RALEIGH, NC - DECEMBER 01: New coach Kirk Muller of the Carolina Hurricanes watches his team play the New York Rangers at the RBC Center on December 1, 2011 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Rangers won, 5-3. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
I don't know how many of you actually play golf, but if you have, at some point you have probably experienced swirling winds. These winds are extremely difficult to judge as your body is feeling one thing and the flag or tops of trees are telling you something different. You might be standing on a tee box and feel the wind at your back, but when you gaze at the flag, it might be blowing right back towards you. This makes it almost impossible to choose the right club to hit or put the ball where you want to put it. You're just not sure what direction the wind is going, so your confused and you sometimes get a little frustrated.
This offseason for the Hurricanes has reminded me of swirling winds. At the beginning, Jim Rutherford stated his desire to acquire a top line player to play with Eric Staal. At the NHL Draft, he was very aggressive and traded for Eric's brother, Jordan. But while Jordan is an upgrade to the Canes top 6 talent pool, JR didn't seem as if he was finished with his moves. He supposedly made a significant pitch to both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter at the opening of free agency. But they quickly turn the Hurricanes down and eventually signed with the Minnesota Wild. But JR continued his push, turning his attention toward Rick Nash and then Shane Doan. It has even been rumored that JR has expressed interest in acquire Bobby Ryan and has stated his interest in Alexander Semin on a "short-term basis".
So while the Canes have definitely acquired a top 6 player in Jordan Staal, these actions would lead me to believe that JR has yet to acquire the "top line player to play with Eric Staal". Add to all of this the players the Hurricanes have or have not signed via free agency. This team was last in the league in Shots Against per Game and was 22nd in the league in Penalty Kill Percentage and Total Hits. So what did they do? They let go of their biggest defenseman & top shot-blocker and signed 2 additional offensive defensemen. And while everybody on this site was debating which top 6 forward the Canes should go after, they added another depth winger to an already crowded bottom 6.
At this point, I'm just confused at to what direction the Hurricanes are going in right now. The defense is fully stocked with offensive-minded defenseman, but only 1 or 2 deep in defensive defenseman. The bottom 6 is full of limited and/or inexperienced players. And goaltending depth is currently non-existent. So I thought I would examine some of the offseason moves made so far by the franchise. Give a couple of my thoughts and pose a couple of questions. And if anybody out there actually understands what JR's plan is, I sure would appreciate you letting me know.
The Jordan Staal Trade
At this point, this has to be one of the biggest moves made this summer. The Canes immediately upgraded their top 6 in regards to both offense and defense. But at the same time, they gave up a lot to get this player. While 2 of the players given up in the trade were prospects, it is looking like they gave up 3 NHLers to get Jordan. Brandon Sutter was the Canes defensive center and he was one of the better 3rd line centers in the league. Brian Dumoulin, while an offensive defenseman in college, projects to be a capable two-way defender in the NHL very soon. And the 8th overall pick could have been one of the top 5 forwards in the draft (even though Pittsburgh selected a defenseman). So the Canes upgraded their top 6, but have weakened their bottom 6 and prospect pool. So what are they going to do about address those issues?
I still will say this trade was a big win for the Hurricanes, as they have almost assured themselves of Eric and Jordan's prime playing years. They also now have at least an inside track on a defensive defenseman in a couple years named Marc Staal. Jordan adds some size that the Hurricanes were sorely missing and could be part of the puzzle that gets the team back to the playoffs and maybe interest other free agents in the future. But even after Jordan's extension signing, (as mentioned above) JR continued to look for additional help along the top line wing. So I believe that Jordan might not be the answer JR was looking for. And this leads us to the next topic.
The Top Line Winger Search
At the start of free agency, even with the trade and signing of Jordan Staal, the Canes supposedly made a big contract offer to Zach Parise. Parise would have been a huge get for the Canes and would have given them a top line that include Eric Staal & Parise and a 2nd line that included Jeff Skinner & Jordan Staal. That would have been two dynamic lines that could compare to the leagues best. But Parise headed home to Minnesota and took a heavy front-loaded contract that many believe the Canes couldn't compete with. So JR started inquiring about Rick Nash. Nash is considered one of the top power forwards in the game and man he can score. But he has a very high salary and the requested return for him was even higher. When Columbus' GM said Jeff Skinner had to be part of the deal, JR simply bowed out of the Nash sweepstakes. Then he took a look at another power forward, one that was 7 years older than Nash, but one that was a free agent. But like all the potential available players this summer, there seems to be a lot of interest in Shane Doan. And with the rumored offers for his services, the Canes just cannot compete with the dollar amount and term for a 35 year old right winger.
So that leaves a few less options. There is Bobby Ryan in Anaheim, but the trading price for him is almost as high as Rick Nash. The return starts at a 2nd line center and might also include a defenseman and/or high quality prospect. These are things the Hurricanes really don't have, so acquiring Ryan could be very difficult. Then there is free agent Alexander Semin. He wouldn't cost any assets, but he comes with plenty of question marks. JR has said he would take a risk on him "short-term", but Semin appears to want a longer term deal. I don't see the problem with a 3 year deal for the talented Russian, but many of you seem to be against that. And with the recent offer sheet to Shea Weber, another option seems to have opened up. Some of you have suggested offer sheeting Jakub Voracek. While I like Voracek and think he would look good next to Eric Staal, I have 2 concerns about that. First, if Nashville matches the offer sheet for Weber and Paul Holgram takes offense to the Canes offer sheet, Carolina could be in real trouble. Skinner is scheduled to become a RFA next season and if JR couldn't get him signed in time, Philly (and their hugh money) could offer sheet Skinner and put the Canes in a very difficult situation. Right now, the Canes have to tread lightly, because they can't compete financially with the heavyweights of the NHL. Second is the compensation given in return for Voracek. It would most likely be a 1st & 3rd round draft pick. Voracek is a good player, but has only reached 50 points in a season once. Would he really get the Canes over the hump? Would he be worth 2 draft picks? Even with an improved attitude compared to Semin, would you rather have Voracek or Semin (at slightly more money) plus 2 drafts picks? It's really not a debate to me, I would keep the 2 draft picks plus add the player with the considerably higher upside in Semin. It's a risk I know, but the smaller market teams have to take a little risk to compete with the big market teams.
The UFA Signings
So far this offseason, the Hurricanes have signed 3 players that weren't in the organization last season. There was Joe Corvo, an aging offensive defenseman that has experience with the franchise. There was Marc-Andre Gragnani, a younger offensive defenseman that has about a year of NHL experience with 2 teams. And Tim Wallace, a 4th line agitator with almost a year of NHL experience. None of these moves are really high quality and they probably lead to more questions than answers. Corvo basically replaces Bryan Allen and their games are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Allen was a big, tough, stay-at-home defender with limited offense. Corvo is a good skating offensive defenseman that is inconsistent in his own zone. Gragnani is a young guy that has some potential and the more I see of his game, the more I think the Canes could have gotten a decent player. He has a game similar to Corvo, but should be a little more defensively responsible. But the issue is the Canes already have players and prospects with these skills and style of game. Seven of the Canes top nine defenseman are more offensive than defensive, so were these two defensemen really needed?
Wallace is another player that I just don't understand signing. This will be his 4 organization since 2010 and he has never averaged more than 8:35 TOI per game. He has a little toughness and will throw some hits, but he is basically a less skilled version of Chad LaRose. This team already has Patrick Dwyer, Andreas Nodl, Anthony Stewart, and a load of prospects that can fill out the bottom 6 wings, why go and add this guy? The only thing I can guess from these 3 free agent signings is that JR is stocking up because a trade including some of these pieces might happen. If that is not the case, then I just can't understand what the plan is and I don't think these 3 players are going to have much of an impact on getting the Canes to the playoffs.
Getting Cam Some Help
The 2 defensive signing above kind of lead into this topic. The Canes were dead-last in the league in Shots Against per Game for the 2nd year in a row. The Canes defense has for the most part been more focused on offense. Tim Gleason is the only real stay-at-home guy left on the blueline, Jay Harrison is the next closet thing. JR supposedly made a pitch for Ryan Suter, which would have helped immensely, but I don't think the Canes were ever really one of his likely destinations. They also let Bryan Allen, the biggest defenseman, walk away for nothing. Then they go out and get two more offensive, non-physical defenseman (while also trading away the top two-way defensive prospect in the system). How are any of these moves suppose to help the Canes reduce the number of shots on Cam? While offense is always the sexy pick, the Canes biggest need last season and now is defense, and they have failed to address this problem even in the slightest. Unless the Canes suddenly become the best puck-possession team in the NHL, the number of shots Cam sees could be higher than last season.
Add to the defensive issue the Canes current goaltending situation. This summer, arguably the Canes 2 brightest goalie prospects left. Mike Murphy (rights still owned by Carolina) went to the KHL and Frederik Andersen re-entered the draft and was selected by Anaheim. The veteran backup goalie, Brian Boucher, also is expected to miss significant time early this season. So the Canes are basically down to Cam Ward and an unimpressive Justin Peters. There still seems to be a few quality backups available either through free agency or trades, but the Canes have yet to make any moves. If Cam gets hurt early on and misses any time, the Canes season will quickly go down the tubes. These two issues combined will probably lead to the Canes having the most Shots Against for the 3rd year in a row. Cam will be handling so much rubber that the Michelin Man will be envious.
These are just a couple of things that I have noticed so far this offseason. And while the Jordan Staal move was great, in my mind the other moves have been failures. I understand that the Canes are not going to get everybody in the NHL, but have a backup plan if the first plan fails. IMO, the Canes entered the offseason with 4 needs; a top line winger, a 2nd line center, a stay-at-home defenseman, and a backup goaltender. They addressed one, but created another in doing so, a 3rd line center is now needed. And I'm just not seeing or understanding the plan JR has to address these problems. I'm really not trying to be overly critical or negative toward the organization, the winds are just swirling and I have no idea of what club to hit.