Could Ray Whitney make another go-round in Raleigh this spring?
General manager Jim Rutherford is in position to assume a buyer stance for the first time since 2010-11 as the 'Canes seek to load up for a playoff push.
The Mar. 5 deadline looms on the horizon, but the Olympic trade freeze—which lasts from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23—could create more urgency on transactions. Rutherford told ESPN earlier this month that he expects most teams to treat Feb. 7 as a pseudo-deadline.
Which players might he attempt to bring into Raleigh for the Hurricanes' spring marathon? A breakdown of eight reasonable targets falls on the coming slides.
2013-14 Stat Line: 50 GP, 12 G, 8 A, plus-3
Current Contract: $1.75 million cap hit, expires 2014
The brother of 'Canes prospect and 2012 second-round draft pick Brock McGinn, Jamie McGinn has emerged as a steady third-line winger in recent seasons.
The 25-year-old has missed just eight games over the last three years combined, tallying 20 goals in his 2011-12 breakout campaign before 11 in last year's lockout-shortened season and 12 in 50 appearances this time around. He has also averaged more than two hits per game in 2013-14, ranking fourth on the Avalanche.
Both the Rangers, per the New York Post, and Canadiens, per Louis Jean of TVA Sports, have reportedly asked Colorado GM Greg Sherman about McGinn's availability, which possibly indicates that Sherman has put the 6'1", 210-lb Ontario native on the trade block.
The 'Canes have needed more size and physicality on the wings all season long and could make an investment in McGinn, with a future brotherly combination possibly around the corner.
2013-14 Stat Line: 53 GP, 11 G, 14 A, minus-6
Current Contract: $1.5 million cap hit, expires 2015 (RFA)
Calgary center Mikael Backlund has been connected to the Hurricanes often via trade rumors this campaign.
Jim Rutherford's interest in the 24-year-old former first-round pick—who has seemingly worn out his welcome with the sputtering Flames—was first noted by TSN's Darren Dreger in November. Backlund responded by tallying two points, including a game-winner, and six shots in two Calgary wins vs. Carolina. On Thursday, Calgary Herald columnist Scott Cruickshank reported that 'Canes scouts were again in attendance for the Flames vs. Sharks game.
The 6'0" center has been criticized for his inconsistency and health issues over five tumultuous seasons in Alberta, but his defensive acumen is nonetheless impressive. He ranks second amongst all Flames forwards in Corsi Relative and boasts a strong 3.7 percent zone start differential.
With neither Manny Malhotra nor Riley Nash truly suited for a full-intensity third-line center role, the 'Canes biggest weakness this season may be perfectly aligned with Backlund's strengths.
2013-14 Stat Line: 53 GP, 8 G, 11 A, minus-21
Current Contract: $2.95 million cap hit, expires 2014
Steve Ott, current captain of the Buffalo Sabres, offers more intangible traits than just about any other player in the league.
His moderate scoring statistics aside, Ott, 31, leads the Sabres with 174 hits and 315 faceoff wins (51.6 winning percentage). He's a vocal locker-room leader and reliable, well-rounded on-ice centerman with 700 games of NHL experience.
With the Sabres occupying the Eastern cellar without a doubt, a spring fire sale looks to be in the works, and Ott, despite his captaincy, could be one of the most sought-after items on the block. Ansar Khan of MLive reports that the 6'0" forward is rumored to be available. His contract expires in July, leaving the rebuilding Sabres little reason to keep him in New York.
He would be a fantastic addition to the Hurricanes' second or third line.
2013-14 Stat Line: 40 GP, 2 G, 5 A, minus-13
Current Contract: $3.375 million cap hit, expires 2014
If the upcoming Buffalo fire sale doesn't drive Steve Ott to Carolina, it could send Henrik Tallinder instead.
At 35, Tallinder is not needed in New York, and his 693 games of NHL experience could come in handy on a Hurricanes team that is currently scratching Brett Bellemore in favor of Jay Harrison for that very reason.
Although the 6'4" rearguard has suffered through a variety of injury concerns in recent years and his raw numbers are far from eye-opening, his 1.3 Corsi Relative and 4.0 zone start differential are relatively impressive considering his current home.
With a contract expiring this coming July (along with six of the other seven players on this list), acquiring the Swedish blueliner wouldn't break the bank.
2013-14 Stat Line: 47 GP, 6 G, 15 A, minus-5
Current Contract: $4.5 million cap hit, expires 2014
Few potential trade additions would be more warmly received than Ray Whitney, who helped the 'Canes to the 2006 Stanley Cup title and played 414 games over five years in Carolina.
His family, moreover, remains in Raleigh, and with the 41-year-old's contract set to retire this summer, it's highly likely that he is entering his final two months in the NHL. He's played 10 to 14 minutes most nights this season in Dallas, registering 21 points and a respectable 1.8 Corsi Relative in 47 games.
Both CBC's Elliotte Friedman and ESPN's Pierre LeBrun report that Whitney is "on [the] rental list." Although CapGeek also reports that Whitney would need to waive a no-trade clause to be moved, it's hard to fathom him not enjoying a career finale in Carolina.
Given Whitney's $4.5 million cap hit, Rutherford would need Stars GM Jim Nill to withhold some of Whitney's salary in a trade—a new option under the most recent collective bargaining agreement. However, a mid-round draft pick would probably be enough to pry away the aging winger from sub-playoff bubble Dallas.
2013-14 Stat Line: 42 GP, 5 G, 12 A, plus-7
Current Contract: $2.75 million cap hit, expires 2014
Derek Morris, 35, has brought a well-balanced skill set of blue-line playmaking and defensive responsibility over his 1,123-game regular and postseason career.
If traded this spring, he will be joining his seventh NHL franchise; he's qualified for the playoffs three times since 2009. Moreover, 2013-14 has been his most productive and durable campaign in a while, as he boasts 17 points, 77 blocked shots (second most on the Coyotes) and a 3.48 Corsi rating.
Ron Hainsey has needed a more stable second-pairing defensive partner ever since Ryan Murphy hit the "rookie wall." Morris would certainly provide one.
2013-14 Stat Line: 54 GP, 9 G, 11 A, minus-8
Current Contract: $1.7 million cap hit, expires 2014
Manny Malhotra's addition has helped the Hurricanes rise to eighth in the NHL in team faceoff percentage.
The acquisition of current Florida center Marcel Goc would help them jump even higher.
Goc, 30, leads the Panthers and ranks 27th in the league with a 53.5 winning percentage on 957 attempts (over 300 more than Malhotra). He's also a significant contributor in other areas of the ice, as his 20 points would rank sixth among all 'Canes forwards. Goc is employed as an assistant captain in Florida as well.
And, most impressively, he accomplishes all of the above despite facing the hardest quality of competition of any player on his team.
The 6'1" center has flown under the radar most of his career, but there's little question that he could fill the third-line center hole on Carolina's roster. Panthers GM Dale Tallon, aware of his team's basement-dweller position and Goc's upcoming free agency, wouldn't demand an enormous sum in exchange.
Update: The Fourth Period reports Friday that the Hurricanes are also among four teams eyeing 31-year-old right winger Brad Boyes, who leads the Panthers with 14 goals and carries a $1 million cap hit this season.
2013-14 Stat Line: 52 GP, 15 G, 10 A, plus-7
Current Contract: $4.15 million cap hit, expires 2015
Given that Chris Stewart's expensive contract doesn't expire until after next season, the 26-year-old winger and brother of former 'Cane Anthony Stewart might be too big for the 'Canes to take on at this time.
With some GMs more interested in making hockey trades than rental deals, Chris Stewart an intriguing name. Pricey at $4.15 mil next year.— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) January 30, 2014
However, Rutherford will get a great opportunity to scout the 6'2", 231-pound checker during Friday's important Hurricanes vs. Blues contest and might find himself smitten.
Stewart, a two-time 28-goal scorer, would be a tremendous upgrade in multiple ways over struggling Tuomo Ruutu.