While most of us here are very excited about the possibility of the kids coming up and playing next year, I feel that the Canes need to still add a piece or two to get us to that next level. We are a good team that SHOULD challenge for a playoff spot and once in the playoffs, anything can happen. I feel the Canes are missing three pieces to the puzzle. They need one top 6 (perferably top line winger), a 3rd line center, and a top 4 defenseman. Could some of the kids potentially fill these roles, yes. But we have to remember they are unproven commodities in the NHL and they might not be completely ready to take on these roles. What I am going to look at is some possible moves to be made to fill some of these holes. Let me know what you guys/gals think and what moves, if any, you would like to see.
1. A Top 6 Winger
Excluding UFA's, the Canes only have 4 legitmate top 6 forward (Staal, Ruutu, Sutter, and Jokinen). And while I think Jussi is a perfect compliment to Staal on the top line, he hasn't really played that spot until this past year. Will he continue to rise to the top or will he settle back into a 2nd/3rd line tweener? This is something that we must consider and be prepared for. Hell, at the end of the year the Canes had LaRose playing on the 1st line! I love Chad, but we all know he is not top line material. Ruutu could play on the 1st line, but I think he works better on a 2nd line Sutter. Could Boychuk, Dalpe, or Bowman take up a top line role? That is a possibility, but you might be pushing them too hard, too fast. I fully expect at least one of those three to take ownership of a top 6 position, but it still might take over half of the season and it might not be top 3.
You might be saying; just resign Ray Whitney, and that might be the case. I just feel that Ray wants a multi year deal and given his age, that might not be in the best interest of the Canes. Ray is 38 years old and his PPG average dropped from 0.94 in 08/09 to 0.73 in 09/10. That's still a respectable number, but Rod dropped 0.22 between 07/08 and 08/09 and we see where he is now. Whitney could hit that invisible "old age" wall and we would be stuck with a multi year contract. The "production" wall can and does get hit by everyone regardless of age, but age increases the possibility of hitting that wall (maybe the old people driving can't see it).
I suggest that JR take a look at the UFA market, teams that are in a little cap trouble, and teams that are looking to shed players/salary.
Patrick Sharp - This is a move I would love to see. Chicago is in salary cap hell for next season and must get rid of some players. Unless someone takes on Brian Campbell's god awful contract or trade for Marian Hossa to make it to the Finals, some other big piece is going to have to be moved. Sharp would fit perfectly in Carolina (as well as almost anywhere). He could line up next to Staal and Jussi and create a very formidable 1st line. He is also very versatile; playing different positions and different lines. He would be my #1 goal of the offseason. Chicago would want draft picks and young talent for him (keeping them under the cap). I would propose either Bowman or Tlusty and our 2011 1st round draft pick (it's suppose to be a weak draft and hopefully we'll be drafting after #20) for Sharp.
Kris Versteeg - Versteeg has upside and speed and the like I said above, some players in Chicago are going to have to go. I'm not a big fan of Versteeg, but he should be top 6 material and could play with Staal or Sutter. We could probably get him for Tlusty and a low 2nd or 3rd round pick.
Ales Hemsky - I'm not sure if Edmonton would part with him, but its an idea. They looking at revamping their lineup and getting picks & prospects. Hemsky is a talented player that could be the playmaker to bring out the best in Staal. His cap hit is not bad for a probable top line player and he has two years remaining. Edmonton would require a lot to give him up and I don't know if the Canes would be willing to meet their price. I was think our 2011 1st round pick and Bowman; maybe even throw in the rights to Picard.
Dustin Penner - He's another Oiler that could be on the move. With them going younger, this left winger doesn't really have a place in their top 6. He can put up about 25 goals a season, is a big force-of-nature forward (that's for you AD), and his cap hit is completely unreasonable. He could be the physical force for Staal that Cole no longer is or you could play him with Sutter & Ruutu and create a very physical line. He could be had for less than Hemsky; maybe Tlusty, Picard, and Washington's 2011 2nd round pick.
Nathan Horton - Trading within your own division is always difficult and risky. Florida is looking at going in a new direction and Horton has never really lived up to his billing. He is a versatile player that will put up near 30 goals (if healthy), but just doesn't seem to put it all together. He's got some size and skates pretty well. Put him on Staal's right side and you have an interesting top line, and the #2 & #3 pick of the 2003 draft. If he becomes available, expect Montreal and maybe Toronto to fight hard to get him. I would say we could offer Boychuk and our 2010 2nd round pick for him.
Alexander Frolov - Frolov could be had for nothing, since he is an UFA. But he might be commanding too much money for the Canes. While his cap hit this past season was reasonable, his salary was $4M. I'm sure he feels and expects to get closer to $5M with his new contract. He is a 1st line talent with a bit of a selfish issue IMO. Pairing him and Staal would be quite fun and frustrating to watch. I think Montreal will also battle for Frolov this offseason. I wouldn't mind offering him 3 years @ $13.5M, but I think he'll get more elsewhere.
Brad Boyes - Boyes has fallen out of favor with the Blues and deservedly so. His points dropped significantly this year. Is it a sign of things to come or does he just need a change of scenery? He has the ability to be a terrific goal scorer and playmaker. He not physical at all, but could be used with Staal or Sutter. He should solidify our top 6. He could probably be had for our 2011 1st round pick.
A couple of other players to consider, even though very unlikely, are Alexander Semin and Jeff Carter. Both Washington and Philadelphia need some cap relief, but I don't think either would fit very well in Carolina. And for what we would have to give up for a 1 year contract would be way too high for the Canes.
2. A 3rd Line Center
The Canes went from being center heavy this past season to center light this upcoming season. We have Staal & Sutter filling out the 1st and 2nd line, then what? Jussi could possibly do it, so could Dwyer, we still have Paladin's favorite player Rod, or maybe one of the kids could take that role? Some people already have Dalpe penciled in for that spot, I think we need to think a little harder. For a rookie forward to come into the league and play the center position, he is going to struggle. Even Staal played wing for quite a while during first year and Sutter played on the 4th line most of his rookie season. I'm not saying Dalpe can or cannot handle the 3rd line center spot, but we need a backup plan. I also think that Dalpe will eventually end up playing a top 6 wing position. So here are some possible options.
David Krejci/Joe Colborne/Vladimir Sobotka - With Boston probably selecting Tyler Seguin, they are loaded in the center position. Seguin will probably start off the season at wing, but Boston still has an abundance of centers. Moving one for a winger or defenseman would be an option. Either of these players would be a great add to Carolina. Krejci can play in all situations and is a very good playmaker. Sobotka is a little guy, but plays a similar game to LaRose; he is full of fire and is a good two-way center. Let me add he is also very good in the faceoff circle. Colborne might not be completely NHL ready, but he is huge and has a high ceiling. To get one of these players, the Canes would probably have to offer a good amount or at least something that would tempt Boston. I think Krejci might be had for Cole, our 2nd round pick, and maybe Picard or another defensive prospect. Sobotka would probably cost us one of our forward prospects like Bowman or Tlusty and a 3rd round pick. Colborne would probably cost us Picard and a 2010 2nd round pick.
Martin Hanzal - Hanzal is an effective defensive center and a big boy. He is a RFA this year and Phoenix will probably resign him, but the Canes could make an offer. That franchise is still in flux and who knows what they will actually do. I don't know if they would do it, but maybe the Canes offer our 2011 1st round pick in exchange for Hanzel.
Dominic Moore - Moore is not a guy I want on this team long term, but he could be a filler until one of the kids are ready to take over the 3rd line center spot. He is an UFA and shouldn't command too much money. He is also decent as a defensive center and penalty killer, even though he is on the smaller side. The Canes could offer him a 1 year deal @ $1.25M, that should be enough to sign him. Then we could trade him after we find a more permenant solution.
Manny Malhota - Malhota is another player that is an UFA. He wanted more money last year, but eventually had to settle for cheap with San Jose. He is a good player and like Moore, he could be a filler while the 3rd line center spot addressed. We could probably offer him a 1 year contract @ $1.5M to $1.75M.
3. A Top 4 Defenseman
The area the Canes sucked at most this past season was defense. We gave up so many opportunities and left our goalies out to dry. With Pitkanen, Gleason, and McBain; we have 3 key defenseman. Carson and possibly Babchuk should be an effective 3rd pairing, either one could also fill in the top 4 at times. I also think that Domoulin will eventually be a shutdown top 4 defenseman, but he is still 2 or 3 years away. So, we need to find someone to fill that hole until he is ready. My personal thought is pairing Gleason & McBain together and finding a partner for Pitkanen. So here are some options.
Dan Hamhuis - Hamhuis is an UFA that is overshadowed by Weber & Suter in Nashville. He is sound defensively and plays a solid all-around game. I think he would be an ideal partner for Pitkanen. I think he is going to be one of the hotter FA defenseman this offseason, so I would like to get a chance to negotiate with him before hand. I've made this suggestion before, but I would offer Samsonov to Nashville for the rights to Hamhuis. If we couldn't work out a deal, we still saved ourselves $2.8M and opened up a hole for one of the kids. I would offer Hamhuis a 3 year deal @ $10.5M; I don't know if it would be enough, but I would try.
Kevin Bieksa - Bieksa is a rough player that would be interesting to watch in the Eastern Conference. He has one year left on his deal and Vancouver needs to clear some money to resign certain players. Bieksa would be the "ying" to Pitkanen's "yang" and would increase our team's toughness. They need a little forward girt, so maybe TK could provide that with some PK experience. Maybe package Kostopoulos, Samsonov, and our last 2nd round pick to Vancouver for Bieksa; allow them to save some money and buyout Samsonov.
Jan Hejda - Hejda is another shutdown defenseman, but he comes realitively cheap on a 1 year deal ($2.0M). His defensive style would also compliment Pitkanen very well. I'm not really sure what it would take to get him. Maybe Tlusty or one of our 2nd round picks.
Paul Ranger - This is another trade within the division. They are very tough to do and could come back to bite you in the ass. Ranger is a good, not great, defensive defenseman. He is a RFA and would probably come cheap, but he has some serious injury concerns. He hasn't played over 45 games in each of the past two seasons, but if healthy, he could be a respectable player. Trading for him would be a risk, but given his potential salary; it would not be a big risk. We could possibly trade a 3rd or 4th round pick for him and Tampa would take it in a heartbeat.
Well, these are some ideas about moves JR could make to address some of our team's needs. Let me know what you think and what moves you would like to see happen.