The Canes are 3 games into the Captain Kirk era and have yet to record any points. While I think we can all agree that effort level/entertainment value has improved, we are still struggling getting the puck in the net and also preventing the puck from entering our net. It seems pretty obvious that this Canes squad just does not have the talent level to consistently win in the NHL. To get to that level, the organization is going to have to make some significant changes in both personnel and the organization’s acceptance of mediocrity. But because of the salary cap floor, we are not able to just jettison players for pick & prospects. We have to make calculated moves that will keep us cap compliant. So here are my ideas of steps the Canes might consider to improve the team while staying cap compliant. All of this is hypothetical, there are definitely different directions to take; but this is what I believe would help the Canes become more competitive. Again, let me stress that this is just hypothetical and isn’t what the Canes will do, just a blueprint of things to do and examples of how "I" would do it. These trades and signings are obviously my dream scenario, but it is fun to dream. (I also apologize beforehand for the length of this FanPost, but I tried to be somewhat detailed)
Here is the current roster with approximate salary cap hits:
Total Salary Cap - $50.161
Step 1. Trade Chad LaRose. This is a tough move because Chad is a fan favorite and is going to give you all he’s got, but he is just not skilled enough to play in the top 6 and makes too much to play on the 4th line. The organization needs to stop acting like all “employees” are family and make the best decision for the franchise. Trading LaRose save the Canes $1.9 million in salary next season and open up a roster spot. A team like San Jose could actually use a player like LaRose. He would fit on their 3rd or 4th line, provide some energy and a little bit of scoring, and he can contribute on the penalty kill. He also has playoff experience which is always a positive. The Canes might be able to get a 3rd round pick out of the trade.
But the Canes would have to use the open roster spot wisely. They would need to play a prospect, like Dalpe, in the top 6; letting him gain NHL experience and seeing if he can handle the role he is expect to play. Many here, myself included, believe Dalpe can be a 20+ goal scorer in the NHL. While he wouldn’t do that this season, we should be able to guage his abilities and see if he is an answer to the Canes top 6 next season.
Here is what the lineup would look like after this step. I would reunite the SkinFinns line and put Dalpe with Staal & Poni on the 2nd line. I would also adjust the defensive pairings.
Total Salary Cap - $49.336
Step 2. JR needs to make a blockbuster move to improve our forward talent level. Bobby Ryan was possibly available at one point, so maybe he still is for the right price. I would suggest that JR make Anaheim an offer that would be difficult to refuse. I’m thinking Jussi/Gleason/Boychuk/2nd round pick for Ryan/Foster. It would be tough to move Jussi; but given his production, potential, and contract; he would probably be one of our more valuable trading chips. Anaheim has an aging 2nd line that is in the last year of their deals. Jussi could slide into Blake’s spot of 2nd line LW, creating an all Finnish 2nd line, and he could also slide into Ryan’s spot on the 2nd PP unit. Next season, Jussi at an affordable $3 million could play in multiple positions in the top 9 for the Ducks. Gleason would add a physical, defensive presence to the Ducks blueline. And with the money coming off the books, they could resign him for next season if they wish. Boychuk could potentially come in and add some skill to the Ducks bottom 6. He could also potentially become a 2nd line winger for the Ducks in the future. The 2nd round pick should provide the Ducks with a player that has good possibility of eventually making a NHL roster or they could maybe package our 2nd and theirs to move back into the 1st round.
The Canes would get a young, elite goal scorer. With Staal, Skinner, and Ryan; they would have 3 great forwards to provide scoring. Ryan would probably be lined up with Staal due to his LW position. Having three 30+ goal scorers should improve the Canes top-end talent level a lot. Foster would be added to help balance the salaries and his contract expires at the end of the season. He might be able to fill in occasionally or on the PP, but he wouldn’t have a future in Carolina.
Here is what the lineup would look like after this step. I would have Poni switch to RW and depending on how Dalpe had performed would determine which line he was put on. I would also switch Ruutu back to the position he played last season. We would actually have the same number of defensemen, but Foster would not factor in too much.
Total Salary Cap - $50.486
Step 3. Determine the futures of a few players. Ruutu & Poni are UFA at the end of the season, McBain will be a RFA, and Stewart & Brent have only seen limited time for the Canes this season. JR needs to determine which players have a future in Carolina and which ones do not. If they are not going to be kept, we need to try and trade them, to at least get something for them instead of letting them walk, i.e. Whitney & Cole.
Ruutu is definitely the most important of these players. He will probably put up around 50 points and his physical play in not easily replaced by anyone on the roster. He is currently making $4.4 million, which is a little much for a player that has only scored 20+ goals in one NHL season; but he does do a lot of other little things. JR is going to have to go outside of his comfort zone and negotiate with Ruutu during the season. If he can resign Ruutu for $4 million, go ahead and lock him up for a couple of more seasons. If Ruutu is wanting more than what he is making now, JR needs to try to replace him through a trade. One suggestion would be to look toward St. Louis. They are currently in the playoff hunt and while Chris Stewart is doing ok for them, he is a RFA at the end of the season. I just have a feeling that Ruutu would be a type of player that would fit better than Stewart in Hitchcock’s system. If a trade were to happen, I’m sure a draft pick would have to be included with Ruutu since he is an UFA and Stewart is a RFA, but that could be done. And if we are looking at a $4 million + salary for next season, Stewart might justify that more given his two 28 goal seasons and having the higher upside.
I decision on McBain would also need to be made. He is a very talented player that has potential to be a 40 point defenseman, but he is also very inconsistent. With Faulk now here, Joslin able to do similar things, and Murphy right around the corner; is McBain expendable? He definitely has offensive abilities and a nice upside, which might make him a valuable trading chip. IMO, Ruutu’s status would have to be determined before McBain could be traded. If Ruutu is gone, another 2nd or 3rd line center will be needed. If Ruutu is still here; picks, prospects, or players are all options. If Ruutu is gone, I might look to trade McBain/Brent to Tampa for Dominic Moore/2nd round pick. McBain could possibly help them out with their defensemen situation and Brent would be a cheaper replacement for Moore. Moore would probably just be a fill-in center for the rest of the season, but does play on the PK and is solid in the faceoff circle. The 2nd round pick could turn into a solid NHL player in the future.
Poni is a difficult situation. While he is an UFA at season’s end, would another team value him enough to trade for him? He’s a big guy that is pretty good around the net, but he’s not putting up numbers that would make him highly desirable. If a playoff team suffered an injury, then maybe he could be traded to fill-in; but trading partners are probably limited. Maybe put some feelers out to his old team, Toronto? They aren’t exactly stacked at LW and have some injury issues, maybe Poni could help them out on the 3rd line? If so, I would try and get Keith Aulie in return. I really like this young man’s game and think it would be a nice compliment to the type of defensemen we are bringing through our system. He is a RFA that could potential provide some size & toughness to the Canes blueline.
And last would be Anthony Stewart. Stewart has some abilities, but he is for the most part being wasted on the Canes 4th line, playing 7 minutes a night. LA’s bottom 6 is having trouble scoring goals and Stewart might be able to provide them with some depth scoring. He has more goals than all but 5 Kings (Richards, Kopitar, Gagne, Brown, & Johnson) and averages less TOI than all but 1 (Westgarth). He would fit in their salary cap and we might be able to squeeze out a 2nd or 3rd round pick for him.
Here is what the lineup would look like after this step. This would assume all players mentioned were traded. The 1st line would remain the same, but the rest of the lines would have major changes. Sutter would move up to the 2nd line to center Skinner & Chris Stewart. Moore would take over for Sutter on the 3rd line. Nash & Bowman would be brought up to fill-in on the 4th line and gain some more NHL experience. And this would be the team I took to the finish line. Is this team great, no; the offensive firepower would be much improved and we would be able to incorporate a few of our prospects in the lineup, but the defense would still be rather weak. If Dalpe progresses like I think he will, we would have a legitmate top 6. The top line should be an 80+ goal top line and the 2nd should be able to put up around 75 goals. And we would reduce both our salary cap number and actual salaries.
Total Salary Cap - $48.481
Step 4. Go into the offseason looking to improve the defense. The big question would be whether or not Kaberle is bought out. A Kaberle buyout would have a cap figure of $1.458 million over the next 4 seasons; it a decision that JR is going to have to make. It would save us almost $2.8 million next season and just over $3 million the following season. If you were to take Allen’s $2.9 million cap hit, Foster’s $1.8 million cap hit, and Kaberle’s $2.79 million cap savings; that $7.49 million to spend on 2 or 3 defensemen. Could the Canes actually go after a defenseman like Ryan Suter? Offer him a 3 year, $19 million contract ($6.33 cap hit) to be our #1 defenseman. Or might we go after some good, but not great defensemen like Willie Mitchell and/or Johnny Boychuk? Or we could just resign Allen to a lesser contract and bring in one other guy. Suter would be the best option, but it might be unlikely.
The other thing we would have to do is resign some RFA’s in Tlusty, Chris Stewart, & Keith Aulie and make a decision on whether to resign Dominic Moore or go with our prospects. I think Tlusty could probably be resigned for around $750 thousand, Stewart would probably be looking for $4 million, and Aulie could be qualified for $850 thousand. Moore would be a tough call. I envision bringing Rask up and seeing if he can handle the NHL; but if he doesn’t succeed, we create a hole at the center position. I believe/hope Rask could develop quickly in the NHL. Not knowing what draft position we would end up in makes the possible pick even more difficult. I’m going to guess that we finish in the bottom 3 are select Mikhail Grigorenko. He has good size, is considered to be a Malkin type of player, and can play wing or center.
So here is what the starting lineup for next season would be after this step. I would start Sutter out on the 2nd line and Rask out on the 3rd, but my hope is that Rask handles the NHL pretty well and is able to take over the 2nd line center position. I would also start Stewart out on the 3rd line to help balance out the kids on each line. I would carry 12 forwards & 7 defensemen and 2 goalies. I would also try to balance the defense as much as possible.
Total Salary Cap - $53.391; Total Actual Salary - $50.196
Eventually we would probably look like: