Little time remains until the opening of the signing period—Friday at noon ET—yet general manager Jim Rutherford is likely already engaged in a number of negotiation sessions, taking advantage of this year's advance discussion period.
The selection of two-way center Elias Lindholm and acquisition of established defenseman Andrej Sekera in last week's draft reduced some of the 'Canes' needs in two areas.
Lindholm, along with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner and Riley Nash, gives the Hurricanes more than enough talent at the center position. Instead, Rutherford is expected to attempt to add more grit to the third and fourth lines via multiple signings on the wings.
Sekera will fill departed Jamie McBain's roster spot on "D." However, another high-profile UFA rearguard could also be brought in to further fortify the unit.
Which holes need to be filled in the coming weeks? Which players may currently be on the "wish list" as a potential addition? Read on for a complete preview of the Hurricanes' free-agency situation.
The Hurricanes extended qualifying offers to five restricted free agents earlier this week and retain four others. While there's little time urgency for these RFAs, new contracts should eventually be announced for the following players at some point this summer:
F Riley Nash: 24-year-old center had a breakout season in 2013, filling Brandon Sutter's old third-line center role admirably in his rookie campaign. He'll get a multiyear, one-way deal in the $1 million cap hit range.
F Zac Dalpe: After years of bouncing between the NHL and AHL, 2013-14 should be Dalpe's first full year with the 'Canes. The 23-year-old forward should get a contract comparable to Nash's.
D Michal Jordan: 23-year-old defenseman had his first NHL experience this past spring; he'll play big minutes with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers in 2013-14 and could see 10 to 15 appearances with the 'Canes. (THURSDAY UPDATE: Per CapGeek, Jordan has been signed to a one-year, two-way deal.)
G Mike Murphy: With the desperate lack of goalie depth in the Hurricanes' system, Murphy's recent return from Europe couldn't have come at a better time. He'll be the Checkers' starter next year.
F Zach Boychuk: NHL bust but perennial minor league star had a turbulent 2012-13 season and may have been lucky to receive a qualifying offer. He's worn out his welcome in Raleigh and may be traded soon.
F Jared Staal: It's only his family connection that keeps him in hockey, but 22-year-old Jared will be an AHL depth player at best in 2013.
Victor Stalberg skating for the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.
Whether Elias Lindholm takes over the third-line center role in 2013-14 or not, the 'Canes third line needs to be revamped one way or another this summer. We anticipate one of these free agents suiting up alongside No. 3 RW Patrick Dwyer come opening day:
Victor Stalberg (Blackhawks): The 27-year-old played an underrated part on the Blackhawks' Cup team, tallying 23 points and a plus-16 rating in 47 appearances. His impressive Corsi rating and familiarity with success make him an intriguing UFA.
Matt Cooke (Penguins): Highly controversial reputation aside, 34-year-old Matt Cooke knows how to play the agitator role that Chad LaRose will be vacating. He's also a heavy hitter and unheralded offensive weapon (21 points in 48 games in 2013).
Ryane Clowe (Rangers): New York doesn't have the cap room to re-sign Clowe, whose 2013 campaign turned around after a change of scenery. The 30-year-old's 99 hits last season would've ranked second on the 'Canes, and his 16 assists weren't bad, either.
Eric Nystrom (Stars): The 30-year-old enforcer can also hit (he had a whopping 122 in 2013) and kill penalties (averaged 2:10 shorthanded ice time per game in 2013); plus, he's not nearly as offensively inept as Kevin Westgarth.
Lennart Petrell with the Edmonton Oilers last season.
A plethora of candidates will be competing for time on the 'Canes' fourth line next season, but Rutherford's desire to improve the bottom six lends us to believe another UFA or two will be signed for this role. This summer's market of depth wingers is beyond abundant—some of the better possibilities are mentioned below:
Lennart Petrell (Oilers): The 29-year-old winger is as far from a household name as they come, but he's been one of Edmonton's most physical players and oft-used penalty killers for the past two years. He scored a respectable nine points in 35 games in 2013.
Chuck Kobasew (Avalanche): The 31-year-old PK specialist is an excellent two-way forward and doesn't have horrible hands—he had five goals, four helpers and a plus-six rating in 37 games.
Brandon Yip (Predators): The blue-collar winger is coming off an eight-point campaign with Nashville. The 28-year-old has a tendency to become a fan favorite and, given his 75 percent Chinese ethnicity, would at least add more diversity to the locker room.
Nathan Gerbe (Sabres): Thanks to his compliance buyout with the Sabres earlier this week, Gerbe is one of 2013's youngest UFAs at just 25. He's still only two years removed from a 16-goal rookie campaign and could be worth a shot in the bottom six.
Andrew Ference with the Boston Bruins last season.
At the moment, the 'Canes simply don't have a roster spot to add another solid defenseman to their roster. If a trade frees up some space, however, the Hurricanes could take another step to improve their back end with one of these players:
Andrew Ference (Bruins): Ference's departure from Boston stirred up emotions this past week, but the locker room leader and all-around "good guy" must now find a new home. The 34-year-old is often labeled as a shutdown-type player, but he can also handle the puck well when needed.
Rob Scuderi (Kings): The two-time Stanley Cup champion will be a hot commodity on the market—and for good reason. The elite and experienced defensive defenseman would be a shocking and game-changing addition to the 'Canes defense.
Ron Hainsey (Jets): The 6'3" 32-year-old finished third in the NHL in 2013 with 123 blocked shots. That's about the full extent of his skill set, however.
Toni Lydman (Ducks): He's getting on in age, but the soon-to-be 36-year-old has been an extremely consistent presence on Anaheim's defense for years now. The 'Canes could use a true veteran like Lydman on the roster.
Other Possibilities: Douglas Murray (Penguins), Ryan Whitney (Oilers), Keith Ballard (Canucks), Tom Gilbert (Wild), Ryan O'Byrne (Maple Leafs), Filip Kuba (Panthers), Michal Rozsival (Blackhawks)
Richard Bachman with the Dallas Stars last season.
The 'Canes' backup goaltender spot has become a puzzling one.
Justin Peters is on a one-way NHL contract in 2013-14, but the decision not to qualify John Muse indicates Peters might be stuck in the AHL in the coming year. Meanwhile, veteran Dan Ellis is going to free agency, but few alternative UFA options look like upgrades over him for the coming year.
Nonetheless, these few free-agent goalies could potentially be picked up:
Richard Bachman (Stars): The 2006 fourth-round pick has a solid 14-10-1 career record in limited NHL playing time in Dallas; at just 25, he's an up-and-coming backup option around the league.
Thomas Greiss (Sharks): Greiss, 27, also has the advantage of age on many fellow UFA goalies. His career stats of a 2.52 GAA and .912 save percentage are both respectable for a career of only 44 appearances.
Anton Khudobin (Bruins): The Bruins' 27-year-old gem was one of the best backups around in 2013, going 8-4-1 with a .920 save percentage and 2.32 GAA, but he'll likely be searching for a starting job next season.
Ray Emery (Blackhawks): Emery's incredible 17-1 record in 2013 has probably vaulted him into starter status, but Emery would be a blockbuster of a backup for the 'Canes to land.