The Carolina Hurricanes' offseason of minor tweaks may have another signing or two left in it.
A largely picked-over cast of unrestricted free agents still contains a few quality role players, including some potential candidates to bolster the Hurricanes' unstable third line and top-heavy defensive unit.
With only five days down in free agency and two months until the start of 2014-15 training camps, plenty of time remains for general manager Ron Francis to add a few final touches to the 'Canes roster.
The team's $5.92 million in salary-cap space (per CapGeek) is, albeit, not vast, but it should be sufficient to cover a little more spending—if tight-pocketed owner Peter Karmanos is willing.
Which still-available UFAs could Francis pursue? Five particularly well-suited possibilities are analyzed below.
RW Dustin Penner
2013-14 Stat Line: 67 GP, 14 goals, 21 assists, 35 points
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.
His addition would add significant toughness and scoring to the checking line, and it would allow Patrick Dwyer to be bumped down to the fourth line—essentially two improvements in one.
Projected New Contract: Two years, $2.75 million cap hit
LW Ray Whitney
2013-14 Stat Line: 69 GP, 9 goals, 23 assists, 32 points
Even at age 42, Ray Whitney remains a very viable veteran contributor.
He carried a $4.5 million cap hit for Dallas last season because, just two seasons ago, he was a 77-point scorer. While that salary is likely to be cut by any contract he signs this summer, the value of Whitney's experience—1,438 career NHL games and 1,117 career NHL points—remains undeniable.
Four years after his departure, "The Wizard" remains a beloved player in Raleigh. His return would not only add much-needed leadership and depth to the Hurricanes' wings, but also it would improve fanbase morale tremendously.
Projected New Contract: One year, $2 million cap hit
C/W Daniel Winnik
2013-14 Stat Line: 76 GP, 6 goals, 24 assists, 30 points
Career depth forward Daniel Winnik can't be expected to repeat his impressive 2013-14 stat line. However, he would provide an unheralded defensive forward presence to Carolina's bottom six, and he would come at an affordable price.
The 29-year-old ranked third among Anaheim forwards in blocked shots and takeaways this past year, despite averaging only 15:23 in ice time per game—an average of 2:31 of which was spent on the penalty kill.
Winnik, 6'2", has also appeared in four of the last five NHL postseasons.
Projected New Contract: Two years, $2.5 million cap hit
D Michael Del Zotto
2013-14 Stat Line: 67 GP, 3 goals, 13 assists, 16 points
Once-promising Rangers blueliner Michael Del Zotto suffered through a tumultuous 2013-14 campaign, failing to fit in after a trade to Nashville. The Predators didn't issue him a qualifying offer, rendering 24-year-old Del Zotto unrestricted.
Which free agent would be the best signing for Carolina?
Oddly, however, the 6'0" defenseman actually posted the best Corsi rating of his career, per Extra Skater. He's a former 31-assist playmaker, and he comes with power-play potential, as well.
The questionable but popular rumor source Eklund reported Thursday that the 'Canes were talking to Del Zotto. He'd be a great buy, being a low-risk acquisition who would add strength to a weak Carolina defense.
Nonetheless, Francis would almost certainly need to trade either the struggling Jay Harrison or comparable role player John-Michael Liles to make room for Del Zotto.
Projected New Contract: One year, $2.25 million cap hit
D Brett Bellemore
2013-14 Stat Line: 64 GP, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points
Brett Bellemore quickly became a 'Canes fan favorite during his 2013-14 rookie season at the unusual age of 26, leading all team defensemen by using his 6'4", 225-pound frame to dish out 169 hits.
But after making just $600,000 as a bottom-pairing blueliner last year, the defensive defenseman is apparently seeking a step up in role and salary this summer. After the 'Canes decided to let Bellemore enter free agency, radio host Mike Maniscalco reported:
#Canes have negotiated with Brett Bellemore, but he is looking for two years and the money is far apart. Wouldn't call it negotiating now.— Mike Maniscalco (@mikemaniscalco) July 1, 2014
A return to Raleigh is unlikely for Bellemore, unless the two sides' demands move closer and Francis ships away the aforementioned Harrison or Liles.
Projected New Contract: Two years, $1.5 million cap hit
For more information on the free agents the 'Canes have already signed this offseason, click here.