Canes Country Round Table Volume Four: The RFA's

Jiri Tlusty and Nathan Gerbe both need new contracts this offseason - James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes have some decisions to make about several restricted free agents who need contracts

The Carolina Hurricanes could have some tough decisions to make regarding their restricted free agents this summer.

First off, they already have seven forwards under contract for next season.  Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner, Riley Nash, Patrick Dwyer, and Elias Lindholm are in the fold.

Jiri Tlusty, Nathan Gerbe, Drayson Bowman, and Andrei Loktionov are all roster players from last year, who are restricted free agents not currently under contract.

Zach Boychuk is also a restricted free agent who needs a contract, although he spent much of his time in Charlotte last season.  There are others who played for the Checkers as well who also need new deals.

Keep in mind that there are different levels of restricted free agents, depending upon how many years they have in the league.  But they are all considered assets of the club and cannot just sign with another team without some type of initial input from Carolina.

This week's question put to the panel is:

With seven forwards already signed for next season, what should the Hurricanes do with their four restricted free agents who were on the roster last season? (Gerbe, Tlusty, Bowman, and Loktionov).

Zach Boychuk is also an RFA, what about him?

First up is Cory Lavalette, Editor:

The shoulder injury Andrei Loktionov suffered at the World Championships — and its severity — could swing decisions on several of the Hurricanes’ pending RFAs. That starts with Loktionov, who came to Carolina from New Jersey in the Tuomo Ruutu trade and was a key part of the the Canes’ late-season success on the power play. Shoulder injuries, regardless of severity, are no laughing matter. That being said, the injury may actually give the Hurricanes some unspoken bargaining leverage. If the team can sign Loktionov for less than $1 million per season (let's say two years, $1.75 million), you get it done and hope he recovers.

Speaking of bargaining leverage, the Canes are in great shape with Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe earned just $550,000 at the NHL level last season on a two-way deal. So despite a bounce-back season that might fetch him $2 million on the open market, the Hurricanes can either qualify Gerbe at a small number or negotiate a one-way deal without breaking the bank. The team wants to get bigger and bringing back both Loktionov and Gerbe could foil those plans, but it's impossible not to like what Gerbe brought last year at a bargain price. The key is to not overcommit to a player with a history of injuries — one year at around $1 to 1.25 million guaranteed should be Carolina’s goal.

Jiri Tlusty gave the Hurricanes bang for their buck in the shortened 2012-13 season. Even after a disappointing 30-point, 68-game campaign in 2013-14, the Canes would be foolish to give up on a player who scored at a near 40-goal pace recently. Should the team expect 40, or even 30, goals out of Tlusty if he's in the fold next year? No, but he should be a 20-goal scorer than can hold his own in all three zones — well worth it for the around $2 million it should cost to retain him.

As for Drayson Bowman, it's probably time to part ways with the determined, but pedestrian, winger. Bowman carved out a spot in the NHL with a combination of hard work and the promise of potential goal scoring. But with just 15 goals in 176 NHL games and no role beyond fourth-line grinder, the Canes should let Bowman test new waters and try and find a player who, if they can't score, can consistently earn some kind of specialist’s role on a nightly basis. That means an agitator, skilled penalty killer or wrecking ball forechecker.

Carolina could go either way on several of their AHL regulars who have RFA status this season. Michal Jordan should be the top priority, while Rasmus Rissanen will hopefully have the patience to re-sign and wait another year or two for his shot in the NHL (a la Brett Bellemore). Most intriguing is Zach Boychuk, who led the AHL in goal scoring but has not been able to find his way into the Hurricanes’ lineup. Will another coaching change make a difference? It's unlikely, but if Boychuk is willing to be an AHL star with the chance to earn a recall from time to time, the team should continue to hold on to their former first-round pick.

Jeff Berrier - (PackPride17) - Contributor

Jiri Tlusty – Even though Tlusty took a pretty big step backwards this year, I still view him as the Canes most important RFA this offseason.  He still ended up as the Canes 4th best goal scorer and has proven to be a pretty good complimentary piece in the top 6.  He obviously started the season injured and I’m not really sure he was always used properly by the coaching staff.  It really seemed like he was the fall guy often when other players were struggling.  I think a healthy Tlusty can be a solid top 6 LW, can contribute on both special teams and someone that should put up around 20 to 25 goals a season.  I think a 2 year, $4.25 million offer is reasonable and something he would accept.

Andrei Loktionov – Loktionov is a very interesting case.  What is this guy?  Is he a someone that needs to play in the top 6 or is he a bottom 6 guy that can help out on the PP?  While I really like this guy, I think he would be best utilized as a 4th liner that contributes on the PP.  He has shown that he can play higher, but I’m not sure if he is a full-time top 6 player.  Loktionov on the 4th line & PP unit would help even out the minutes in the lineup and he could always jump up if an in-game injury happens.  I think a 1 year, $800 thousand offer should be extended and we can see how he handles his injury and a full year with this team.

Nathan Gerbe – This is a really tough decision for me.  Gerbe was pretty good for the Canes last year and he has a strong work ethic.  But with Skinner, Tlusty and Lotionov all as left wings and the team needing to get bigger, is there space for the smallest guy in the NHL?  Gerbe really is a 3rd liner that can give you some scoring, he tied his career high in goals and assists this past season.  But he’s 5’5" and while he gives it his all, he’s never going to be much of a physical force.  He’s a good player, but one I would look to move this summer, so the team can get bigger and more physical.  Gerbe’s not going to be a hot commodity, but he should find a home somewhere in this league. 

Drayson Bowman – The sad, sad thing is that Bowman is Jim Rutherford’s most successful non-first two rounds pick over the past 12 years and that’s still a marginal NHL player.  Bowman can cut it in the NHL and tries to do whatever is asked of him, he just doesn’t produce at a consistent level.  He’s not overly fast or physical, doesn’t contribute much to either special teams and is wildly streaky.  He doesn’t make this team better, doesn’t make them worse, he just fills a roster spot.  I think it’s time to let him go, either include him in some trade package or let him find a team that wants him.

Zach Boychuk – I think Boychuk might have finally figured it out, but the problem is that he doesn’t fit on this team.  I think the Canes should qualify him with the intention of trading him.  I’m not very confident he’s ever going to live up to his 1st round pick status, but I think Boychuk can be a decent 3rd liner on a team that has a little more size than the Canes.

C-Leaguer - Contributor

The Canes are heading in to the off season with five RFAs amongst the forwards. Those players, Nathan Gerbe, Jiri Tlusty, Drayson Bowman, newly acquired Andrei Loktionov, and Zach Boychuk.  Given the five straight years of missed playoffs and newly minted GM Ron Francis' comments regarding the roster next year there is no doubt that player turn over will happen. Given the cap and the difficulty of moving salaries these days RFAs are some times the easiest ways to start that roster turn over.  We will examine each of the hurricanes forward RFAs and how the team may handle each.

Nathan Gerbe came to the Canes after being bought out by the Sabres last summer. Gerbe who would never be confused for a prototypical hockey player none the less is a factor on the ice.  He's a spark plug type player with an ability to finish that gives him value above typical third line players. I think it's very likely that the canes keep Gerbe, especially after his production this past season. A two year contract around $1m per year should get this deal done and keep the player in the fold.

Jiri Tlusty is at somewhat of a cross roads in his career. In the lockout shortened season Tlusty was a legitimate top line player with Eric Staal and Alex Semin. He set career highs in that shortened season in many offensive categories. Unfortunately Tlusty was not able to keep that level of production going this season. The canes are going to have to decide what type of player Tlusty is and where he fits in the roster. Quite frankly the canes cannot afford to over pay for another forward. Tlusty's age and the stats he put up in the lock out shortened season are going to push his salary level up.  Personally, I think the canes should look in to trading Jiri Tlusty. Both Staals, Semin, and Skinner will be in the top six next year. While that doesn't fill out the top six, it does take up most spots.  Through in Elias Lindholm and things get a bit tight for Tlusty. Personally I would like to see Tlusty packaged with Cam Ward to see if the Canes can't address some of there depth and/or move out Ward's salary while not retaining much if any salary.

Drayson Bowman presents his own issues. He's shown he can play at the NHL level, but his scoring leaves something to be desired. He is decent at most facets but not great at any one. Given the plethora of bottom six forwards the canes have it may be best to part ways with young Bowman. The canes have other needs that they need to address with that roster spot. Either a power play specialist or a physical player would Bette suit the canes needs.

Andrei Loktionov was a breath of fresh air after being acquired from New Jersey as part of the Tuomo Ruutu trade. Loktionov showed some flashes of brilliance and an ability to score goals at big times. I think the canes should look to sign Loktionov to a one year deal somewhere near the $900k level. That will be a raise over the $725k he makes now and give him the chance to show what he can do over a full season and negotiate again.

Last but certainly not least is Zach Boychuk. In the lockout shortened season boychuk was waived numerous time spending time on three different NHL rosters. Last year he got only a few games at the NHL level but was able to lead the AHL goals. Is say its unlikely that Zach Boychuk makes the NHL roster which may complicate things. I think the Canes would like to keep Boychuk in the AHL and I think that's a good place for him. That said the player may want to take a stab at a team that will carry him on the NHL roster. As such I would say that if Boychuk is willing to play with Charlotte then the Canes should sign him. If he wants to try something else I think it's best both sides part amicably.

Bob Wage - Editing Manager

Jiri Tlusty - As others have mentioned, Tlusty had a disappointing year for the most part last season, but he is still a good player and someone the Hurricanes should bring back.  A one or two-year contract in the neighborhood of $2 million per year should be the target.  If he demands much more than that I would make him wait.

Nathan Gerbe -  I would qualify this player and bring him back as well if the price is right.  While he is the smallest player in the NHL, he plays bigger and at times was the only Carolina player to put himself in front of the net.  If the Canes could sign him at one year for about a million or a little more, (or less) I would go for it.

Andrei Loktionov -  The player received when the team traded Tuomo Ruutu to the Devils turned out to be a good acquisition, at least in the short term.  It appears that he could be a help on the powerplay and he played hard at both ends of the rink.  You always take the risk that this player could sign in the KHL, but I would not offer him more than a million per season, with the maximum of a two year deal.

Drayson Bowman -  Many have said that they have seen enough of this player on Carolina's fourth line and I will not disagree.  He is not much of a physical presence or a scorer.  He has complained that he needs more time on the ice, as does any player, but he also needs to take advantage of the time he has.  Having said all of this, I would not give up on him and offer him a minimal two-way deal because he could be an asset for Charlotte and he is reliable as a callup.  If he refuses the two-way deal, I would let him walk.

Zach Boychuk -  Like Bowman, he has failed to perform at a suitable, consistent level in the NHL.  But he still put in a top performance for the Checkers last season and led the league in powerplay goals.  I would offer him a two-way deal worth minimum money at the NHL level, but premium money if he is in the AHL.

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