(File Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford met with the media today and spoke frankly about last season while answering a number of questions from the press. Several different topics were discussed and each one would make a nice discussion thread all on it's own. (And we will probably do that in the future.) But in this article, I'll try to briefly review what was said and what it might mean for the future.
Before we get to the nuts and bolts, in summary, don't expect any huge changes for this coming season. While Ron Francis will be moved from behind the bench to upstairs in the front office, Paul Maurice will return as Hurricanes head coach. Rutherford indicated that some of the team's unrestricted free agents will also probably return.
Erik Cole is on the top of the list followed by Chad LaRose. Either Cory Stillman or Jussi Jokinen will return, (but not both). The GM said that Jokinen will probably test the market, along with Joni Pitkanen, but they could return if they don't get the money they seek. Patrick Dwyer was mentioned as a solid penalty killer who will be moved to wing because he is not a natural center, so they must be expecting him to return as well.
For future changes, the team will seek an experienced backup goaltender and a fourth line center who can win draws and kill penalties. They will also need to replace Pitkanen. But will those additions be enough to push the Canes to the next level?
Rutherford said that they expect the younger players to continue to improve and that should also improve the team.
The GM started out with a short address as he reviewed the disappointing end of the season and the season as a whole.
It takes five years to rebuild
The team is in a transitional phase, a rebuilding phase. Last year's team had 14 players on the roster who had not played a full NHL season. Down the stretch there were 10 players on the roster who had not played a full season. If you look at the entire 82 game season as a whole, this was a good season.
Rutherford named a few players who had good seasons and also mentioned that if Justin Peters came back next year and played just 12 games, that would probably be the end of his short career. Expect Peters to go back to the AHL next season.
(When I asked him later about the goalie situation next season in Charlotte, he said that he expected Peters to share time with Mike Murphy, a goalie they were very pleased with this season. Justin Pogge will probably not be re-signed.)
The Return of the Trap?
Here is a notable quote:
"We give up too many goals, but we have a fine goalie in Cam, so what's the problem here? The problem is, we're trying to play an up-tempo game, so we need to get away from that and play a more defensive style game. We have to somehow, get our forwards to help our defense better. We have to structure our defense better."
Having said that, Rutherford seemed happy with the current crew on the blueline. He mentions Joslin, Harrison, Allen, Gleason, and Corvo by name. (Mentions McBain a bit later). Pitkanen will probably test the market, so the team could go in a different direction there.
Again he repeats, "It's very important to restructure our defense". But it's interesting that they will attempt to do so with basically the same players.
Budget not set for next season
The cap is expected to go up, meaning the floor will also go up, and the team will probably spend more money, but the numbers have not yet been firmed up. Also, Ward and Staal's contracts both increase, meaning the team will automatically spend more money. Regardless, there is no way the Canes spend close to the cap ceiling next year.
Cole at top of the list in free agents
"Erik Cole had a special year. He's a priority for us. Joe Corvo is the "new Brind'Amour" of our team. He's the best conditioned guy." Rutherford gives Corvo credit here for Cole's great conditioning this past season.
"Coaching staff did a very good job"
When asked about coaching last season, Rutherford did not hesitate to stand behind his staff. He said that Maurice has had two good years out of the past three he's been here. In his first year he turned the team around. The next year was not as good, but with the team he had and what they were trying to do last season, he did a "very good job."
"Chad LaRose drives this team"
This was not his best season, but he is important to the team and he will be back. Stillman could return for one year and then move to the front office. Rutherford really sounded high on Stillman, don't be surprised to see him return.
"Scouts really like a number of defensemen in this coming draft"
(we will look at those possibilities later here at Canes Country)
Jiri Tlusty took a step back but is still young and could move back up to the front nine.
New ownership/partnership issues still not resolved
Karmanos may have bought out the estate of his former partner. Five or six people have made a commitment to buy in and they are the "right people who could help take this franchise to another level".
RecZone issues are unresolved
Canes will keep their investment and equipment over there. New ownership could take place anytime. New "school for athletes" being built in Briar Creek area will have a rink and could be used in future. Hopefully, they will stay in RZ for now.
Regrets about not signing Manny Legace?
Legace was not 100% healthy so there were no guarantees with him. They did what they thought was right with Peters. "But whether we like it or not, the coach is going to have to play the backup 20 games a year." This a very good year to find an experienced goalie. Barrasso is scouting and will help choose from list of five goalies.
Brandon Sutter is unsung star
Would like to sign him long term. Is part of the four long term cornerstones of the franchise, Staal, Ward, Skinner, and Sutter.
Would like Tom Barrasso to keep focus on goaltending
They could change their minds down the road, but he would like Barrasso to keep coaching the goalies.
Would like Jeff Daniels to stay in Charlotte - for now
He's done a great job of development for the team and he will be an NHL head coach in the near future. His time will come, but Rutherford would like Daniels to keep doing what he's doing for now.
Zac Dalpe has been playing hurt
Rutherford considers Dalpe to be club's top prospect at this point. He would be surprised if he doesn't play in top nine next year. He looked very hurt recently and Rutherford was surprised he was still playing through it.
Size isn't everything
"Two years ago we tried to get bigger and we ended up getting worse". The GM said that small guys can be successful in the league. Rutherford would like to see Gleason be more involved and more physical. In a perfect world, the (new) fourth line center will be physical. But with Gleason, Harrison, Allen, and Joslin, the GM is not concerned about toughness.
Can Skinner improve his numbers?
With Jeff Skinner's character and work ethic, he should keep going up the ladder. The GM thinks he will have another good season next season.
Staal played hurt last month of season
How much time is too much time for Staal? Hard to tell.
Rutherford is high on Rod Brind'Amour
The GM is very, very impressed with Brind'Amour. Thinks there is a bright future ahead of him as a head coach or general manager. Will look for him to take a bigger role next season. More discussions about that in the near future.
After the press conference I asked Rutherford a couple of questions on the side:
Concerning Oskar Osala possibly signing with a team in the KHL?
Rutherford could not confirm or deny it. He feels Osala is a good prospect but he needs to have better foot speed to make it to the next level. Also said that the Finn knows there is a youth movement here with the Canes and he has a chance to play and make it, if he works at it.
Concerning the goalie situation in Charlotte?
It will probably be Peters and Murphy. Really liked what Murphy did this season. Pogge will probably not be re-signed.
Concerning Nic Dodge moving up? (Cory's question)
Riley Nash is making good progress and can see him moving up first. Puts Nash ahead of Dodge at this point.