Three Takes on Carolina Free Agency

Who will stay and who will go? 

Scott, Cory, and I have our opinions about what the Hurricanes will do with their RFA's and UFA's this offseason.  Here is what we came up with:

Cory-

UFAs

 

Ryan Bayda — Bayda finally established himself as an NHLer this year, playing 70 regular season games and 15 more in the postseason. He earned the NHL minimum ($475,000 one-way contract) and would likely only demand the same kind of deal to sick around. But the glut of forwards on the roster ­— and the versatility of many them to play multiple positions — means Bayda’s chances of getting another one-way deal questionable at best. Verdict: Walk

 

Erik Cole — Cole returned “home” at the trade deadline and was a catalyst for the Hurricanes’ last season push to the postseason. Some would say his presence makes Eric Staal a better player. While I don’t necessarily agree, the question is does GM Jim Rutherford agree, and if so, how much is that worth? Miroslav Satan, while a few years older than Cole, last year put up numbers similar to Cole’s 18 goals and 24 assists and got a $3.5 million, one-year contract from Pittsburgh. Cole will likely be looking for a longer-term deal (he’ll probably want four but settle for three years) but for less money. If Cole takes $7 million over three seasons, you keep him. If not, thanks for the memories (again). Verdict: Keep at $7 million/3 years ($2.33 million average), Walk otherwise

 

Chad LaRose — We’ve all heard of the contract-year boost, but in LaRose’s case, it was more just a situation where everything fell into place at the right time. His career highs in goals (19, eight more than his previous high), assists (12 for the fourth-straight year) and points (31, compared to 23 last year), coupled with his constant hustle and responsible defensive play and penalty-killing acumen all point to a raise. He was low-balled last offseason ($875,000) by Rutherford and his “slotting” philosophy because he was seen as a fourth-liner, so Rutherford will have to ante up at least third-line pay to keep LaRose. Curtis Glencross, less than a year younger than LaRose, got a three-year, $3.6 million deal last offseason from Calgary after putting up similar numbers (15 goals, 10 assists in just 62 games). LaRose, still just 27, likes it here and probably wants to stay. A 50 percent pay hike (and some security) seems fair. Verdict: Keep at $5.2 million/4 years ($1.3 million average)

 

Michael Ryan — Ryan was a good addition for Albany and showed off his blazing speed in 18 games with the Canes. Unfortunately, his hands can’t keep up with his feet at the NHL level. Carolina’s glut of forwards (both signed NHLers and up-and-coming past draft picks) means Ryan would probably be passed over in trying to get back to the NHL. He’ll probably look for a two-way deal on a team that could use some speed and help at forward (think Minnesota or a bad team like Tampa Bay). Verdict: Walk

 

Dennis Seidenberg — It’s easy to forget Seidenberg doesn’t turn 28 until mid-June. His numbers (five goals, 25 assists, 22:19 TOI) show his value as a top-four defenseman, I just don’t think Carolina can afford to pay him as such. Ron Hainsey put up similar numbers last year (8-24-32, 22:32) with Columbus and he got $4.5 million per season for five years from Atlanta. I don’t expect Seidenberg to get that kind of money on the open market — Hainsey’s more of a power play QB — but $3 million a season isn’t inconceivable. With several young d-man waiting in the wings, the Hurricanes can’t afford to make Seidenberg their second highest-paid blueliner. Verdict: Walk

 

UFA VI (25+ years old with three pro seasons but less than 80 NHL games)

 

Patrick Dwyer — Dwyer’s ability to step in as both an energy player and penalty killer make him an intriguing decision. He won’t have many suitors, so Carolina may be able to sign him to a two-way deal and use him as a fourth-liner or reserve. Verdict: Keep at $475,000/$100,000 two-way deal

 

Dwight Helminen — Helminen’s presence as a depth center helped this year, but Brandon Sutter should have no problem sticking in the NHL next season. Expect him to go elsewhere, perhaps back to Europe. Verdict: Walk

 

RFAs

 

Anton Babchuk — Only four defensemen — Mike Green, Sheldon Souray, Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara — had more goals than the 16 Babchuk had this season, and he did it in just 72 games and a touch more than 18 minutes a night. The only player that comes close to putting up those kinds of numbers in that kind of time is Minnesota’s Marc-Andre Bergeron, who had 14 markers in 72 games and nearly 17 minutes of ice time a night. But the Hurricanes already have one streaky, moody offense-first blueliner in Joe Corvo, and Corvo is much better defensively. The market for a 25-year-old defenseman with 20-goal potential could be big, and Carolina could get some valuable assets from a team desperate for scoring from the blueline with cap space to spare. Possible destinations could be Montreal or Phoenix. If the Canes decided to move Corvo, who will be entering the final year of his contract at $2.75 million, they could keep Babchuk at around $2 million a year for a few seasons. I don’t see that happening. Verdict: Trade as RFA for prospects, draft picks or low-priced up-and-coming players.

 

Jussi Jokinen — Jokinen’s best seasons came when surrounded by fellow Finns in Dallas. With teammates Joni Pitkanen and Tuomo Ruutu likely entrenched in Raleigh for the foreseeable future, I fully expect both sides to do whatever it takes to keep Jokinen in Carolina. His postseason performance, coupled with his value as a shootout specialist, should solidify his worth the team, and Jokinen has to be pleased that the move to the Hurricanes worked out so well for him. That might mean taking the same route they did last year with Ruutu — agreeing to honor the one-year RFA qualifying offer. That makes sense. Verdict: Keep for $2.1 million/1 year qualifying offer.

 

Tuomo Ruutu — Ruutu will be Rutherford’s top priority. Once considered the best player not skating in North America, Ruutu was hampered early in his career by both injuries and the then-dysfunctional Blackhawks. But he blossomed in Carolina and was an immediate fan favorite for his big hits. More importantly, Ruutu was healthy for most of the season. He flashed moments of greatness with the puck on his stick, exhibiting a lightning-fast release, and was vital to the team’s power play as the best in-front-of-the-net forward under both Peter Laviolette and Paul Maurice. All this equals payday for Ruutu, and with countrymen Pitkanen and Jokinen on board, he might be willing to take a little less to make this home. A good comparable would be San Jose’s Milan Michalek, who put up similar numbers last year and has a backloaded six-year, $26 million deal that kicked in this year. Ruutu’s injury history and harder economic times will mean less money, but not much less. Verdict: Keep for $14 million/4 years ($3.5 million average)

 

Total spent (if Cole stays): $9.705 million

***********************

Bob- (Bubba)

 

UFA's-

 

Ryan Bayda-  Bayda performed much better than I thought he was going to at the beginning of the year.  He played a total of 70 games in the regular season and chipped in with 5G and 7A.  During the playoffs, he scored two huge goals against New Jersey and was a key contributor throughout the postseason.  Unfortunately for the winger, the Canes have some youngsters coming up who can take his spot and they have already signed Conboy to a one-way contract.  I could see the Canes givng him a two-way deal, but I would say the odds are that Bayda will be somewhere else next fall.  (minimum wage player) (20% chance that he will return)

 

Erik Cole-  Jim Rutherford says that he will try to re-sign Cole.  The winger has gone on record saying that he expects to be back.  So, what could possibly stop the deal from happening?  Money.  The Canes will try to sign Cole on the cheap, (between 2-3 million per year).  Cole is coming off a contract which paid him 12 million over three years.  That would be a huge pay cut.  WILDCARD- Don't under-estimate how much this player is coveted in places like Montreal and Ottawa.  If a bidding war starts for his services, the Canes should drop out of it.  But if they can sign him to a reasonable deal, they should do it.  (My price range would be a max of 2.5 million per year)  (70% chance that he will return)

 

Chad LaRose-  LaRose had another career year as he scored 19 goals over the regular season and added four more with seven assists in the playoffs.  Chad is also a solid player in his own end as he finished with a +6 in the regular season and was even in the playoffs.  (Compared to Ray Whitney who was -9 in the postseason)  Obviously, he is due a big raise from his 875K last year, but as much as the Canes love him and as much as the player would love to come back, the contract negotiations won't be easy.  Last year the popular forward took the Canes to arbitration, but Carolina ended up striking a deal just before the hearing.   LaRose could justify a 2 million plus salary, but the two will probably settle on 1.6 to 1.8 for each of three years. (90% chance that he will return)

 

Dennis Seidenberg-  Seidenberg had good numbers on offense, 5g, 25A, and 1G, 5A, led the team in blocked shots, and can play a physical brand of hockey when needed.  But he does have his shortcomings,( -9 and -5).  He would certainly be a better option than Frank Kaberle and Nic Wallin, who are both already under contract, but looking at the money situation and the fact that the Canes have youngsters ready to fill the void, it's doubtful the team has room for the German native, unless they get creative.  (should get a contract for 2-3 million per year)(20% chance that he will return)

 

RFA's

 

Tuomo Ruutu-  Ruutu was a consistent performer who led the team in hits.  He was also the third leading scorer on the team with 26 goals.  The Canes know they need him and will try to lock him up long term, (3 years), but can they agree on the numbers? One way or the other, one must think that they will get him signed.  He currently earns 2.25M.  (projected contract for three years at 2.5 to 3 million a year)(95% chance that he will return)

 

Jussi Jokinen-  Jokinen has a bit of a high salary, (1.8M), for a role player, (7G, 20A) but the forward does everything well and chips in with shootout expertise.  He might just be coming into his own as he scored some huge goals in the playoffs for the Canes.  Rutherford could just qualify him with a 10% increase over his current salary, or they could try to wrap him up for 2-3 years.  (salary range about 2 million)(100% chance to return)

 

Anton Babchuk-  Babchuk was a steal this past season at 1M and was fifth in the entire NHL for defensemen with 16 goals.  While sporadic in the playoffs, his defense showed promise at times in the regular season.  For me, the question is his attitude.  He is looked upon as a loner at times and is a quiet player.  My guess is that they will try to trade him at the draft and if they can not, will try to sign him cheap and deal him later.  He is an asset and should not be given away for free.  (if he is not traded early look for the team to qualify him with a 10% raise and see where the chips fall regarding a trade later)(10% chance that he will return to the fall lineup).

**********************************

 

Scott-

 

In my fantasy hockey Hurricanes world, the between season shakeups in the Canes lineup would be mui grander than what will undoubtedly unfold this summer. With six players slated to make more than $3 mil next season, there isn't a huge opportunity for significant change.

In Scott's most excellent imaginary Hurricane world, Rod Brind 'Amour would don a crisp suit, moose up his forelocks and join Glen Wesley in the front office as Director of Face-Off and Two-Way Forward Development.  And in that world, Nic Wallin and Frankie Kaberle would find naughty pictures of Garth Snow with an underage college co-ed, or a farm animal, and use them to blackmail the Isles into a trade that would force Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton out of hockey. Boo-Yeah.

Alas, reality bites, so here is my take on what will happen with the Canes stable of UFA/RFA players.

UFA

Rayan Bayda: I miss the Adamseses. Byada plays with a lot of heart, but he couldn't spit off the bow of the Titanic and hit an iceberg. I think Ryan walks.

Erik Cole: The last three seasons at a glance: 61 points in 60 games, 51 in 73 games and 42 in 80 games. I'd like to see him move on, but my guess is that JR re-signs Cole for around $2.5 mil.

Denis Seidenberg: Solid player reaching the peak of his development. I say the Canes keep him for around $3.5 mil.

Chad LaRose: Chad plays well both ways and on any line. Enemies would love to scoop up Chad. I think he deserves and will want around $3.5 - $4 mil. He's a proud guy and knows hockey is not forever. I say Chad walks in pursuit of a bigger pay-day.

RFA

Tuomo Ruutu: I think Andrew Ladd looked better in the playoffs. He's also a more affordable player and has one more season on his contract. But I digress... JR will keep Ruutu for around $3 Mil. Ruutu will have flashes of brilliance, but spend even more time on the IR.

Jussi Jokinen: Jussi reminds me a bit of the little Lemur, Mort, in the Madagascar cartoons or maybe Sally Field. Please keep me king Julian. They Caniacs love me, they really love me. I think he returns for around $2-$2.5 mil.

Anton Babchuk: Babs choked when the Canes needed him most. He has trouble handling the puck in his feet and when there is any pressure. And I think he still lacks the viciousness needed in a big blueliner. Plus, I found the spring haircut really troubling. Nice return to the NHL. He's a better player and teammate now than when he dashed off to Roossh-uh. I just don't see a lot of upside left. I say Babchuk walks.

Oh yeah, nhlnumbers.com still lists David Tanabe as a salary draw for '08-'09. In my boldest prediction of all, I say David is done. Take that to the bank, baby.

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