NHL 2014 Trade Deadline Day: Plan of Action for Carolina Hurricanes

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst IMarch 4, 2014

NHL 2014 Trade Deadline Day: Plan of Action for Carolina Hurricanes

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    After a disappointing February yielded a realistically impossible route to the NHL playoffs for the Carolina Hurricanes, general manager Jim Rutherford knew he had to re-adopt a seller mentality on the trade market.

    Wednesday, it will be time for him to make the hard decisions about this struggling 'Canes team.

    The right decisions could set up the club for a more successful, baggage-free postseason run in 2015.

    The wrong decisions could doom the franchise to several more years of rebuilding it might not be able to survive in North Carolina—and also cost Rutherford his job.

    What moves should Rutherford and the rest of Carolina's front office execute as Wednesday's 3 p.m. ET trade deadline approaches? A reasonable, feasible and effective five-step plan of action falls on the coming slides.

Claim Cory Conacher off Waivers

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    The Ottawa Senators placed 24-year-old forward Cory Conacher on 24-hour waivers Tuesday at noon, according to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports.

    Conacher was one of the front-runners for the Calder Trophy after recording 24 points in 35 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, but he was abruptly traded to Ottawa for Ben Bishop. The undersized 5'8" center has since been a disappointment in Canada's capital, tallying just four goals and 20 points in 59 games this season.

    Nonetheless, Conacher is one of the best players to hit the NHL waiver wire in years. If the Hurricanes get the opportunity to claim him, they should without hesitation—after all, they have nothing to lose.

    The price (a $871,250 cap hit through this summer, when he will be a restricted free agent) is almost inconsequential, and the 'Canes will be quickly able to escape the experiment if so desired. Conacher has performed well in advanced stats (52.8 percent Corsi rating) this campaign and, at 24, still offers plenty of upside.

    Given the Hurricanes' need for fresh offensive faces (see slide No. 4) and 5'6" Nathan Gerbe's relative success in the Red and White this season, Conacher is certainly worthy of a waiver claim.

Trade Cam Ward or Justin Peters

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    The Carolina Hurricanes have had a messy goaltending situation in need of resolution all season long. Up until to this point, Rutherford has ignored the problem.

    He now has one final chance to make a decision.

    Anton Khudobin is now, smartly, secured for another two years at a reasonable $2.25 million cap hit, following the Tuesday announcement of his contract extension, per the team's official website. His deal now leaves both Cam Ward and Justin Peters even more likely to be shipped out of town.

    The easy route would be to ship off a neglected Peters for a late-round draft pick with almost no chance of materializing into an NHL player in the future. It's only fair to the former second-round pick that he at least gets a backup role somewhere, either Raleigh or elsewhere.

    The hard, yet likely more rewarding, route would be to part ways with Ward, a 2006 Stanley Cup winner and longtime franchise cornerstone, and simply accept the best offer on the market.

    With a gag-worthy $6.3 million cap hit through 2016 and six wins and an .891 save percentage in 20 starts this season, the return Ward would garner based on legacy and name value on the market likely exceeds his declining on-ice capabilities. But Rutherford has always held a great respect for honoring past contributions and team attachment and may not have the decisiveness to deal No. 30.

    Speculative trade destinations for Peters include the Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets. Speculative trade destinations for Ward include the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Clean out Bottom-Six Forwards

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    The Hurricanes have received more depth scoring in 2013-14 than they did last spring, but the depth chart remains populated largely by underperforming players and upcoming free agents.

    Manny Malhotra, Radek Dvorak and Brett Sutter are all unrestricted free agentsthis July, with Jiri Tlusty, Drayson Bowman and Nathan Gerbe prepared to become RFAs. Tuomo Ruutu has a horrible contract and will be hard to trade due to his highly disappointing performance to date. However, he, along with Riley Nash, was put on the trading block by Rutherford himself in January, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. Patrick Dwyer is in the midst of a down season, as well.

    Just got this text from a knowledgeable source to describe the Canes efforts right now before the deadline: 'Liquidation.'

    — Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) March 4, 2014

    Simply put, the 'Canes bottom-six needs a spring cleaning.

    Gerbe and Tlusty stand good chances to receive extension offers and former fifth overall selection Elias Lindholm is untouchable; otherwise, no one is safe.

    It would be in Rutherford's best interest to ship out the majority of the third and fourth lines for picks or prospects, opening up room for youngsters like Victor Rask, Aaron Palushaj, Zach Boychuk, Chris Terry and others to earn playing time this spring and then Brock McGinn and Sergei Tolchinsky next fall.

Decide on Ron Hainsey, John-Michael Liles

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    Ron Hainsey and John-Michael Liles offer far different resumes in terms of skill sets and their respective contract situations, yet both could potentially be on the move out of Raleigh this week.

    Hainsey, making just $2 million this season, will become a UFA in July and could help a contender looking for a veteran D-man. He's had an unheralded campaign in Carolina this year and might be able to fetch a second-round pick in return.

    Liles, acquired in the New Year's Day deal that sent Tim Gleason to Toronto, hasn't helped the Hurricanes power play much at all and is due for a much bigger pay day—he sports a $3.875 cap hit through 2016. Yet the veteran could still garner some lukewarm interest, enough to at least get him off the books for the next two seasons.

    Rutherford and Co. will need to decide the relative importance of Hainsey and Liles to the team and make a cautious decision to trade or retain based on Wednesday's market.

Prepare for Restructuring, Not Rebuilding

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    The Hurricanes' primary goals for the 2014 trade deadline should be to stabilize the outer fringes of the roster, remove dead-weight salary and develop a more efficient, balanced roster looking ahead to 2014-15.

    It should not be, nor can the team's finances afford for it to be, a complete rebuilding movement.

    Despite the ugly picture painted by the last month of hockey, the 'Canes are in far better shape than the likes of the Sabres, Islanders and Panthers. They do not need to have a fire sale; they need to have a garage sale. A drastic changing-of-the-guard sequence is not necessary—a moderate restructuring of depth and youth is.

    Rutherford has been criticized often in years past for his perennial hesitancy and, thus, lack of activity at the trade deadline. This year, his job security cannot afford such indecisiveness. However, it also cannot afford a sudden bout of outlandish wheeling and dealing.

    He must find the happy medium between those two stances to make March 5 a successful day for the Carolina Hurricanes.

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