Carolina Hurricanes: Complete Preview for 2014 Free Agency
First-year general manager Ron Francis has little time to reminisce on the results of his first draft, as the 'Canes organization must deal with—or not deal with—23 expiring contracts and navigate a competitive market to bring in the desired additions.
Jiri Tlusty highlights a lengthy list of potential restricted free agents (RFAs), while it seems as though most, if not all, of the Hurricanes' remaining unrestricted free agents (UFAs) will indeed hit the open market come 12 p.m. ET on July 1.
Meanwhile, Francis has a modest agenda to fulfill once Tuesday's madness begins. "We're looking potentially more in the fourth-line need, maybe, or a depth defenseman at this point," he said, per Chip Alexander of the News & Observer.
A complete breakdown of each aspect of Carolina's situation entering free agency, including potentially departing players and their potential replacements, falls on the coming slides.
Additional reading on many of the storylines discussed in this preview is available by following the included hyperlinks.
NHL Players Under Contract: 16
Salary-Cap Space: $11,720,000
For a historically lower-spending franchise, the Hurricanes will be pressured far more by the salary cap than the salary floor this summer.
With under $12 million in space—the eighth-lowest amount in the NHL—the 'Canes must attempt to re-sign Tlusty and add several more depth forwards, at the least.
The two compliance buyouts allotted to the team last year remain usable, although they expire come Tuesday. Cam Ward ($6.3 million cap hit) and John-Michael Liles ($3.875 million) both sport very buyout-worthy contracts and would give the team a lot more flexibility to spend in July.
Ironically, however, Francis indicated Saturday that neither would be used, presumably because of limits within the club's internal budget.
Pending Free-Agent Forwards
NHL UFAs: Manny Malhotra, Radek Dvorak
NHL RFAs: Jiri Tlusty, Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman
AHL UFAs: Brett Sutter, Nicolas Blanchard
AHL RFAs: Zach Boychuk, Aaron Palushaj, Greg Nemisz, Justin Shugg, Jared Staal, Kellan Tochkin
In his post-draft press conference, Francis indicated that the team will not re-sign Dvorak, will let Malhotra test free agency (with the possibility of a later re-signing) and is heavily engaged in negotiations with Tlusty.
It's no surprise that the two UFAs are both likely moving on, as neither contributed much (outside of Malhotra in the faceoff circle) nor fit in with the new youth-driven direction of the team.
With Tlusty remaining an RFA, the urgency to address his situation is eased significantly; the contract he eventually signs should be intriguing, as it's hard to judge exactly how much the 26-year-old winger is worth.
Andrei Loktionov finished the 2013-14 season impressively in Raleigh, but he may want to return to Russia this summer after several consecutive years of NHL turmoil.
Drayson Bowman was the leading scorer for the WHL's Spokane Chiefs in 2007-08, then coached by now-'Canes coach Bill Peters, which I thought might improve his odds to be re-signed after an ineffective 2013-14 campaign. It doesn't seem like that connection will make a difference in the end.
Pending Free-Agent Defensemen
NHL UFAs: Joni Pitkanen, Brett Bellemore, Mike Komisarek
AHL UFA: Matt Corrente
AHL RFAs: Michal Jordan, Rasmus Rissanen, Tommi Kivisto
Francis' decision to let Bellemore at least judge his open market interest is a highly questionable one, for Bellemore quickly became a fan favorite last season for his defensive responsibility and crushing hits.
Michal Jordan serves as an underrated depth blueliner for the organization and should be retained.
NHL UFA: Justin Peters
Francis surprised the media and, indirectly, mailed one final lifeline to Ward when he announced intent to keep both Ward and Anton Khudobin heading into the 2014-15 campaign.
Ward carries a cap hit almost triple that of Khudobin, who was signed to a two-year extension worth $2.25 million annually in March. In 2013-14, the former was 10-12-6 with an .898 save percentage; the latter was 19-14-1 with a .926 save percentage.
Yet, Ward appears poised to receive one more opportunity to stay healthy and return to the form that made him such a star a half-decade ago.
Considering the unexpected injuries that have plagued Carolina's goaltending unit so frequently in recent seasons, the decision could prove to be a wise one—even if the payroll paints a different picture.
Depth Chart Entering Free Agency
Which holes will Francis and Co. need to focus on filling as July begins?
A projected Hurricanes depth chart, including only players currently under contract for 2014-15, is below:
|Alexander Semin||Eric Staal||N/A|
|Elias Lindholm||Jordan Staal||Jeff Skinner|
|Nathan Gerbe||N/A||Patrick Dwyer|
Excludes prospects Brock McGinn, Victor Rask and Chris Terry, who could compete for NHL spots in training camp.
|Justin Faulk||Andrej Sekera|
|Ron Hainsey||Ryan Murphy|
|John-Michael Liles||Jay Harrison|
Arriving Free-Agent Forwards
Hundreds of forwards around the league will hit the open market this summer, but the 'Canes will need to identify a select few to add much-needed toughness, experience and bottom-six efficiency to their offensive roster.
Some speculative targets:
C Brian Boyle
The 29-year-old former Rangers tough guy will add a hearty dose of attitude and physicality to one team this summer, having tallied 154 hits (second on the team) and 18 points in 2013-14.
Brian Boyle, a 6'7", 244-pound monster, has played all 82 games in three consecutive full-length campaigns and boasts 58 games of postseason experience from the past four years alone.
C Jay McClement
A prototypical defensive, bottom-six center, Jay McClement led the Maple Leafs in faceoff percentage (53.6 percent) and short-handed time on ice (3:25 per game) in 2013-14.
However, the 31-year-old hasn't scored more than 17 points in a single season since 2009-10.
C Vernon Fiddler
After an unhappy 2013-14 season in Dallas, the 34-year-old Vernon Fiddler will be sought after for his experience and reliability as a fourth-line center this summer. He's a solid faceoff man and decent playmaker, accumulating the majority of his points via assists.
LW Dustin Penner
The aging Dustin Penner is far from the scorer he used to be, but the 6'4", 247-pound 31-year-old can still be an intimidating power forward in the bottom six. He scored an impressive 32 points in 49 games for Anaheim last season but then only three in 18 appearances for Washington after a spring trade.
LW Daniel Winnik
An unheralded player throughout his career, Daniel Winnik set a career high with 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) on a 2013-14 Ducks squad where every player hit offensive milestones.
The 29-year-old ranked third among Anaheim forwards in both blocked shots and takeaways; he's an accountable defensive forward.
RW Nikolai Kulemin
Nikolai Kulemin's time in Toronto is done after three years of tension and disappointment, as the Russian winger's production dropped from 30 goals in 2010-11 to just nine this past year.
Nonetheless, Kulemin still possesses offensive talents well superior to what his salary will inevitably be in his next contract. At 27, he's one of the youngest available UFAs and was a linemate of Tlusty back in 2008-09.
LW Ryan Malone
Historically always at his best when facing Carolina, now-34-year-old Ryan Malone was freed from his ridiculous $4.5 million cap hit by a merciful Tampa Bay buyout earlier in June.
He was a 20-goal scorer as recently as 2011-12 and would be far from the first player to attempt a career revival in Raleigh.
Arriving Free-Agent Defensemen
The lack of a quality second pairing beneath studs Faulk and Sekera weakened the 'Canes defense tremendously last season.
While the maturation of Murphy and re-signing of Hainsey could fill that void, adding a depth item to the unit wouldn't be a waste of money in the least.
Some speculative targets:
After being bought out by the Sabres on Sunday, via John Vogl of The Buffalo News, 31-year-old Ehrhoff instantly becomes one of the most desirable blueliners on a very shallow free-agent market. He led all Sabres defensemen in points and takeaways and ranked second in blocked shots this past season.
While neither the need for nor the cash to sign Ehrhoff is present in Carolina, it's remotely possible that he could seek a reunion with former teammate-turned-'Canes first-pairing star Sekera. Francis would certainly make a splash if he yanked Ehrhoff unexpectedly off the market.
At age 35, experienced rearguard Derek Morris' value is on the decline, but he has a few years left in the tank yet.
Injury struggles aside, Morris packs over 1,100 games of NHL experience and is capable as a second-pairing defensive in all three zones: 17 points, 99 hits and 104 blocked shots in 63 appearances for the Coyotes in 2013-14.
Advanced stats painted a very impressive portrait of Mark Fayne this past year, as the 27-year-old Devils defenseman recorded a positive Corsi Relative rating despite starting the majority of his shifts in his own zone. He'd be a versatile third-pairing option for Carolina.
Nate Prosser, a 28-year-old blueliner, tallied eight points in 53 games for Minnesota in 2013-14. Destined for a career as a cheap sixth or seventh defenseman, Prosser would give the 'Canes more flexibility and injury insurance on the back end.