa Bay to cement their spot at #9 in the Eastern Conference. It’s a shame because the Canes were not a bad team last year but it’s tough for me to say that they would have gone anywhere in the playoffs as the #8 seed. A team who didn’t outshoot (47.3 shot%) or outplay (48.8 corsi%) their opponents at even strength isn’t going to go far. Neither will a team who had a ratio of -2.5 in terms of shots for/allowed per game. It doesn’t help that their third and fourth leading goal scorers are unrestricted free agents either so the Canes might have some work to do over the summer.

What Have They Done So Far?

Re-signed D Jay Harrison to a 2-year deal worth $1.3 mil – Liked this move even though Harrison is kind of a late-bloomer at 28. Still, they signed him at a low price and he was a good second/third pairing defenseman for the Canes last season. Also depended on for playing tough minutes at times and he was a regular on the penalty kill. He took the most percentage of defensive zone starts among Carolina defensemen and maintained a positive corsi rating despite that. He isn’t your ideal shut-d0wn guy but getting someone who can defend well, kill penalties and play tough minutes for under $1 mil a season is a good signing in my book.

Re-signed RW Pat Dwyer to a 2-year deal worth $1.25 mil – Cheap contract for a decent fourth liner whose best asset seems to be killing penalties. He does play a lot of tough minutes, though but gives up a lot of chances at even-strength. You can do a lot worse for signing a guy for $625k per season.

Re-signed D Joni Pitkanen to a 3-year deal worth $13.5 mil – Very good signing by GM Jim Rutherford. Pitkanen is the backbone of Carolina’s defense playing in every situation and is usually among the NHL leaders in time on ice. A guy who can put up 30-45 points from the blue-line every year while playing solid defense like he has under Paul Maurice is very valuable and he is still only 27. They also kept him for only a $500k higher cap hit than his previous contract which is great considering that he could have gone for a lot more in free agency. Having him around for another three years should allow the organization to be patient with 2011 draft pick Ryan Murphy until he’s ready to be called-up. It’s possible that he could replace Joe Corvo after his contract expires next year, though.

Re-signed LW Chad LaRose to a 2-year deal worth $3.4 mil – This was exactly the same deal his previous contract was and it’s not a bad deal for him. $1.7 mil a year for a guy who is going to score at least 12 goals and 35 points a year and kill penalties is pretty good in my opinion. Although, it should be noted that LaRose was below average in shots allowed on the penalty kill but I still consider him a solid two-way player.

Cap Crunch

The Canes are a team that sometimes spends close to the cap but they haven’t done that the last two seasons as they have been in sort of a “rebuilding” phase, mostly the 2009-10 season where they got off to a terrible start and fell out of the playoff race early. They didn’t do a lot of big spending last season but they did trade with Calgary for defenseman Ian White (who they later traded to San Jose for Derek Joslin) and traded with Florida for both Bryan Allen and Cory Stillman in exchange for Sergei Samsonov and draft picks. Last season, they placed hope in the talent they already had on the roster plus a couple rookies and they did better than some were expecting. One guy who surprised everyone was Jeff Skinner who had a terrific rookie season where he won the Calder. He is under team control for two more years under an entry level deal so Canes fans are going to be very excited to see how this kid develops as a player, especially if he gets moved up to Eric Staal’s line.  This year they might see full seasons from rookie centers Zac Dalpe and Zach Boychuk, but the Canes are going to need to do some spending if they want to bring a second Stanley Cup to Raleigh. Before they worry about that, they first need to get to the cap floor. They have at little under $38 mil invested in 7 forwards, 6 defenseman and 2 goalies. Let’s take a look at who is currently under contract and who could be heading to free agency:

Ruutu ($3,800,000) – Staal ($8,250,000) – Skinner ($1,400,000)
??? – Boychuk ($1,195,833) – ???
LaRose ($1,700,000) – ??? – Bowman ($845,833)
??? – Dwyer ($625,000) – Samson ($512,500)

Pitkanen ($4,500,000) – Allen ($2,900,000)
Gleason ($2,750,000) – Corvo ($2,250,000)
McBain ($850,000) – Harrison ($650,000)

Ward ($6,300,000)
Peters ($525,000)

UFA: Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen, Cory Stillman, Jiri Tlusty, Troy Bodie, Bryan Rodney
RFA: Derek Joslin, Brandon Sutter, Oskar Osala

Team Needs

Carolina has tons of holes in the depth chart at forward so my guess is that filling those two wing spots on the second line will be the the first order of business. Carolina had one of the league’s worst powerplays too so possibly getting someone who can help upgrade that would be a welcome addition. However, they could do as they did last year and fill them with players within the organization such as Dalpe, Boychuk, Osala and a couple others but the Canes are also $10 mil below the cap floor which means that they may overpay to get a couple of top-six wingers, which isn’t the worst thing in the world when you have over $28 mil in cap space. One option here is to re-sign Erik Cole and give him a raise from the $2.9 mil he made last season but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him test the market after a great season. Jussi Jokinen is another one they would like to have re-signed but they apparently have not had a contract worked out yet. The Canes signing someone like Radim Vrbata, Antti Miettnen or Scottie Upshall isn’t out of the question but I think re-signing Jokinen and Cole would be the wiser move because those two are better players and were great for Carolina last season. However, I wouldn’t expect those deals to be too long because they have players in the minors who can fill these roles eventually, but not yet.

There also a void at third line center but I would expect that to be filled by re-signing Brandon Sutter. Derek Joslin will probably be re-signed to play as a 7th defenseman seeing how he was given a qualifying offer. I would also expect to see them sign a winger for the fourth line with Jiri Tlusty leaving. It’s better they get someone who can kill penalties after being in the bottom 1o in the league in that category last season. Other than that, there aren’t any other glaring holes.

Expectations:

Whether or not people agree, this team is slowly rebuilding but remaining competitive in the process. Part of that is because they are building around Eric Staal, who I think is one of the best in the league and they have some great prospects who are really starting to reach their potential. That and Cam Ward keeps them in every game. Carolina’s best option for next season could be to do what they did last year and give their younger players more ice time and let their youth developed. Worked out well for Jeff Skinner and to a less extent, Jaime McBain. Unfortunately with the new cap floor, the Canes are going to have to take a few roster spots away from some of the younger plaeyrs but it might improve their chances of winning this season. The re-signing of Pitkanen tells me that Rutherford is not going to let key players leave via free agency so that could mean that him re-signing Jokinen and Cole aren’t out of the question but Pitkanen appears to have more value on the team’s future than either of those two do. If the Canes have another rough season then it’s possible that those two can be traded (along with some other very tradeable contracts on this roster) and Carolina can continue rebuilding.

It’s kind of a rough time for Canes fans because this team still doesn’t look good enough to go all the way but they might be just good enough to have a shot if the right moves are made over the next couple of months.

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