With the 2010-2011 NHL season already nearly two-thirds finished and the trade deadline fast approaching at less than three weeks away, Carolina is making a move into the playoff picture in the East and also hoping to move some of their older, more expensive players.
With $9.6 million in cap space to work with according to CapGeek.com, the 'Canes have a lot of leeway in their deals and shouldn't have any pressing trades that have to be completed. They do have a few players who could be shopped, though, and some reportedly interested teams, as well.
Who's on the Trading Block?
While last offseason was one of very few re-signing issues within the franchise, this upcoming summer appears to be the opposite. Everyone on the current roster is a free agent after the conclusion of this season except for franchise cornerstones Eric Staal and Cam Ward, top youngsters Jeff Skinner, Jamie McBain, Justin Peters and Zach Boychuk, and Tuomo Ruutu, Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo.
That leaves Brandon Sutter, Jiri Tlusty and Troy Bodie as upcoming RFAs (restricted free agents) and Erik Cole, Chad LaRose, Sergei Samsonov, Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Carter, Pat Dwyer, Joni Pitkanen, Ian White and Jay Harrison as UFAs (unrestricted free agents).
It's fairly safe to assume that none of the players in the first paragraph who don't have expiring contracts would be available except in some blockbuster offers, and that would still only put Ruutu and Corvo realistically up for grabs.
Additionally, I expect Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford to hold on to Sutter, Tlusty and Jokinen and try his best to re-sign them this June. That leaves a somewhat small crowd to be shopped around.
Sergei Samsonov, who has a cap hit of over $2.5 million this year at age 32, and Erik Cole, whose cap hit is $2.9 million this year also at age 32, are the most likely to be traded as they would be very expendable this summer even if they stayed in Raleigh as they aren't likely to be part of Carolina's still ongoing youth movement.
Chad LaRose, who's a perennial underperformer in my opinion; Ian White, who was acquired from Calgary in November as a quick fix to some persistent defensive struggles; Jay Harrison, who is a very small-name player who seems to have found a soft spot in Rutherford's heart; and Joni Pitkanen, who holds a lot of value but has had his struggles this year and carries a $4.0 million cap hit, should also be on the trading block.
Where would they go?
For Erik Cole, who has played fairly well this year with 14 goals, 17 assists, a plus-two rating and six points over his last five games, it's looking as if Philadelphia is the main target.
The Flyers have been in negotiations for a while for Cole, who would help them in their search to win the Cup this spring and fulfill a slight deficiency at right wing. Claude Giroux and Danny Briere make up a threatening right wing duo in the top-six forwards, but beyond that, Nikolay Zherdev and Andreas Nodl haven't been perfectly reliable options.
Cole, who has played for the Hurricanes in at least a part of all of his nine NHL seasons, would help fill this role. His 43 games of postseason experience, including a Stanley Cup, is also a big benefit for the Flyers. Philadelphia's waving of Matt Walker to free up cap space is another indication of this possible deal.
The veteran New York native has also been rumored to be headed to Toronto, who would need a hot surge into the playoff race before they'd be interested in acquiring him; Dallas, who has needs on the right side and the cap space to easily absorb him; or Tampa Bay, who could use the experience and the support at right wing.
Regarding Samsonov, a destination in Los Angeles or Pittsburgh seems most likely. The Kings have two great second-line players with Justin Williams and Jarrett Stoll, but beyond Ryan Smyth, their left wing options consist of Marco Sturm, Alexei Ponikarovsky or Kyle Clifford, all of whom have eight points on the year.
Samsonov would be a stretch to be a top-six forward, but his 23 points (nine goals and 14 assists) easy best any of those players' stat lines. Los Angeles also has enough cap space to work with and could use the veteran experience with their young team as the battle in the ultra-tight Western Conference playoff race.
The Penguins are going to have some difficulty fitting Samsonov, since they are right up against they cap, but they have an extra forward spot with Malkin out for the year and are needy at left wing, too.
Left winger Chris Kunitz is having a great season with 18 goals and 36 points, but dirty, physical Matt Cooke is the only other permanent player they have at the position (the other two are Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi, who have 23 games played combined this season). The former eighth overall pick that is Samsonov would help address the issue.
Samsonov could also possibly end up in Colorado, whose top left wing (Daniel Winnik) has only 16 points this season now that Tomas Fleishmann is out for the year; St. Louis, whose top LW (Brad Winchester) has 13 points and have been forced to move some centers out there; or Buffalo, who lacks a solid third-line left wing behind Thomas Vanek and Tyler Ennis.
It's also been rumored that we could see Joni Pitkanen in Columbus or Boston or Ian White in Atlanta or even back in Toronto.
Who would be acquired in return?
An Erik Cole trade to Philadelphia could bring in a older defensive prospect like Oskars Bartulis, 24, or Danny Syvret, 25. Both are extra defensemen used from time to time who could add some depth ito the Canes' back-end unit. Prospects like Erik Gustaffsson or Kevin Marshall could also be included in a package deal to boost some lacking defensive corps at the development stage.
Los Angeles could offer up defensemen like Jake Muzzin, 21, David Kolomatis, 21, or Alec Martinez, 23, for Samsonov. All are former late-round draft picks and could be worth the risk for an aging forward like Samsonov. Muzzin and Martinez have combined for 44 games played and nine points at the NHL level this season, while Kolomatis has 17 points for AHL Manchester.
If Samsonov were to go to the Penguins, they could dangle prospect defensemen such as Robert Bortuzzo, 21, or Carl Sneep, 23, neither of whom have any NHL experience nor have been huge names in their prospect system, but they might be a better bet to trade a mid-range draft pick.
For any Pitkanen deal, a lot more could be expected in return from the Hurricanes' point of view. One idea tossed around was Fedor Tyutin and a bundle of draft picks, preferably a first rounder, from the Blue Jackets in exchange.
Tyutin is 27 and has become a solid defenseman, but has a $2.8 million cap hit in his contract going through 2011-2012 season and is no upgrade over Pitkanen. However, the draft picks could be the items that push this deal through.
With the 'Canes holding so tenuously onto a top-eight spot in the Eastern Conference, a shakeup in the roster chemistry may be risky, but it would be a mistake not to take advantage of some aging players with expiring contracts to help boost the defensive unit. Carolina may not be the most active team at the trade deadline, but they should be able to pull of a few deals.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 245 articles and received over 240,000 total reads.