A five-day trip to Buffalo — where I tried but failed to keep the Sabres from making the best buyers' move of the deadline — kept me off the radar for this season's NHL's annual swap meet. But have no fear! I'm still going to weigh in on the moves GM Jim Rutherford made — and didn't make — and what it means in the long and short term for the franchise.
Move 1: D Niclas Wallin and Carolina’s fifth-round pick in 2010 to San Jose for Buffalo’s second-round pick in 2010.
What does it mean? Look up role player in the Hurricanes almanac and you'll find a picture of Wallin. Never flashy — though he did have a flair for the dramatic — Wallin was Carolina’s longest-tenured player and ranks fourth all-time in games played with the Canes. But with an expiring contract and age not on his side, Wallin’s days in Raleigh were likely over.
Did they get the goods? The fact the Rutherford got a second round pick for a bottom pairing defenseman and a fifth is really a coup. Wallin’s strength, penalty killing and experience will be missed, but the team is moving in a different, younger direction, and the 35-year-old likely wasn't in their plans beyond this season.
What does it mean? Cullen was in the final year of his deal, but don't rule out a return to Raleigh in 2010-11. If Rod Brind`Amour retires at season's end, chances are Rutherford will be in the market for a third-line center. Cullen is still just 33 and has always been at his best in Carolina. If Brind'Amour's $3 million salary came off the books, Rutherford could offer Cullen somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.5 to $5.5 million over the next two seasons and shore up the center ice position and bring back a fan favorite — again.
Did they get the goods? Rutherford got a huge return for the shifty forward, landing a cheap replacement on the blueline for Wallin in Picard and another second rounder. Picard will be an RFA this offseason, but will likely fetch only around $1 to $1.25 million a season, depending on the length of the contract. Picard may have a tough time cracking the Hurricanes’ special teams units, but he should get ample even-strength ice time going forward.
What does it mean? For the second time in two years, Ward felt stung by the way he was treated by the Raleigh faithful. The aftermath of the "Scott Walker punch" incident clearly left a bad taste in his mouth, and Ward's early season struggles were never forgiven despite his much improved play the past couple months. For a player who was once woven into the franchise's fabric and called the Triangle home — even when he played in New York and Boston — Ward's fall from grace in the eyes of many Caniacs is something Rutherford could never have envisioned. His deal expiring, Ward would not have been back in 2010-11. The acquisition of Pogge leads me to believe Justin Peters has made enough of an impression to land the backup goaltender job in Raleigh next season. Pogge will likely compete with Murphy for the starting job with the new Charlotte AHL team next season, while Manny Legace's run with the franchise is probably over.
Did they get the goods? Considering Ward cleared waivers earlier this season with no takers, the return was good. Pogge, an RFA, needs a new contract and may never make it into a Canes uniform, but goalie mentor Tom Barrasso will get the chance to work his magic on the big netminder, and the team has filled a need in goal in the farm system. The draft pick further stock piles Rutherford's coffers for June, when he will have the chance to both replenish the farm system and move up in the draft.
What does it mean? Walker, like Ward and Wallin, had an expiring deal, and the team's youth movement likely wouldn't include him next season. The throwback winger deserves another shot at the postseason, and while it hurts to move him within the Southeast Division, it's a great chance for him to go deep in the playoffs again.
Did they get the goods? If shedding payroll is "the goods," then yes. You never what can happen, but in most instances a seventh round pick amounts to nothing.
What does it mean? It's conceivable that Corvo, like Cullen, could come back to Carolina this offseason. But the return was just too high to pass up, and Corvo's departure opens the door for more ice time for Picard, Brett Carson, Jamie McBain and others.
Did they get the goods? In landing Osala — another Finn for Rutherford's collection — and a second, the team added more draft firepower and a desperately needed big body in the system. The 6-4 Osala may have gone in the fourth round in the 2006 draft, but several services had him slotted in the top two rounds. Also, the logjam of talent in Washington's farm system meant he wasn't a featured player on a very good Hershey AHL squad. He should get a shot to show his worth the rest of the way in Albany, then perhaps push for a roster spot next year — when the Hurricanes will open their season in his homeland of Finland — or in 2011-12. Pothier, whose deal is up at the end of the season, was a salary ($2.5 million) tradeoff by the Caps, but if he fits in well with the Canes the team could push to re-sign him. He's known as an easy-going guy and should assimilate in the room with ease. The 2011 pick gives Rutherford a chip for next season if the Canes bounce back like he expects in 2010-11.
What does it mean? This move, along with Walker's trade to a contender, further cements Rutherford as a GM who cares about his players. With this deal, Yelle returns to the city where he had most of his success and rejoins a playoff push late in his career. Don't think for a minute that free agents don't notice that Rutherford treats his players right. On top of that, Rutherford sheds more payroll.
Did they get the goods? The team got a character guy in Lalonde-McNicoll, a two-time CHL Sportsman of the Year. He was a big-time playmaker with Shawinigan of the QMJHL — playing there with current Canes prospect Matthew Pistilli and recently traded 2009 first round pick Philippe Paradis — but has yet to translate that to the AHL level in his first pro season. He will give Albany coach Jeff Daniels another body — albeit a small one at 5-10 — for the AHL stretch run and could perhaps spark a bottom six line with Pistilli. The sixth round pick is a throw-in, but like the seventh landed in the Walker trade, sometimes you hit the jackpot late. Reed’s development never progressed and he needed a fresh start.
What does it mean? It means Rutherford wants to retool his defense around Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen and McBain. Alberts was signed through next year at a reasonable $1.3 million ($1.05 million cap hit) and had performed well for the role he was given. But Alberts’ absence on special teams was likely a deciding factor. The team can insert a specialist (Bryan Rodney?) into the third pairing and perhaps boost their power play or penalty kill.
Did they get the goods? Considering Alberts had a year left of his deal, I'd say yes. A third round pick for a 15-minute-a-night blueliner who didn't kill penalties for Carolina is a decent return, even if he was reasonably priced for 2010-11. Still, this is probably the most questionable deal of all.
Move X: Not trading Ray Whitney.
What does it mean? Well, Alberts is the most questionable deadline move, but the decision — whether it was Rutherford's or Whitney’s — to not get something for Whitney is the biggest "Huh?" moment of the deadline. Rutherford was ready to pull the trigger on a speculated deal to Los Angeles, but The Wizard reportedly killed the trade when he asked for a multi-year extension with the Kings.
Did they get the goods? If Rutherford can re-sign Whitney to a reasonably priced short-term deal (one or two years), all will be forgotten. But if Whitney walks this offseason, Rutherford will be steamed — at Whitney for blocking the L.A. deal, and at himself for getting burned again by a no-trade clause — he couldn't get a big return on the most desirable available asset on the deadline market. Even if Whitney does come back, Rutherford will probably lose some sleep wondering what kind of return he could've received.
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What does it all mean? A lot will hinge on three things: 1) Will Whitney be re-signed? 2) Will Brind'Amour be back for 2010-11? and 3) Will the team try to and succeed in re-signing Pothier?
If Whitney leaves, Zach Boychuk could get a shot at a top-six role at the start of 2010-11, plus open another spot for someone like Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe, Osala, ect. If Brind'Amour leaves, there will be a void that needs to be filled at the third-line pivot. That could mean an attempt at bringing back Cullen or, if the team flounders enough down the stretch, a spot for an NHL-ready draft pick to step in to the lineup. It could also lead to Jussi Jokinen moving back to center, though he has found chemistry with Staal and Whitney on the top line. If both Whitney and Brind'Amour decide to return, there will be a logjam up front that will need to be addressed — that means buying out or trading a forward to make room for the youngsters.
On defense, Pothier's fate and McBain's progress will determine what direction the team goes. If Pothier is re-signed, the Canes will likely need to sign just one defenseman going forward. McBain will get a look in Raleigh before this season is over, and if he impresses expect him to slide into a top-four role, perhaps alongside Gleason. Picard and Pitkanen could prove a potent pair, while Carson could line up with anyone from Pothier to Rodney to a new acquisition. McBain could also play alongside Carson and the team could make a play for a top-four blueliner, either via trade with their surplus of wingers or in the UFA market. If Pothier walks, the Canes will probably bring in at least two defenseman, perhaps re-signing Jay Harrison to play the No. 6/7 role and another d-man to finish off the roster. Don't rule out Cam Fowler, the draft's top defenseman and the likely third overall, for that spot as well.
As stated above, landing Pogge means, to me, that the team will use Peters to back up Ward next season and let Murphy and Pogge split duties in Charlotte.
Final Grade: Not moving Whitney could be a huge loss, but he did maximize the value of Corvo, Cullen, Wallin and Ward. The team has trimmed payroll, opened spots for young players to finish the year in Carolina, and stockpiled draft picks for this summer. The key to evaluating Rutherford will likely depend on three things: Will the team slow down and land a blue chip player at the draft, preferably a top-three pick?; Will the extra draft picks equal extra talent?; Can Osala be the answer for the Canes lack of size in their forward ranks, even if it takes another season for him to earn a spot? Those are big ifs. But overall, Rutherford did as much as could. Grade: B
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Here's a look at the draft picks Carolina currently holds for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
1st Round: CAR 1st
2nd Round: CAR 2nd, BUF 2nd (Wallin deal), OTT 2nd (Corvo Cullen deal)
3rd Round: CAR 3rd, VAN 3rd (Alberts deal)
4th Round: BOS 4th (conditional: will be in 2010 or 2011)
5th Round: NSH 5th (due to Darcy Hordichuk not signing with CAR last offseason after team acquired his rights for CAR 5th in 2009)
6th Round: CAR 6th, COL 6th (Yelle trade)
7th Round: CAR 7th, WSH 7th (Walker trade)