As the season draws to a close, yet again the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves on the outside of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture and knocking the cobwebs off the golf clubs. The season started out so promising, but injuries and poor play down the stretch took the Canes Playoff hopes and flushed them. So as the offseason approaches, I thought I would pretend I was the Canes General Manager and set an offseason plan for improving the team. My goals are to improve the team's blue line and bottom 6 while trying to manage the Salary Cap situation for not only next season, but the following season. I am also looking to increase the team’s size and find a few prospects for Charlotte that are close to NHL-ready, in case injuries occur and players are needing to be called up.
My plan is obviously my opinion and is most likely not shared by everyone, but this team needs a plan and I thought it would be at least a decent talking point. I have tried to study the Canes and other teams’ needs for this FanPost, but I am not pretending that I know what is in the heads of the players, players’ agents and other General Managers. I think the proposals I will put forth are fair, but again, I don’t know for certain if these people would find them fair. So here we go with my offseason plan for the Hurricanes, if I were the General Manager. And sorry for the long nature of this post, but I was trying to be thorough. It got so big, I had to make it two different FanPosts.
Step # 1 – Resign certain players (between now and the 2013 NHL Draft)
- Sign RFA F Riley Nash to a 2 year, $1.4 million one-way contract ($700K cap hit) – Nash has proven to be one of the more capable prospects in the Canes system. While he isn’t an ideal 3rd line center at this point, he is capable of playing either the 3rd or 4th line center position. I would sign him to a one-way deal to reduce his cap number, with the idea of him being the team’s 4th line center next season and a fallback plan for the 3rd line center position.
- Qualify RFA F Zac Dalpe to a 1 year, $830 thousand two-way contract ($830K cap hit) – Dalpe is currently the Canes most ready offensive prospect and I would give him a shot at a NHL roster spot next season. He would probably play 3rd line RW, but could potentially play the 2nd line RW. The two-way contract would most likely be mute, because I believe Dalpe would not be waiver exempt next season. But I believe his time is now or never with the Hurricanes.
- Sign UFA D Brett Bellemore to a 1 year, $550 thousand one-way contract ($550K cap hit) – Bellemore looked solid in his games with the Canes this season and deserves a spot on the roster. At $550K, he could be a 6th or 7th defenseman and add a little size to the blue line. There are still plenty of questions surrounding him, but signing him is a low risk proposition.
- Sign UFA F Tim Wallace to a 1 year, $700 thousand two-way contract ($700K cap hit, $105K salary at the AHL level) – Wallace is limited in what he brings, but he gives it everything he’s got. I would sign him with the plan that he plays in Charlotte and is an emergency call-up when injuries occur. He should also be a nice veteran presence for the younger players on the Checkers.
- Sign UFA G Dan Ellis to a 1 year, $825 thousand one-way contract ($825K cap hit) – Ellis appears to be a decent backup goaltender, but not able to handle the starters role. The Canes must find a backup that fits in their budget and can hopefully bridge the gap until a younger backup is found. If Ellis wants more than $850K, I would let him walk.
- Sign UFA F Brett Sutter to a 1 year, $575 thousand two-way contract ($575K cap hit, $105K salary at the AHL level) – Sutter is another limited player that can be useful at times for the Hurricanes. The plan would be for him to continue in Charlotte, but he could be an emergency call-up if needed. He is the captain of the Checkers and his work ethic should be a good influence on the young players.
- I would also extend qualifying offers to Andreas Nodl, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Zach Boychuk, Michal Jordan, Jerome Samson, Luke Pither, Justin Krueger and Jared Staal. I would not qualify A.J. Jenks or Joe Sova.
Step # 2 – The 2013 NHL Draft (on June 30, 2013)
- I believe the Canes will end up 26th in the league, ahead of only Florida, Colorado, Nashville and Edmonton. I also have a funny feeling that Colorado will win the Draft Lottery, getting the 1st overall pick. So I’m assuming the Canes pick will be at # 5, if so I would choose F Aleksander Barkov (if available) with the 5th overall selection – Barkov appears to be a type of player the Canes need and he is also a very skilled player. He has nice size at 6’2" and 209 lbs, but he is more than just size. He is a sound two-way player that has good puck handling ability, good hands and can really do it all. From what I have read, his skating is only average to above average, so that is something he would have to work on. I would select him and talk him into coming over to play in Charlotte next season, getting accustom to the North American game with the plan for him to take over the 3rd line center position when he is ready. The Canes could also select F Valeri Nichushkin or possibly even trade back with a team like Calgary or Buffalo, maybe getting two 1st Round Picks
- With the rest of the selections, I would focus on adding some skill that has size, both forwards and defensemen. And somewhere between Rounds 2 & 4, I would look to select a goalie.
- Draft Day Trade – trade D Joni Pitkanen, F Zach Boychuk and a conditional 2014 2nd Round Pick to Colorado for D Erik Johnson and D Shane O’Brien.
- Colorado – If you include Tyson Barrie & Stefan Elliott, the Avs have 8 NHL defensemen under contract heading into next season. They also have Duncan Siemens in the minors and he might be NHL ready in a year. So they have some defensemen that could possibly be moved. I have read that they are interested in a mobile, puck-moving defenseman and that describes Pitkanen well. Pitkanen could eat a lot of minutes for them and be a good playmaker from the blue line. He only has a year remaining on his deal, so the 2014 conditional pick would go to Colorado if he doesn’t resign with them. They would move Johnson, whom they expected to be their franchise defenseman. But he hasn’t fulfilled expectations as of yet. A lot was traded for him and the pressure might have some effect on his performance. Maybe a new start with less pressure would help him live up to his potential. The Avs would also gain Boychuk to add to their farm team. The Avs are pretty deep at the center position, but not so much on the wings. Boychuk hasn’t lived up to his expectations either, but could be a skilled injury call up if needed. Maybe another chance will awaken him and he will final becoming a NHL player. This trade also saves the Avs $1.25 million in cap space.
- Carolina – While Johnson hasn’t lived up to expectations, he has still been a solid defenseman. He is big, skates well and has all the abilities; he just has to put it together. In Carolina, he could be a 2nd pairing defenseman without all the pressures and hopeful pick up his game to a new level. He could really be a great acquisition if he figures everything out. Also acquired would be O’Brien, a big defenseman that can play a physical bottom pairing role. He plays with an edge and that will probably be needed against new division rivals. He isn’t impressive offensively, but that’s not what he is here to do. He will deliver some hits, contribute on the PK and add some toughness to the Canes blue line.
- A Contingency Trade – if the trade with Colorado happened, I would have a contingency trade already in place. I would trade D Jay Harrison to Nashville for G Magnus Hellberg and a 2013 5th Round Pick.
- Nashville – Nashville’s defense has a significantly different look to it since Ryan Suter departed. They still have Shea Weber and Kevin Klein anchoring the blue line, but the rest is made up of promising offensive-minded young guys and old man Hal Gill. Acquiring Harrison should be a stabilizing component of a bottom pairing. Harrison is younger and has more mobility than Gill and could help the younger offensive defensemen transition to the NHL game. Harrison also comes pretty inexpensive, which could be nice for the budget conscious Predators. And the Preds would only give up a goaltending prospect and late round pick. Pekka Rinne is signed for a million years and Nashville has a couple of good goalie prospects that can back him up.
- Carolina – Hellberg is a big goaltending prospect that is getting his first taste of the North American game this season in the AHL. He appears to have performed quite well, but probably needs a little more seasoning. I would acquire him and have him take over in Charlotte next season. Hopefully he continues to develop and could become a solid backup for Cam in a year or two. And there is always the possibility he turns out even better and maybe takes over or splits time when Cam’s contract expires.
Step # 3 – Let certain players walk (on July 1, 2013)
- I would say goodbye to Chad LaRose, Tim Brent and Marc-Andre Bergeron – They have been nice players at times, but it’s time to move on and in a different direction. Bergeron is too small and not defensive enough to remain on this team. Brent’s position will likely be filled by Nash or someone else. LaRose is the organization’s son, but it’s time to let him go and replace him with someone more capable and cheaper.
- I would hold off on resigning Joe Corvo and Bobby Sanguinetti until other moves are made. There is always the possibility of them signing with another team, but in my mind, these two are backup plans if improvements can’t be found. They can work, but neither really helps this defense take the next step.
The second part of this post will go into some additional moves I would make this offseason and summarize how the team will be restructured going into next season.