Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford made a couple of huge statements with the signing of free agent Stephane Yelle. First of all, he is pushing the limits of the team budget as well as inching closer to the high end of the salary cap. You read that correctly, the Canes are getting close to the high end of the salary cap!
Team management obviously feels that the club has a very good chance at making another strong run for the Cup, and they are pulling out all the stops in order to achieve that goal. The addition of Yelle gives the Hurricanes one of the strongest groups of centers in the NHL. Eric Staal, Rod Brind'Amour, Matt Cullen, and Yelle will be as strong up the middle as any other group in the league. Add Jussi Jokinen to the mix, and they are probably second to none.
The Canes will also have a solid, bruising fourth line which is capable of scoring. Yelle, Tom Kostopoulos, and Scott Walker will demand much more than two minutes of playing time every night and coach Paul Maurice will be challenged to find enough ice time for everyone.
This roster could be the most balanced ever assembled in Carolina, but what might be even more impressive? The team has better depth than ever before and now is at liberty to allow their younger players a chance to earn their stripes in Albany, rather than get limited playing time in the big leagues.
Most Caniacs remember how Brandon Sutter was knocked into another world by Doug Weight against the Islanders last season. While Weight obviously lined the young center up intending to hit him hard, Sutter put himself into a very vulnerable position by lowering his head and reaching for the puck. Perhaps if he has more experience, he does not make that mistake?
Regardless, now that another center is under contract, the Hurricanes now have the luxury of allowing Sutter a full year of experience at a lower level. Not only that, but he will get to work with friend and fellow Team Canada (juniors) teammate, Zach Boychuk. Throw Drayson Bowman, Matt Pistilli, Mike Murphy, Jamie McBain, Brett Carson, Chris Terry, and others into the mix and several of this season's River Rats could very well be the future of the franchise.
Giving these younger players the opportunity to develop, learn, and grow together is huge. In year's past, Caniacs have seen their young prospects often thrown to the wolves too soon.
David Tanabe is a perfect example. The young defenseman not only played on the blueline without the benefit of proper development time in the AHL, he also had to play as a forward at times when injuries shortened the Carolina bench. The former first round draft pick was almost doomed to failure.
So not only does the signing of Yelle help with the chances of this year's formidable team, this signing also helps to insure the future success of the franchise. Things will be very interesting in Albany this year, for sure.