Over the next couple of months, I will be taking a closer look at each of the Eastern Conference teams to show what their current status is and where their offseason focus lies. Knowing a team’s strategy should provide extra assistance in any offseason trading or keeper decisions. This week I’ll take a look at the Carolina Hurricanes.
As a reference, I’ll add each of the teams I’ve already covered here at the top in case you’d like to look at some of the other game plans.
(note - Buffalo is coming later this week)
UFA: Jaroslav Spacek, Bryan Allen, Brett Sutter, Justin Peters
RFA: Jamie McBain, Zach Boychuk, Evgeni Dadonov, Drayson Bowman, Bobby Sanguinetti, Mike Murphy, Jeremy Welsh
Rostered players signed for next season: 18
Available cap space: $20.36M
The Carolina cap space above (taken from capgeek.com) consists of 11 forwards, five defensemen, and two goaltenders. This should be a pretty good gauge of players that are likely to be on the roster next season as well, unless of course the Canes decide to trade a few bodies or buy anyone out. Overall, they have a fairly decent roster already assembled with plenty of cap space to make some key acquisitions.
This past season was a rather difficult one for Eric Staal, who struggled to find chemistry for the first half of the season. For this reason, it is likely that Carolina seeks to bring in another top six caliber forward. Until that happens, we can only look at Carolina’s top six from their current roster, which will likely consist of Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose, and Jiri Tlusty. That leaves the bottom six occupied by Brandon Sutter and Drayson Bowman (both of which are most likely from the current roster to break into the top six), followed by Anthony Stewart, Andreas Nodl, Tim Brent, and Patrick Dwyer.
Carolina’s offense is broken up into two scoring lines, a checking/scoring line, and a shutdown line (as opposed to the three-scoring-line model). The problem is that their two scoring lines need an improvement. The good news is that one body could make a huge difference, and the Hurricanes certainly have the cap space to pursue that type of player. In fact, GM Jim Rutherford was quoted saying, “We’re really looking for a player that’s in the prime of his career in his 20’s, and so where do you get that player? Free agency is a possibility. There’s not going to be many of them…but if that player is available, we will have the resources to go after that player.” In that same interview, Rutherford apparently hinted at restructuring his fourth line as well. The result could be a deeper top six and a stronger shutdown line for Carolina, all depending of course on what moves are made.
In terms of forwards in the system who may be ready to make full time contributions, the Hurricanes have a decently stocked cupboard featuring Zac Dalpe and Victor Rask, who are already under contract, followed by Chris Terry, Zach Boychuk, Evgeni Dadonov, Brett Sutter, and Drayson Bowman, who all need to be re-signed. Most of these prospects have been touted at one point or another and there should be at least one or two that are ready to step into third line minutes. Having this many forwards fighting for a spot is a great thing for Carolina because they have the flexibility to send down any underperforming players while also having a decent crop to choose from on the ensuing call up.
On defense, the Hurricanes really need to sign Jamie McBain. McBain finished the year paired with Joni Pitkanen on the top pairing, and with Pitkanen entering the final year of his contract (and age catching up with him), locking up McBain is a must. The number three defender on this team will end up being Justin Faulk. Faulk spent time on the power play and also shared time with Pitkanen toward the end of the year, but unlike McBain, Faulk has two more years left on his contract. The remaining three defenders are made up by Tim Gleason, Derek Joslin, and Jay Harrison, with Jaroslav Spacek and Bryan Allen entering unrestricted free agency. Harrison has been impressive at times and Gleason has been a steady veteran presence, but Joslin has done little to help his team thus far.
While Rutherford might be most interested in adding a forward, another top-four defenseman should certainly be on the list of priorities. A couple players in the system who might be ready to move up next season include Bobby Sanguinetti (who still needs to be re-signed) and Ryan Murphy. Of the two, Sanguinetti has more experience, but the fact that he has taken such a long time to develop may hurt his chances. Murphy is coming off a strong season with Kitchener in the OHL, but at 5’11”, 176 lbs., Murphy might be too undersized to play at the NHL level right away.
Overall, the defense is relatively weak, especially if Pitkanen succumbs to injury again and is forced to miss significant amounts of time. The only fantasy relevant defensemen at this time are Pitkanen, McBain, and Faulk, but if either of Sanguinetti or Murphy make the team, they could start producing relatively quickly considering the amount of ice time that would need to be given to either.
In goal, the Hurricanes are set for the time being. They have Cam Ward locked up for the next four seasons and Brian Boucher solidified as an affordable backup for one more year. The problems manifest in Carolina’s goaltending succession planning. Both of the top goalies in Charlotte last year – Murphy and Peters – are free agents. Both have also shown success at the NHL level, making them solid depth options. However they decide to handle their depth, the AHL goaltending will certainly need to be addressed over the offseason. Remember though that this will be of little fantasy significance as Ward is the top dog for the next four seasons. At best, one of these goalies would be a backup in 2013-14.
Biggest holes to fill: Luckily for the Hurricanes, they don’t have too many holes to fill. The only holes they really need to fill are at defense, where they should bring in one or two bodies. The rest of what needs to be done on this roster is simply upgrading, not filling holes. They have a significant amount of farm players with expiring contracts though, including forwards and goaltenders, so those will need to be addressed.
Priorities: Carolina’s top priority will likely be to bring in a top-six forward, and it sounds as though they will be pushing hard for a solid player. Next they will need to focus on adding depth to their blue line and possibly dumping Derek Joslin and/or Tim Gleason. While those should be the top priorities, the other lurking priority will be to secure a competitive farm squad, which will be a challenge with the number of expiring contracts they have, including both Charlotte goaltenders.
Overall, Carolina is built as a mediocre team. They have some top end talent, but they could use more. The good news is that they acknowledge this and are looking to address it. Once they do, guys like Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal should see improvement in fantasy production. On defense, guys like Jamie McBain and Justin Faulk, and to an extent Bobby Sanguinetti or Ryan Murphy, will really have an opportunity to shine. If Carolina can solidify its defensive core just a little bit, Cam Ward will see better numbers and there will possibly be more offense and better plus-minus from the defense as well.
Got anything to add? Feel free to add your opinion below.