Which Restricted Free Agents Should the Carolina Hurricanes Keep This Offseason?

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IJune 4, 2014

Which Restricted Free Agents Should the Carolina Hurricanes Keep This Offseason?

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    An offensive jigsaw puzzle awaits general manager Ron Francis and the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason.

    Four restricted free-agent (RFA) forwards—Jiri Tlusty, Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman and Nathan Gerbe—and a number of forward prospects face expiring contracts in the coming summer.

    A detailed explanation of the workings of NHL restricted free agency is available here, but the fundamental decisions the 'Canes must make revolve around qualifying offers. In order to keep an RFA as such, they must be guaranteed at least equal salary and, in some cases, a five or 10 percent raise over their previous contract.

    It seems highly likely that one of the foursome will not find a home on the Hurricanes roster in 2014-15. Francis & Co., however, must decide which one(s), and soon. 

    Predictions for the fate of each Carolina RFA are on the following slides.

    This slideshow is part 2 in a two-part series on the Hurricanes' offseason free agents. Part 1, predicting which unrestricted free agents (UFAs) the team will re-sign, can be read here.

LW Jiri Tlusty

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    Mark Jones/Freelance

    Box Score Stats: 68 GP, 16 G, 14 A, +2, 15:10 TOI

    Advanced Stats: 51.2% Corsi rating (shot-attempt differential), -3.6 ZSD (offensive-zone shift start differential), +1:15 TOIDiff (TOI in wins vs. TOI in losses)

    2013-14 Cap Hit: $1.6 million

    Age: 26

    After ranking sixth in the NHL in scoring during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, a combination of poor luck, injuries and inconsistency dropped Jiri Tlusty back down to the 30-point plateau in an unremarkable 2013-14 performance. Yet the 26-year-old remains a viable producer with top-six potential.

    Tlusty is unique in his offensive opportunism and is decent in his own zone, but reliability remains a concern for a player who, approaching his prime years, has never really found his long-term niche. He'll likely ask for a significant raise over his previous $1.6 million cap hit, and exactly how large that requested raise is may determine his future in Raleigh.

    An in-depth analysis of the approaching Tlusty conundrum can be examined in my May 23 column

    Verdict: Traded

C/W Andrei Loktionov

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Box Score Stats (with 'Canes): 20 GP, 3 G, 7 A, -4, 14:35 TOI

    Advanced Stats: 51.3% Corsi rating, -14.4 ZSD*, -0:44 TOIDiff*

    *Cumulative stats; Loktionov played 48 of 68 total games with New Jersey.

    2013-14 Cap Hit: $725,000

    Age: 24

    Andrei Loktionov came to Carolina almost solely because he was cheaper than Tuomo Ruutu and played for the team, New Jersey, willing to take Ruutu.

    But the season's final month proved one of the most productive of Loktionov's lifetime—a small but promising sample size that could revive his previously declining NHL career.

    The 5'11" forward tallied all 10 of his points with the 'Canes in his last 14 games and won over coaches and fans alike with his tenacity and quickness. He also jump-started the woeful 'Canes power play to a 26.2 percent conversion rate in the season's last 11 games.

    Loktionov has certainly played his way into an extension.

    Verdict: Re-signed

LW Drayson Bowman

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Box Score Stats: 70 GP, 4 G, 8 A, -2, 10:21 TOI

    Advanced Stats: 45.5% Corsi rating, +12.8 ZSD, -0:21 TOIDiff

    2013-14 Cap Hit: $600,000

    Age: 25

    At age 25, it's becoming increasingly clear that Drayson Bowman may never pan out an an effective NHL contributor.

    Bowman's 70 appearances were nearly double his previous career high, but he still failed to reach the 13-point plateau set by his 37-game 2011-12 season. He was slaughtered with a miniscule 34.5 offensive-zone start percentage by the 2013-14 coaching staff but nonetheless failed to make much of a difference anywhere on the ice.

    The 195-pound forward could be easily replaced, if not improved upon, at the same price by a more experienced fourth-line free agent. By the same logic, however, Bowman carries little to no trade value and may force Francis to simply let him walk unqualified this summer.

    Verdict: Not issued qualifying offer

LW/RW Nathan Gerbe

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Box Score Stats: 81 GP, 16 G, 15 A, -6, 16:24 TOI

    Advanced Stats: 51.8% Corsi rating, +4.4 ZSD, -0:42 TOIDiff

    2013-14 Cap Hit: $550,000

    Age: 26

    Nathan Gerbe showed himself to be one of the best bargains of Jim Rutherford's GM career in 2013-14, tallying 31 points at a minimum wage salary and demonstrating a level of tenacity each game that many of his teammates simply did not match.

    Both standard and advanced statistics painted a nice picture of Gerbe's campaign, and the chemistry he developed with the much bigger Jordan Staal could be the makings of a future line.

    Gerbe's price will undoubtedly rise this offseason, but—being the NHL's shortest forward—it's unlikely it will exceed roughly $1 million. 

    Verdict: Re-signed

LW Zach Boychuk

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Box Score Stats: 11 GP, 1 G, 3 A, -2, 10:11 TOI

    Advanced Stats: 46.2% Corsi rating, +2.8 ZSD, +0:54 

    2013-14 Cap Hit: $550,000

    Age: 24

    After signing a one-year extension last August, which many regarded as Zach Boychuk's last chance to prove himself at the NHL level, the former 14th overall flashed a few glimpses of potential in the NHL and put up incredible numbers in the AHL in 2013-14.

    Boychuk scored, added an assist and played 13:16 in the Hurricanes' 6-1 win over Toronto in January, a night where No. 32 played exactly as club management had imagined when drafting him six years ago. In the minor leagues, Boychuk averaged more than a point per game (74 in 69 appearances) and led the AHL with 36 goals.

    The impressive season probably bought one more year for the youngster, who must hope to thrive in NHL training camp and finally explode into relevance next season to maintain his temporary spike in value.

    Verdict: Re-signed


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    Aaron Palushaj carries the puck in a January 'Canes game vs. Nashville.
    Aaron Palushaj carries the puck in a January 'Canes game vs. Nashville.Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    LW Justin Shugg

    Shugg, 22, nearly doubled his previous career highs with the AHL Charlotte Checkers in 2013-14 (ranking sixth on the team with 38 points) and could see top minutes with the club next year.

    Verdict: Re-signed

    C Greg Nemisz

    Nemisz, who turns 25 on Thursday, suffered through a string of injuries after coming to the 'Canes organization in the Jan. 1 Kevin Westgarth trade. He did score 11 points in 14 appearances for Charlotte. 

    Verdict: Re-signed

    RW Aaron Palushaj

    Palushaj, 24, is an underrated, defensive penalty-killing specialist who boasts 68 games of NHL experience and probably should've seen more action than the two games he did play with Carolina this season. His 58 points in 68 games for Charlotte are alone worth an extension. 

    Verdict: Re-signed

    D Rasmus Rissanen

    Rissanen, 22, has good size (6'3", 205 pounds) but has never shown any signs of being anything other than an AHL lifer. The 'Canes have a strong prospect corps on defense and could add Rissanen to a larger package deal.

    Verdict: Traded

    D Tommi Kivisto

    Kivisto, 22, is merely a former seventh-round pick and didn't play in North America in 2013-14.

    Verdict: Not issued qualifying offer

    D Michal Jordan

    Jordan, 23, was Charlotte's best defenseman in 2013-14, tallying 21 assists and 25 points in 70 games. He could add to his current career total of five NHL appearances next season.

    Verdict: Re-signed

    RW Jared Staal

    Staal, 23, tied his AHL career high in scoring in 2013-14 with...seven points. He's an AHL-ECHL borderline player; all of his trade value can be attributed to family name alone.

    Verdict: Traded

    RW Kellan Tochkin

    Tochkin, 23, came to the Carolina franchise in the Zac Dalpe deal last summer but has yet to even make his AHL debut at age 23.

    Verdict: Not issued qualifying offer