A little more than a month into the 2011 NHL free agent period, the earthquake of signings that once cluttered up news feeds back in early summer has now dwindled down to the rate of just one per week.
Teams have now begun to assess their new lineups, mix their new rookies into the roster and prepare for training camp. The time to sign the difference-making free agents has come and gone, and August has been relegated as the month to look back and evaluate how each club fared in hockey's craziest time of the year.
For the Carolina Hurricanes, mixed emotions immediately highlight what the 2011 offseason will be in terms of roster changes.
GM Jim Rutherford was able to, at the last minute, scramble and hold on to most of his soon-to-be UFA's (unrestricted free agents) and also made his presence known once July began by filling plenty of holes in the lineup with several big-name players. However, Rutherford was unable to negotiate to terms with one of Carolina's most beloved players, Erik Cole, a departure that will sadden many Caniacs for months to come.
It'll take more than a few minutes to be able to see the full impact the Hurricanes' five summer signings will have; in fact, it'll probably take more than just a year to completely be able to judge that. Nevertheless, we're still going to try to take a shot right now at grading each and every one of the 'Canes offseason changes, for better or worse.
As it turned out, Jim Rutherford's first of many contracts to be handed out over the course of the summer went to Jay Harrison, a 28-year-old defenseman who's operated suitably as a sixth defenseman since his arrival two years ago.
Harrison had played just here-and-there duty for the Toronto Maple Leafs since they drafted him in the third round in 2001, but his move to Carolina earned him a roster spot. The Ontario native has functioned decently for a cheap price since, scoring four goals and 16 points over two seasons and helping the 'Canes out as an enforcer, too.
Nevertheless, his two-year, $700,000 cap hit new contract was a bit surprising, considering he'd be lucky to get a minimum-salary deal on most other teams around the NHL. With the Hurricanes already positioned to have a well-rounded defense next season, Harrison's average skills seem a little wasteful to keep around.
At the last minute, Joni Pitkanen—anticipated to be one of the bigger fish in the pond of free agent defenseman this summer—decided to re-sign with the Hurricanes. After taking a glance at his contract, it's not hard to figure out why he did so; Pitkanen's three-year, $13.5 million deal is the most outrageous salary the 'Canes have handed out in quite some time.
For an all-out offensive D-man like Pitkanen, his goal totals lack quantity (he has just 18 of those in three full seasons in Carolina). Though Pitkanen is a worthy playmaker in the offensive third (averaging 32 assists per season with the 'Canes), he's utterly incapable in his own end, as well.
Often, Pitkanen's ill-advised pinching in the offensive zone leaves him so out of the play heading the other way that another forward is forced to take his place, and, at age 27, it's hard to understand how he's never developed any sort of a physical aspect whatsoever, either.
To be earning that kind of money as a defenseman who is as overrated as Pitkanen is should be outlawed. The salary cap hit that he's adding to the 'Canes' total is simply ridiculous.
Patrick Dwyer's time as a Hurricanes prospect has come to a close, and he's still on the fourth line. At this point, it's hard to see the 28-year-old ever improving much on that role, but he's relatively handy for the job.
Dwyer comes cheap, there's little doubt about that,—his new two-year extension worth just $625,000 per season proves it—but is he truly necessary to the team?
Truthfully, Dwyer's offensive capabilities are obviously lacking after a "career-high" eight-goal, 18-point campaign that saw him go pointless the last 15 games of the season. He's also now lost his bottom-line center position to newly-added Tim Brent, and his participation in faceoffs should soon go down the drain, as well; out of 167 NHL players who took at least 200 draws in 2010-2011, Dwyer's 33.6 winning percentage was dead last.
Keeping him around won't end up costing much, but Dwyer is little more than an unneeded accessory for the 'Canes from this point forward.
Though this particular "move" wasn't exactly a riveting piece of knowledge, we have no complaints over dumping another worthless forward off the depth chart.
Troy Bodie was exactly that; in 50 games last year since being claimed off of waivers from Anaheim, the 26-year-old had one goal, two assists and 54 penalty minutes. His less-than-ideal production eventually earned him a spot as a healthy scratch for the final 12 games of the season and gave him little chance of being re-signed—even as an RFA—this summer.
Evidently, Bodie's on-ice invisibility didn't attract many other suitors, either; as of Aug. 3, he's still a free agent.
Fan favorite Chad LaRose, 29, was given a two-season extension to his expiring contract in late June in an attempt to salvage at least one of the Hurricanes; unresponsive soon-to-be free agent forwards.
At 5'10", LaRose has a surprisingly adept hitting skill and also plays well as a productive third-line winger. The originally-undrafted American tied a career-high with 31 points last season and fell just short of his best mark to date in goals as well, with a total of 16 in that category. On the other hand, though, LaRose's plus/minus slipped to a team-worst minus-21, ranking 880th out of 891 players who made at least one NHL appearance last season.
We're indifferent to this particular contract. LaRose has good work ethic, and while he'll never be anything special as a player, his re-signing with the club adds another decent component to a retooled bottom six.
Possibly our favorite move of Rutherford's over the summer was this one, as he beat the gun and inked Jussi "Juice" Jokinen to a fresh three-year deal. Jokinen's no longer quite the bargain he was before, but even with a $1.3 million salary increase, he's still an invaluable key to Carolina's underrated offense.
The former bronze medal-winning Olympian came over as pocket change in a 2009 trade deadline deal with Tampa Bay, but has proven himself five times over in Raleigh functioning not only as a suitable shootout option, but also as an unheralded goal-scorer and playmaker.
Twenty-eight-year-old Jokinen made a name for himself by racking up seven goals and 11 points in the 'Canes' 2009 playoff run and has since further expanded on that pace during his two latest regular season campaigns. Jokinen led the team in scoring in 2009-2010 with 65 points, including 30 scores, then fell just short of his second-ever 20-plus-goal season a year ago with 19 tallies and 52 points.
Jokinen certainly deserved his new contract that will pay him $9 million for the next three seasons, and it's just as fitting that he'll be spending it on the team where he plays best.
It's unlikely Jiri Tlusty will ever become anything close to the player he was once anticipated to be, but Tlusty's "secret weapon" style from last season (that is, when he wasn't injured) was enough to grant him another minimum-salary, one-year contract.
Tlusty, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, saw his career in Toronto go rapidly downhill after his selection and was eventually dumped off to Carolina in late 2009. Tlusty did scrap together six goals and six helpers during his first full season with the Hurricanes in 2010-2011, but also missed 25 games to injury and eventually finished 18th on the team in average time on ice per game.
After failing to receive a qualifying offer, we were somewhat taken aback when his re-signing was announced just hours before free agency opened, but Tlusty has the potential to be a worthwhile option for his price range if he can remain healthy.
Every year, each team has to go through their list of free agent prospects and, unfortunately, decide on at least a few who have just timed out of the development process without much success. This summer was no different for Carolina, who relinquished five minor-leaguers to UFA status.
Defensemen Bryan Rodney, age 27, Zack Fitzgerald (26) and Casey Borer (26) each head their separate ways this summer, as does forward Nick Dodge (25) and goaltender Justin Pogge (also 25). Two of them have already found work elsewhere,—Rodney signed in Anaheim, while Pogge was inked by Phoenix—but, at least from the Hurricanes' standpoint, none will be too greatly missed.
While this does create an even bigger drought for Carolina's already-shallow pool of young D-men, there was simply no need to clutter up the team's bank account with these aging "prospects." No harm done here.
Cory Stillman fights for the puck in a swarm of Blackhawks.
Cory Stillman's indecisiveness is more to blame for his lack of a re-signing than Jim Rutherford's negotiating skills are. Nonetheless, it's hard to see such a well-liked quality veteran walk away now.
Of course, Stillman's second stint in Carolina was no long stay,—he was only acquired from Florida at the trade deadline—but the 37-year-old did show signs of chemistry during his 21 appearances, contributing 16 points (compared to 23 in 44 games for the Panthers). However, there's no doubt Stillman has seen better days (i.e. eight 20-plus-goal seasons) than his mere 12 strikes from 2010-2011.
With Stillman still a free agent today, it seems increasingly obvious that he might just not want to play hockey anymore, despite the niche that was available for him in Carolina.
Upon his arrival in Raleigh, Tim Brent will hopefully be the perfect fit for the same fourth-line center job where Patrick Dwyer fared less than perfectly.
Brent is, by no means, a box score phenom, totaling only eight goals (two of which came against Carolina) and 12 helpers during his first NHL season last year.
But he can add a lot of skills to a few much-deprived areas of the Hurricanes.
During his time with the Maple Leafs, 27-year-old Brent was a solid enforcer who finished fourth in hits and first in blocked shots among forwards, a penalty killer who ended up with the second-most shorthanded time on ice per game for forwards and a faceoff taker who won 52.0 percent of his 788 draws.
Brent will aid the Hurricanes, especially with the latter two aspects—areas where the 'Canes ranked 20th and 29, respectively, in the NHL. Brent will also be perhaps the only reliable fourth-line definite on the team, and his two-year, $1.5 million total contract raises no complaints, either.
This is a very smart and economical add by Jim Rutherford.
Cam Ward has desperately needed a backup for a while now.
In 2009-2010, Manny Legace—as many would expect—didn't exactly do the trick. Last season's No. 2 guy, Justin Peters, also proved about as porous as Swiss cheese when defending the goal. But now, at long last, it looks like the 'Canes might have finally found their dependable backup option in Brian Boucher.
For Boucher, Carolina is just the next stop in a long road of backup goaltending, a job he's been performing and—most of the time—performing well since 1999. The 34-year-old is coming off an unlikely career-best season where he went 18-10-4 with a .916 save percentage in spotty rotation duty for the Flyers.
Boucher brings hundreds of games of experience to the table—314 regular season and 43 postseason, to be exact—and, like most of the Hurricanes' summer signings, is a very affordable option; he'll earn just under $1.0 million for the next two seasons. Hopefully, Boucher's expected 20-25 appearances will take the workload off Ward, who started 74 times in 2010-2011, and will also generate at least a few more wins than what Peters was able to come up with (a mere three victories) last season.
One of the most painful moments Hurricanes Nation has had in a long time came July 1 at 3:41 p.m. when NHL sources confirmed that Erik Cole had indeed signed a massive four-year, $18 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens.
Cole's departure is so hard to swallow not just because of his production as a player, but also as a leader off the ice. No. 26 spent more than eight seasons in a Hurricanes jersey, appearing in 557 games in the red and white. He was a public face of the community side of the Hurricanes; a regular St. Baldricks head-shaver to support cancer treatment, a mentor to young players (including Jeff Skinner) and one of the last four remaining 2006 Cup winners left on the roster.
Of course, Cole's talent of lighting up the scoreboard will be dearly missed, as well. He scored 168 goals and 363 points for the Hurricanes over his career, including a 30-goal campaign in 2005-2006 and a 61-point season in 2006-2007, in addition to 35 total game-winning goals. Fittingly, Cole ended his time with the 'Canes on another high note this past season, matching his number (26) in both assists and goals (with an incredible 17 of those scores coming in the last five minutes of regulation or in overtime).
Despite all of that, it's certainly reasonable to raise the question if money ended up being the decisive issue in his exit from the team, and—in all truthfulness—it seemed to be. A $4.5 million salary cap hit is outrageous for a 32-year-old like Cole, and if that was anything near what he was asking for from Carolina, then there's no wonder why he's a Hab now.
Seeing Cole leave is even worse than a "F" to us, but we simply can't blame the Hurricanes' side all that much with this non-signing.
Jim Rutherford may look to replace a good portion of Cole's scoring with Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has the potential of a second-line forward, but is also quite a bit riskier than the average Hurricanes offseason signing.
Ponikarovsky may be over his prime at age 31, and after two stretches with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles didn't pan out well, it looks as if he'll need a major rebound in 2011-2012 if he wants to regain the reputation he earned during six successful years in Toronto. The former fourth-round draft choice was a consistent winger from 2005-2006 to 2009-2010, scoring between 18 and 23 goals each of the five seasons, but then slipped to only five lit lamps and 15 total tallies a year ago for the Kings.
His one-year deal lets it be known that Ponikarovsky's borderline jeopardy between being a steadfast top-six forward and an overly injury-prone, aging offenseman is in question, though he apparently still thinks Carolina will be the ideal location to straighten his ship. We're not quite sold either way on the Ukrainian's future, but the idea of a getting a possible year-in, year-out 20-goal scorer for just $1.5 million is too enticing to argue against.
Instead of landing one of the bigger July 2 targets like Simon Gagne, Tim Connolly or Jason Arnott to replace Erik Cole, the Hurricanes decided to make their recent signing of Alexei Ponikarovsky into a dual effort to restore Carolina's offensive balance.
In the end, young Anthony Stewart, another less-than-safe but talent-laden forward, became the other half of the committee approach.
Twenty-six-year-old Anthony Stewart, not to be confused with younger brother Chris Stewart of St. Louis (who happens to be a significantly better, too), had a breakout year in 2010-2011 for the Thrashers, improving on his previous career-best stat line of 2G/5A/7P with 14G/25A/39P effort in 80 games played.
After several years as a fourth-line bottom feeder, Stewart transformed into a respectable mid-line player and power play feeder for the then-Atlanta-based club.
However, once in Winnipeg, Stewart was oddly not given a qualifying offer to make him an RFA, an event that ended up continuing his tour around the Southeast Division; he soon after signed with Carolina.
Stewart is only worth $900,000 per year, a great bargain on paper, and helps round out a young cast of right wings.
It's time for a show of hands: Who saw this deal coming?
We definitely didn't. The 2011 mini-rerun of the 2010 Ilya Kovalchuk escapade, Tomas Kaberle was shocked to still be a UFA after four days of free agency. Even at that point, though, a move to the Hurricanes was not exactly a well-discussed possibility—at least until he announced the deal.
Similar to Alexei Ponikarovsky's situation of a summer ago, Kaberle is a long-time Maple Leaf who, at long last, decided to head elsewhere, but didn't find much luck at his first location. But that's only based on his offensive production—which dwindled to one goal and 19 assists in 49 total appearances for the Bruins and also failed to jump-start an oddly horrific Boston power play. In fact, after four straight years of postseason misses in Toronto, Kaberle won his first Stanley Cup in his third of three total months in Massachusetts!
In Carolina, 33-year-old Kaberle looks to get back to his days of being an elite man-advantage quarterback and blue-line playmaker consistently in the 40-50 helpers range. If financial troubles were the cause for his easy-to-criticize play this spring, they will certainly be solved with his new three-year deal, including a $4.25 million cap hit.
Even though we don't quite love that contract, it's always pleasant when a proven winner is added to the 'Canes' lineup, and Kaberle is a fantastic example of that.
Joe Corvo's July 5 trade to the Boston Bruins originally seemed like a hastily-made byproduct of the Tomas Kaberle signing. But on second glance, it turned out that it was actually the other way around, for Corvo and his agent had in reality asked for a deal out of Raleigh the previous weekend.
Corvo was a likable player during his 3.5 seasons in Carolina from ages 30 to 34, but he is getting on in age and was no defensive epitome; in truth, Corvo was just a really nice second pairing defenseman.
On the other hand, Corvo is still worth a lot more than a fourth-round pick. Selections in the third round or later only make it to NHL status about 12 percent of the time, so is Corvo truly equal in worth to a prospect with that kind of outlook? Absolutely not, in our opinion.
All in all, replacing Corvo with Kaberle is a "B" exchange, at worst, but trading Corvo for a fourth-round pick? That move is lucky to get a "D!"
To read more on the Kaberle/Corvo July 5 saga, take a look at our in-depth analysis article here.
After the changes to the roster were done, Jim Rutherford stepped out of the free agent market and back into his own realms, where two crucial RFA's remained unsigned in mid-July. Defenseman Derek Joslin was the first to be re-upped, avoiding the arbitration process he'd filed for earlier in the offseason.
Joslin was a lovely surprise for the 'Canes this past spring after he was acquired from San Jose in the Ian White deal. Joslin, 24, had completed the development process for the Sharks, but still was plagued by the lack of a consistent roster spot before the trade.
Once in Carolina, Joslin was fortunate that some timely injuries to his fellow defensemen allowed him to avoid the "healthy scratch" cellar for most of the final two months of the season. The blueliner blossomed with his new playing time, scoring one goal, five points and a plus-seven rating in 17 appearances.
Joslin will once again compete with six other defensemen for a spot on the ice each night, but he should have a good chance to beat out Jay Harrison more times than not and also now has the advantage of a steady two-year, $1.4 million (total) contract to rest upon.
Rutherford made the Caniacs wait, but Hurricanes fans from across the hockey world were finally satisfied July 13 when the team announced the re-signing of Brandon Sutter. Twenty-two-year-old Sutter, the ninth NHL-er from a family with a very long history, was re-signed to a three-year, $6.2 million contract.
Sutter broke loose in 2009-2010 when he became the first NHL player in nine seasons to score more than 20 goals (Sutter managed 21) while taking only one penalty over the course of an entire season.
The former 11th overall draft pick took more of a step sideways in 2010-2011, as his goal total dropped to 14 while, on the other hand, he became of the team's best defensive forwards and also played a full 82-game season. However, through all of that, Sutter showed the other facet of how he could become a premier two-way center for Carolina.
As for the money angle, Sutter absolutely deserved his raise, and is still a mighty cheap star for his age and background. From our perspective, this deal was an excellent way to end a busy, flourishing offseason for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes . In his 34 months so far with the site, he has written more than 300 articles and received more than 340,000 total reads.