Following last year's run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the 'Canes started off this year on a low note, tying a franchise record with 14 consecutive losses in October and November, and were unable to fully recover despite going 24-13-3 after New Year's Day.
Leading up to this concluding '09-'10 season, the Hurricanes went ahead and added plenty of grit to their roster, signing newcomers Tom Kostopoulos, Stephane Yelle, Aaron Ward, Andrew Alberts, and Jay Harrison.
...And then they proceeded to trade them all away again at the trade deadline, just eight months later. Now, in early April, only Kostopoulos and Harrison remain in the Hurricanes organization.
However, because of this spring cleanup and an array of fairly unknown players through the second to fourth lines, Carolina enters the summer 2010 offseason with plenty of salary cap room and not many "needs" to deal with. According to HockeyBuzz.com and NHLnumbers.com, at the moment, the 'Canes have the third-most salary cap room in the NHL, with approximately $10.5 million to spend. That extra spending money trails only the Islanders ($12.2 million cap space) and the Blue Jackets ($13.1 million cap space).
On the other hand, despite their expendable space, I'm by no means saying Carolina doesn't have plenty to accomplish. With all RFA's and UFA's subtracted, the Hurricanes will already have $38,458,000 dedicated to 14 players for the 2010-2011 season, leaving around $17.8 million (including money to be used on a game-to-game basis for injury replacement AHL call-ups) more to spend on filling up their roster, which will need at least six more NHL players.
In this offseason preview, we'll crunch the numbers and determine how much of that $17.8 million expendable cash the Hurricanes management will use on re-signings, new additions, and also how much we estimate should be left after the 'Canes deal with their roster movements.
Upcoming Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA's): LW Ray Whitney, C Michael Ryan (AHL), D Jay Harrison, D Brian Pothier, G Manny Legace, D Bryan Rodney
Carolina will actually have very few UFA's to deal with this summer, as they expended six of their nine upcoming unrestricted players at the trade deadline. Only Ray Whitney and Brian Pothier should be major worries, as injury-prone Michael Ryan, unhappy Bryan Rodney, and inconsistent, unproductive defensive fill-in Jay Harrison likely won't be back.
Whitney is just finishing up a three-year contract signed in 2007 that paid him $3.55 million a year. The 37-year-old winger, who was being shopped at the trade deadline but ended up staying in Carolina, was reportedly asking for a three-year deal from the Los Angeles Kings, one of his likely trade locations.
Whitney's no-deal that kept him with the 'Canes shows that they're still willing to invest in the veteran forward, so expect a two-year extension worth around $2.0 to $2.5 million, obviously less than the past three seasons.
As for Pothier, the 32-year-old defenseman was acquired in a large deal from Washington at the trade deadline in exchange for Joe Corvo. Pothier has earned $2.5 million the past four seasons with the 'Caps. Assuming Carolina won't want to end up giving Corvo away for nothing, expect Pothier to be re-signed for approximately three years worth slightly less than before, about $2 million.
Manny Legace, at 39, is also not likely to return to the 'Canes next season, as he was signed last October as a one-year fill-in for an injured Cam Ward and neither Legace nor the team really have any plans for him past this season.
Estimated cap hit from UFA's: $4.0 million
Remaining Cap Space: $13.3 million
Upcoming Restricted Free Agents (RFA's): C Jiri Tlusty, RW Stephen Goertzen, RW Jerome Samson, D Brett Carson, D Alexandre Picard, G Justin Peters
The Hurricanes have a few more players listed in the RFA category, but still no major names. However, besides Goertzen, who is very expendable, all of them will likely be re-signed.
Jerome Samson, who's having a breakout season, and Jiri Tlusty, who was acquired in December from Toronto, are both AHL players not going to make a cap hit next season.
Brett Carson recently came to the Hurricanes NHL level this season, and has performed well. A new deal for him would likely be worth around $.75 million for the next three years.
Alexandre Picard, dealt from Ottawa along with a draft pick in February in exchange for Matt Cullen, is still just 24 himself, and a new deal for him might extend up to four years and be worth about $1.5 million even. He might be one of those considered a candidate to be let go and replaced, but I think for the relatively low cost, Picard should stay in Carolina.
Finally, Justin Peters was spectacular in his first NHL stint, winning nine of 15 with a 2.83 GAA as a 23-year-old NHL rookie. He's also expected to become Ward's primary backup beginning in 2010-2010, meaning that he probably will want (and deserve) a new three-year deal much higher than the $.5 million he got this season.
Estimated Cap Hit from RFA's: $3.3 million
Remaining Cap Space: $10.0 million
When you think of the words "buyout" and "Carolina," one name comes to mind: Rod Brind'Amour.
For a player as worthless in everything but heart as Brind'Amour, who's racked up a stunning -51 rating over the past two seasons, he's far, far overpaid. Brind'Amour created a $3.6 million cap hit this season, but is still signed through the end of next season.
The good news is, that won't hold up. The first option for Brind'Amour is retirement: he'll still probably leave on good terms with fans, get his number and jersey retired, and have a decent shot at the Hall of Fame.
And then if he decides to stay around for one last memorable season, we'll have to go to option two: buyout.
Estimated Cap Space Savings: $3.0 million
Remaining Cap Space: $13.0 million
The Hurricanes probably should spend some of their $13.5 million remaining salary cap space extending the contracts of several players who have become key centerpieces of Carolina's success.
Jussi Jokinen is the first player likely to get an upgrade. Jokinen, who leads the 'Canes in offensive points with three games remaining, earned $1.5 million this year and is due to get $1.9 next season before becoming a UFA. A new contract for Jokinen, 26, could probably reach up to three years and $3 million.
Tim Gleason, who's set to earn $3 million next season, has become the leader of the Hurricanes "D" with Corvo gone, and also represented the USA well in the 2010 Winter Olympics. However, with his contract ending after next season, expect him to get a three year deal starting at about $4 million in 2010-'11.
Center Brandon Sutter, who's only 21, has also been a key part of the 'Canes forwards this year, recording 21 goals and just two penalty minutes in his first season with Carolina. Sutter's new contract may reach up to four years worth $2 million, a far cry from his current contract, $.875 million per season through 2011.
Fellow prospects and friends Zach Boychuk and Jamie McBain would also be in this mix, but their already extended deals through 2012 should keep them off the extensions at least another year.
Estimated Additional Cap Hit from extensions: $3.5 million
Remaining Cap Space: $9.5 million
New Mid-Point Roster
At this point the Hurricanes will still have plenty of space left, but also still have a few roster positions to fill. If the moves above go as planned, here's what the 'Canes "mid-point" roster should look like.
Left Wing: Jussi Jokinen ($3 million), Ray Whitney ($2.25 million), Sergei Samsanov ($2.8 million), Tuomo Ruutu ($4 million)
Center: Eric Staal ($7.5 million), Brandon Sutter ($2 million) Patrick Dwyer ($.5 million)
Right Wing: Erik Cole ($3 million), Chad LaRose ($1.9 million), Tom Kostopoulos ($.95 million), Zach Boychuk ($.875 million)
Defense: Tim Gleason ($4 million), Joni Pitkanen ($4.5 million), Brian Pothier ($2 million), Alexandre Picard ($1.5 million), Jamie McBain ($.685 million)
Goalie: Cam Ward ($5 million), Justin Peters ($1 million)
Possible New Additions/Conclusion
Looking back at this first copy roster, left wing looks to be a very expensive but also very solid position, and the same also goes for goaltender.
Center could become an issue, with Staal and Sutter accompanied only by overrated Patrick Dwyer and also missing a fourth man. Furthermore, there is no main player in the minors that is specifically a center and could take the position, although Jiri Tlusty (around $.850 million) or Stephan Chaput might be worth a try.
Right Wing has four players that can fill the depth chart spots, but probably could use a second major player to compliment Cole. If depth becomes an issue here, Jerome Samson (aounrd $.800 million) has 33 goals and 33 assists with the Albany River Rats this season and is a great candidate to step up.
Defense has five sturdy players already, but needs a sixth. Grinder Zach Fitzgerald or Casey Borer are probably not good ideas to fill in.
This brings us to the conclusion that the Hurricanes probably have about $5 million, assuming they'd like to keep at least $4 million in store for injury replacements and other moves, to sign or trade for a lower level veteran defenseman, one or possibly two mid-aged, legitimate third-line centers, and perhaps a solid second right wing. That leaves about $1.25 million a player, which seems about reasonable considering what they're asking for.
The only issue Carolina seems likely to run into here is that, besides some average AHL prospects, they really don't have much to trade to get these extra players. However, with the free agent market fairly populated during that time of year, just watch for the Hurricanes to make a few non-surprising acquisitions later in the summer and just let things fill in for a team that has gone from one of the oldest and inconsistent to a team with plenty of young, key players and even more potential.
Thank you to Mark Ritter, who listed several of the links I ended up using in this article, and to nhlnumbers.com, hockeybuzz.com, nhl.com, hurricanes.nhl.com, and albanyriverrats.com for supplying much of the statistical information used here.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 20 months so far with the site, he has written over 180 articles and received over 120,000 total reads. Visit his profile to read more.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 20 months so far with the site, he has written over 180 articles and received over 120,000 total reads.
Visit his profile to read more.