The rebuilding project of summer 2010 appears to have been successful for the Carolina Hurricanes, who just missed out on the playoffs this year despite an array of young talent. However, GM Jim Rutherford and the 'Canes will have another set of tasks at hand this offseason; which veterans get to stay and which long-time Hurricanes will be shown the door?
In terms of money to spend, though, the Hurricanes are in a great position.
According to CapGeek.com, the 'Canes currently have only $30.4 million dedicated to 11 players for next year. That means that they'll have, at the most, $29 million to spend on re-signings and new additions. Carolina is quite unlikely to spend anywhere close to all of that anyway since they generally like to stay at least $7 million or more under the cap limit.
After an active trade deadline saw Ryan Carter, Ian White, Sergei Samsonov and Brett Carson all depart, while Cory Stillman, Bryan Allen and Derek Joslin were brought in, another roster makeover may be in store as the temperature heats up. In this thorough and complete offseason preview, we'll crunch the numbers and take a look at who the 'Canes might re-sign, who they might not and who could be the new faces in town come October.
Term to Know: One-Way/Two-Way Contracts - A one-way contract means that a player must go through waivers to be sent to the AHL, a two-way contract means they do not.
NHL Players Remaining Under Contract
C Eric Staal - one-way, $8.25 million per season, five years remaining
RW/C Tuomo Ruutu - one-way, $3.8 million per season, one year remaining
C Jeff Skinner - two-way, $1.4 million per season, two years remaining
D Bryan Allen - one-way, $2.9 million per season, one year remaining
D Tim Gleason - one-way, $2.75 million per season, one year remaining
D Joe Corvo - one-way, $2.25 million per season, one year remaining
D Jamie McBain - two-way, $0.85 million per season, one year remaining
G Cam Ward - one-way, $6.3 million per season, five years remaining
G Justin Peters - two-way, $0.525 million per season, one year remaining
AHL-ers Remaining Under Contract (all two-way contracts): LW Zach Boychuk ($1.195 million, one year), C Zac Dalpe ($0.875 million, two years), RW Riley Nash ($0.875 million, two years), LW Drayson Bowman ($0.845 million, one year), D Justin Faulk ($0.843 million, three years), G Mike Murphy ($0.783 million, one year), C Chris Terry ($0.75 million, one year), LW Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll ($0.61 million, one year), D Michal Jordan (0.606 million, two years), D Rasmus Rissanen ($0.575 million, three years), C Jared Staal ($0.567 million, two years), D Kyle Lawson ($0.552 million, one year), LW Matthew Pistilli ($0.521 million, one year), C Jon Matsumoto ($0.512 million, one year), RW Jerome Samson ($0.512 million, one year), C Nicholas Blanchard ($0.512 million, one year)
Upcoming Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA's): LW Cory Stillman, RW Erik Cole, RW Chad LaRose, LW Jussi Jokinen, C Patrick Dwyer, D Joni Pitkanen, D Jay Harrison, D Bryan Rodney (AHL), D Casey Borer (AHL), D Zach Fitzgerald (AHL), G Justin Pogge (AHL)
Most of the UFA's this summer are wingers, which will pose an interesting debate for Rutherford on how experienced he'd like his RWs and LWs to be next year.
37-year-old Cory Stillman, a former 'Cane who won the Cup with them in 2006, was actually a solid player after his arrival at the end of February, posting five goals and 11 assists along with a plus-two rating in 21 games for Carolina.
At first, he seems to old to be re-signed, especially for the $3.5 million per year he was receiving previously, but with a team as young as the 'Canes, Stillman may be a good leader to keep around for another year or two...and a lot of Caniacs certainly wouldn't mind that, either. If he is to be kept around, we project a one-year, $2 million deal for Stillman to provide some veteran support to the youngsters around him.
The Hurricanes second-best left winger, Jussi Jokinen, would also make for a sad farewell should he not be re-signed by July 1st. Jokinen, now 28, made his first mark in the '09 postseason when he had seven goals and four assists in 18 appearances and then went on to be the 'Canes' leading scorer during the '09-10 season with 30 goals and 65 points.
His production dropped off a bit this year, as did his role in the team, as the Finn fell to just 19 goals and 33 assists, although that still ended up as the fourth-highest total on the stat sheet. For a specialist, Jokinen also struggled mightily in shootouts this season. Nonetheless, we think it likely for something like a two-year, $4 million contract to be soon put in ink for Jokinen.
Just a few mere months ago, 32-year-old Erik Cole was one of the top names on the "to be traded" list. Now, after he turned on the jets down the stretch to total out with a fairly impressive 26 goals and 26 assists, not to mention his nine game winners (fourth highest in the league), Cole has been named as one of the first priorities for the offseason.
Much like Stillman, Cole will be around for veteran experience as well as significant production. He made $2.9 million per year with his expiring contract, but Cole should expect a slight pay cut, making a two-year, $5 million deal a reasonable estimate for his future.
Chad LaRose, on the other hand, may be saying his final goodbyes to the team.
The gritty, 5'10" (at best) forward is already 29 and still has yet to hit to hit the 20 goal plateau a single time. This past year, he had 16 goals, 15 assists and a team-worst (by far) minus-21 rating. Another two-year, $3.4 million contract like the one that is just about to expire is far too much to pay for a player like LaRose.
Lastly, center Pat Dwyer is the most likely of the five UFA forwards to go. The Washington native played his first full season this year at age 27 and finished with a mere eight goals, 10 assists and a minus-six rating in 80 games. He also finished the season on a 15-game goal-less and point-less streak. Despite his $0.5 million cap hit, Dwyer has seen the last of his time with the 'Canes and perhaps the last of his time in the league.
Back on defense, Joni Pitkanen, like Cole, was also a big trade deadline rumor that never panned out, but, unlike Cole, Pitkanen now appears to be departing soon anyway. The offensive defenseman was, by a large margin, the top paid blueliner on the salary cap this past season for Carolina, carrying a large $4 million hit. He'll hit the free agent market as a fairly big-name player, but Pitkanen's unreliability in his own zone is about to spell the end of his time with the Hurricanes.
Jay Harrison has a far more interesting case and a far greater chance of sticking in Raleigh. The D-man was 27 and had played a grand total of 20 NHL games over his career before the 'Canes picked him up two years ago, yet Harrison actually managed his first-ever full season this past year, picking up three goals, 10 points and a plus-five rating in 78 appearances, tops among all 'Cane defenseman despite playing on the bottom pairing.
We're not quite sure on Harrison's future, but because of his price, we consider the Ontario native might stay with another one-year, $0.5 million contract.
As for the AHL UFA's, it's quite unlikely that many of them will still be with the Carolina organization come next autumn.
Dodge, 24, who had 16 goals and 20 assists during the past season with the Charlotte Checkers and now has three goals in five playoff games, may get a two-year, $1 million extension, while goaltender Pogge, 25, who was 22-18-4 despite a 3.07 GAA this past year, may also remain to support the 'Canes goalie depth. Expect Rodney, 27, Borer, 25, and Fitzgerald, 25, to all depart without too many worries.
Estimated Cap Hit From UFA Re-Signings: $7.0 million
Remaining Cap Space: $22.0 million
Upcoming Restricted Free Agents (RFA's): C Brandon Sutter, C/LW Jiri Tlusty, RW Troy Bodie, D Derek Joslin, D Bobby Sanguinetti (AHL), LW Oskar Osala (AHL), D Brett Bellemore (AHL), C Brett Sutter (AHL)
Of all of the difficult decisions facing Rutherford this summer, we hope that re-signing Sutter will not be one of them.
The 22-year-old former 11th overall pick was fantastic in his rookie season last year, becoming the first NHL player since 2001 to score more than 20 goals while committing just one penalty in a season. He then added a complete defensive side to his game this season, becoming perhaps the 'Canes' most reliable forward in their own zone. Sutter's entry-level deal, carrying a cap hit of $1.2 million, expires this year, and a long-term deal is in store for him, perhaps ranging near four years and $12 million in total.
Another former first-round pick, Jiri Tlusty, has just not panned out in the league. He was not a solid contributor for his draft team, Toronto, and had some off-the-ice issues as well, eventually leading to his trade to Carolina about a year-and-a-half ago. Tlusty went on to have one goal and six points in 18 games last spring and six goals and 12 points in 57 games this past season.
Now his entry-level contract is expiring and Tlusty, 23, may have to settle for another minimum salary deal to stick around in the NHL. Being a restricted free agent, we figure he may be given one more chance with a small, one-year, $0.5 million deal to play for the 'Canes.
Troy Bodie, who was claimed off waivers from Anaheim last November, is one player that is definitely not going to be re-signed. Bodie, 24, wasn't that bad, scoring one goal and three points with 10 fighting majors in 50 appearances, but he was scratched for the final 12 games of the season and does not have a future with the faster, finesse-styled Hurricanes.
The one RFA blueliner is Derek Joslin, who came over from San Jose in the Ian White trade without many expectations but was actually surprisingly good. He had one goal, five points and a plus-seven rating in only 17 games played, a performance which probably earned the 24-year-old a future in Raleigh. We foresee perhaps something similar to a two-year, $2 million deal for Joslin.
Down in the minor leagues, we expect all four AHL RFA's to be re-signed this summer.
With three other defenseman all departing through expiring UFA contracts, Sanguinetti, 23, and Bellemore, 22, will continue to stay in the 'Canes' defenseman development program. Furthermore, we fully anticipate Oskar Osala, 23, and Brandon's cousin Brett Sutter, 24, to also be re-signed.
Estimated Cap Hit from Re-Signed RFA's: $3.5 million
Remaining Cap Space: $18.5 million
2011 Entry Draft
After picking Jeff Skinner over a more needed defenseman with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, the 'Canes have the 12th overall pick in the upcoming 2011 entry draft to be held in Minnesota.
They'll likely look for a defenseman this time, with names such as Canada's Dougie Hamilton (No. 4 North American skater), Nathan Beaulieu (No. 5), Ryan Murphy (No. 9), Duncan Seimens (No. 10), Sweden's Adam Larsson (No. 1 European skater) and Jonas Brodin (No. 3) popping up as possible picks.
The Hurricanes also have their own second-round pick (no. 42 overall), third-round pick (no. 72 overall), fourth-round pick (no. 103 overall), sixth-round pick (no. 163 overall) and seventh-round pick (no.193 overall). The 'Canes' fifth-round pick was traded to Florida along with Carter for Stillman, and the Panthers then traded it four days later to Atlanta.
Since most D-men take a while to develop compared to forwards, we figure that this first-round pick will, in all likelihood, not be signed to an NHL contract. And of course no second-round-or-later pick will be, either, so it's reasonable to assume that Carolina won't have any cap hits coming from draft picks.
After these signings, we anticipate $18.5 million in cap space remaining for the Canes with six NHL defensemen, eight NHL forwards and two NHL goalies under contract. Here would be the players on the roster at this point, listed in order of salary.
Forwards: Staal, Ruutu, Sutter, Jokinen, Cole, Stillman, Skinner, Tlusty
Defensemen: Allen, Gleason, Corvo, Joslin, McBain, Harrison
Goaltenders: Ward, Peters
Unless the coaching staff would rather have McBain sent back down to the minors and a new, more seasoned defenseman come in, a decision we can't really see a need for, the defensemen and goaltending units are settled.
For the forwards, a few more spots would be available. Some of those could easily be filled by prospects such as Boychuk, Bowman or Samson, who all played significantly in the NHL this past year. However, expect two or three new free agent forwards to be signed to fill in the gaps.
With Staal, Sutter, Skinner, Ruutu and Tlusty all available to play center, the free agent openings will most definitely be along the wings. Who could it be? In the next section, we'll offer up a few possibilities.
Possible Free Agent Acquisitions
After scanning through the list of UFA wingers around the league, a few ideal signees jump out at you. Even if the 'Canes would like to stay around $10 million under the cap, $8.5 million is quite enough to land a few of these potential acquisitions.
The 'Canes could continue their trend of attempting (often successfully) to turn around disappointing players from around the league by going after Alexander Frolov, who had just seven goals and nine assists in 43 games for the Rangers this year before falling to injury.
Frolov, 28, has had some great seasons in the past, such as his 35 goals and 71 points in '06-07 and his 32 goals and 59 points in '08-09 for the Kings. However, he'd have to take a pay cut below his $3 million that he received this past season.
Also in consideration could be Scottie Upshall, who topped the 20-goal for the first time in his career this past season while playing for the Coyotes and Blue Jackets. Upshall, a former sixth overall pick who's now 27, is also a bit like Frolov since he's never quite panned out, but would be a cheaper buy than the aforementioned Russian.
Rutherford could be interested in bringing back former Hurricane Radim Vrbata, who came back from spending his '08-09 season in Russia to have 24 and 19 goals, respectively, the past two seasons with Phoenix. 29-year-old Vrbata may be a little high in the spending range, however, as his expiring contract carried a cap hit of $3 million per season.
Perhaps it might be Tomas Fleischmann, who had 23 goals last season for the Capitals. Fleischmann, who was traded to Colorado midseason, exploded with eight goals and 13 points in his first 22 games with the Avs and then was injured and missed the rest of the season. Though he might be a tad risky, Fleischmann, 26, might settle for something a little under $3 million a year.
Lastly, attention may fall on 27-year-old Chris Higgins or 29-year-old Tomas Kopecky, both of whom are UFA's this summer. Higgins, who carried a $1.6 million cap hit with his previous contract, had 13 goals and 15 assists this past year with Vancouver, while Kopecky, who had a $1.2 million cap hit per year in his old deal, had 15 goals and 27 assists this past year with Chicago, by far the best season of his career.
While we do our best to accurately predict how the upcoming offseason will work for Carolina, we will all just have to wait in see to find out how everything will truly pan out. Hopefully, though, this preview gives a basic outline of what may be happening with the 'Canes roster this summer and also a glimpse of how the money—the one thing that it all revolves around—may be distributed, as well.