Let's Get Physical, Physical

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

If Ron Francis wants to build a bigger, more physical team to compete with Eastern Conference foes, then here are some players that might help achieve that goal.

Some common issues for the Carolina Hurricanes in the Kirk Muller era have been a lack of size and a lack of physicality.  In each of the past 3 seasons, the Canes have ranked in the bottom 5 in average size and in the bottom half of the NHL in total hits.  While the size issue can be attributed to Jim Rutherford and his affinity toward smaller players, playing a physical brand of hockey is generally more about a mindset than physical attributes. Just look at Paul Maurice's last 2 full seasons in Carolina.  Those teams were smaller than the current squad (they were ranked as the smallest NHL team in 09/10), but yet they finished 4th & 5th in the league in total hits.  Of course those teams had players like Tuomo Ruutu in his heyday, a healthy Tim Gleason, a feisty Chad LaRose and Erik Cole.  But even the likes of Eric Staal was averaging a hit per game for those teams.  So what changed, what made Carolina become a less physical team?

I think the answer is two-fold, the coach's style of play and the players themselves.  In 10/11, the Hurricanes had 7 players that averaged over 1.5 hits per game, of course 6 of those guys averaged more than 2.0 hits per game.  In 13/14, Carolina had 8 players that averaged over 1.5 hits per game, yet they had 321 less total hits.  The leaders of last year group were Ruutu at 2.95 hits per game and Gleason at 2.82 hits per game.  Both of these guys were trading and now 3 of the remaining 6 are set for some form of free agency this summer.  So if Ron Francis really wants to build a bigger, more physical team, he has some work to do this summer.  He needs to find a coach that employees a physical style of play and he needs to find some players that want to play a physical brand of hockey.

So what I've done is compile a list of free agents (both UFA & RFA) this summer that averaged at least 1.5 hits per game.  I have included their physical attributes, some statistics for evaluating the players and their cap number from last season.  I have included the RFA's (in bold & italics), because I feel there are some very intriguing players in that group, that might be available through trades.  I have also picked out a couple of players that I think are worth considering and written a little summary about them.  But what do you think?  Do any of these players intrigue you?  Are any of these guys worth the Canes pursuing this offseason?

Players Pos Cap # Age Ht Wt GP G A PPG TOI/G 5v5 CF% Hits/G
Tanner Glass LW $1.1M 30 6'1 210 67 4 9 0.19 11:47 39.3% 3.69
Cody Franson D $2.0M 26 6'5 213 79 5 28 0.42 20:41 44.9% 3.57
Derek MacKenzie C/LW $1.0M 32 5'11 180 71 9 9 0.25 11:15 49.2% 3.39
Blake Comeau RW/LW $1.0M 28 6'0 195 61 5 11 0.26 12:03 53.0% 3.23
Matt Greene D $2.95M 31 6'3 232 38 2 4 0.16 15:53 58.4% 3.11
Brooks Orpik D $3.75M 33 6'2 219 72 2 11 0.18 21:11 46.2% 3.07
Steve Ott C/LW $2.95M 31 6'0 190 82 9 14 0.28 18:13 44.5% 3.00
Ryan Callahan RW $4.275M 29 5'11 190 65 17 19 0.55 18:38 50.7% 2.91
Tommy Wingels RW $775K 26 6'0 195 77 16 22 0.49 16:06 52.8% 2.83
Eric Gryba D $563K 26 6'4 222 57 2 9 0.19 17:31 50.9% 2.82
Mark Fraser D $1.275M 27 6'4 220 42 1 1 0.05 15:22 43.1% 2.81
Marcus Foligno LW $827K 22 6'3 226 74 7 12 0.26 15:03 42.9% 2.78
Douglas Murray D $1.5M 34 6'3 245 53 0 2 0.04 14:21 41.4% 2.72
Dylan Olsen D $738K 23 6'2 214 44 3 9 0.27 15:26 51.1% 2.64
Mike Brown RW $737K 28 5'11 205 56 2 3 0.09 7:09 46.1% 2.61
Stephane Robidas D $3.3M 37 5'11 196 38 5 5 0.26 20:10 51.2% 2.53
Brad Malone LW $735K 25 6'2 207 32 3 2 0.16 6:46 40.7% 2.47
Brayden Schenn C/LW $870K 22 6'1 190 82 20 21 0.50 15:44 47.9% 2.44
Erik Gudbranson D $900K 22 6'5 210 65 3 6 0.14 17:58 51.2% 2.43
Matt Bartkowksi D $650K 25 6'1 196 64 0 18 0.28 19:32 53.2% 2.42
Lance Bouma LW $578K 24 6'1 210 78 5 10 0.19 12:36 43.5% 2.32
Jeff Petry D $1.75M 26 6'3 200 80 7 10 0.21 21:35 46.7% 2.26
Calvin de Haan D $870K 23 6'1 187 51 3 13 0.31 21:01 52.2% 2.24
Chris Kreider LW $800K 23 6'3 226 66 17 20 0.56 15:43 55.2% 2.21
Nikolai Kulemin LW/RW $2.8M 27 6'1 225 70 9 11 0.29 16:12 41.3% 2.19
Paul Ranger D $1.0M 29 6'3 208 53 6 8 0.26 17:25 42.3% 2.17
Nino Niederreiter RW $870K 21 6'2 208 81 14 22 0.44 14:05 50.3% 2.16
David Savard D $709K 23 6'2 219 70 5 10 0.21 17:49 47.7% 2.13
Corey Tropp RW $578K 24 6'0 185 53 2 9 0.21 8:56 46.3% 2.11
Brenden Dillon D $743K 23 6'3 228 80 6 11 0.21 21:05 50.9% 2.10
Jimmy Hayes RW $654K 24 6'6 221 55 11 7 0.33 10:58 47.5% 2.09
Deryk Engelland D $567K 32 6'2 202 56 6 6 0.21 13:02 43.8% 2.09
Dalton Prout D $667K 24 6'3 219 49 2 4 0.12 17:12 49.7% 2.02
Cory Sarich D $2.0M 35 6'4 207 54 1 9 0.19 17:05 47.8% 1.98
Daniel Carcillo LW $825K 29 6'0 203 57 4 1 0.09 9:16 50.5% 1.96
Chris Thorburn RW $867K 30 6'3 230 55 2 9 0.20 8:57 43.3% 1.96
Matt Frattin RW $875K 26 6'0 200 44 2 5 0.16 12:00 52.8% 1.93
Devin Setoguchi RW $3.0M 27 6'0 205 75 11 16 0.36 15:03 48.8% 1.91
Brian Boyle C $1.7M 29 6'7 244 82 6 12 0.22 12:45 46.9% 1.88
Jarome Iginla RW $1.8M 36 6'1 210 78 30 31 0.78 18:12 53.6% 1.82
Vladimir Sobotka C/LW $1.3M 26 5'10 197 61 9 24 0.54 16:44 56.7% 1.80
Antoine Roussel LW $613K 24 6'0 180 81 14 15 0.36 13:19 52.1% 1.80
Jamie McGinn LW/RW $1.75M 25 6'1 210 79 19 19 0.48 15:46 47.0% 1.77
Cody McCormick RW/LW $1.2M 31 6'3 221 43 2 5 0.16 8:54 37.8% 1.77
Benoit Pouliot LW $1.3M 27 6'3 197 80 15 21 0.45 13:26 55.1% 1.76
Jay McClement C $1.5M 31 6'1 205 81 4 6 0.12 14:45 38.7% 1.74
Shawn Thornton LW $1.1M 36 6'2 217 64 5 3 0.13 8:47 47.7% 1.73
Stephen Gionta C $563K 30 5'7 185 66 4 7 0.17 12:27 49.9% 1.71
John Scott LW/D $750K 31 6'8 270 56 1 0 0.02 6:45 39.9% 1.70
Ryan White C $700K 26 6'0 194 52 2 4 0.12 9:41 37.5% 1.69
Dale Weise RW $750K 25 6'2 210 61 6 10 0.26 8:25 44.3% 1.69
Lars Eller C $1.325M 25 6'2 209 77 12 14 0.34 15:57 48.2% 1.69
Mike Weaver D $1.1M 36 5'10 180 72 1 12 0.18 18:28 49.1% 1.68
Joe Vitale C $550K 28 5'11 205 53 1 13 0.26 10:58 44.3% 1.68
Eric Gelinas D $660K 23 6'4 210 60 7 22 0.48 16:55 53.1% 1.65
P.K. Subban D $2.875M 25 6'0 216 82 10 43 0.65 24:36 49.9% 1.65
Joe Colborne C/LW $600K 24 6'5 213 80 10 18 0.35 14:16 45.4% 1.61
Marcel Goc C $1.7M 30 6'1 197 74 11 14 0.34 16:19 50.8% 1.61
Casey Cizikas C $793K 23 5'11 187 80 6 10 0.20 13:22 44.9% 1.60
Clayton Stoner D $1.05M 29 6'3 213 63 1 4 0.08 13:19 47.5% 1.57
Derek Morris D $2.75M 35 6'0 200 63 5 12 0.27 19:26 50.2% 1.57
James Sheppard C/LW $830K 26 6'1 205 67 4 16 0.30 12:10 52.5% 1.57
Brenden Morrow LW $1.5M 35 6'0 205 71 13 12 0.35 11:54 48.5% 1.55
Dmitry Kulikov D $2.5M 23 6'1 205 81 8 11 0.23 21:41 51.2% 1.54
Francis Bouillon D $1.5M 38 5'8 197 52 2 4 0.12 17:41 43.8% 1.54
Luke Gazdic LW $635K 24 6'3 228 67 2 2 0.06 5:48 36.8% 1.54
Marek Zidlicky D $3.0M 37 5'11 190 81 12 30 0.52 21:38 53.3% 1.53
Derick Brassard C $3.2M 26 6'1 202 81 18 27 0.56 15:47 53.5% 1.53
Matt Niskanen D $2.3M 27 6'0 209 81 10 36 0.57 21:17 53.4% 1.53
David Moss RW $2.1M 32 6'4 210 79 8 14 0.28 14:39 52.3% 1.52
Steve Bernier RW $775K 29 6'3 220 78 3 9 0.15 12:26 53.0% 1.51
Mats Zuccarello RW $1.15M 26 5'7 179 77 19 40 0.77 17:08 53.8% 1.51

Cody Franson - D - Franson is an interesting case.  He's a big defenseman that will deliver hits, but he also seems to be more comfortable in the offensive zone than the defensive zone.  It also seems that Leafs fan wouldn't exactly be upset if Franson is not back with the team next season, so maybe he's available in trade.  His offensive numbers are good, but his +/- was the worst on the team.  His 5-on-5 Corsi numbers also look pretty poor at 44.9%, but that was actually 3rd best on the Leafs last season.  The main reason I think he should be looked at is his PP ability and his shot.  These are things I think the Canes could use next season.

Blake Comeau - RW/LW - I think most people would shake their head at this suggestion, but hear me out.  Comeau averaged over 3 hits per game last year and around 2 hits per game the previous 2 seasons.  He also has some offensive abilities, scoring 17 & 24 goals for the Islanders a few years ago.  Comeau can also contribute a little on the PK, has pretty decent possession numbers and looks like he'd come cheap.  Might be worth a look as a 4th liner that could provide some physicality and maybe a little more now & then?

Steve Ott - C/LW - This would seem like a pretty good fit for the Hurricanes.  Ott could probably be signed for around $3 million per year and he could assume 1 or 2 spots, depending on how the coaching staff organizes the roster.  Ott could potentially center a line with Jeff Skinner & Elias Lindholm, providing a physical veteran presence that can clear room for the young players.  Or maybe he could line up beside Jordan Staal, helping make a beefier shutdown line?  Ott can really play a number of roles and in about every situation.  His biggest drawbacks are his somewhat limited offensive abilities and his style of play generally leads to a lot of penalty minutes.

Ryan Callahan - RW - I think Callahan would be a great fit in the top 6 for this team.  He provides toughness, leadership, defensive responsibility and some scoring.  The only issue in my eyes is the contract amount and length.  I just don't think Carolina could or should do what its been rumored he wants.

Tommy Wingels - RW - The more I learn about Wingels, the more I like him.  This is a guy that can play up and down the lineup, can shoot, works his tail off and throws his body around.  He's a guy that does a little bit of everything and also does the little things to help you win games.  He contributes on both special teams and seems to be able to work with anybody.  This is the type of guy the Hurricanes need in their lineup, but I'm not sure San Jose would let him go.

Chris Kreider - LW - Kreider is another RFA that I really don't think will be available, but you just never know.  His stock seems to be on the rise with a very good playoff performance, but he's been good in his rookie year.  He's got size, speed, goal scorer ability and plays a responsible two-way game.  For some reason, when I watch him play, he reminds me of a young version of Erik Cole.  I think he would be a great fit in the Canes top 6.

Nikolai Kulemin - LW/RW - Here's a case where a change of scenery might do a player some good.  Kulemin is a talented two-way winger that plays physical and can contribute offensively.  But for whatever reason, things have been a struggle in Toronto the past couple of seasons.  He's probably not the 30 goal scorer he was in 10/11, but he should score around 20 a season and play a solid two-way game.  Just look what happens when he plays international for Russia, his numbers increase.  I think Kulemin might be a solid 2nd/3rd liner for the Canes, but the question is how much competition there will be for him and how much will he cost?

Nino Neiderreiter - RW - I was mentioning last offseason that the Canes should try to acquire this guy and I still feel that way.  But I don't see that happening without some significant trade occurring between Minnesota and Carolina.  Nino is a power forward that could probably instantly play in the Canes top 6.  His physical style, along with his offensive abilities, are one piece the Hurricanes are missing.

Devin Setoguchi - RW - I'll probably get killed here, but I think signing Setoguchi should be in the conversation for Carolina this offseason.  He's a guy with speed, someone that will throw his body around and can put the puck in the back of the net.  Is he inconsistent, yes, but he could be a nice reward if the price is right.  If he could be signed for around $2 million, I would probably take the risk for a season.

Brian Boyle - C/LW - If Francis wants size, they don't get much bigger than Boyle.  This guy is huge and very versatile.  He generally plays a bottom 6 center position, head a PK unit, can be a net presence on the PP and can even take a shift on defense.  Now he's probably not going to score much and his price tag could be a little much for a 3rd/4th line center, but he does help the team in multiple ways.  Honestly, I don't think he's leaving New York, but we'll see what happens to their cap situation.

Jamie McGinn - LW/RW - I'm a pretty big fan of McGinn and would love to see the Canes acquire him.  He's a physical player that can score some goals and can move up & down the lineup.  He really a complimentary piece, as he does better with skilled linemates, but he can provide things other than scoring.  I think Colorado would move him if they could get a decent middle pairing LHD, but that not exactly what the Canes have stocked.  I guess my hope is that eventually he would like to play with his younger brother and will come to Carolina.  A future line of BMcGinn/JStaal/JMcGinn would be great to see.

Benoit Pouliot - LW - Pouliot is a player that I have generally overlooked, but he has some skill and has seemed to pick up his physical play this season.  He's also a pretty effective possession player and has averaged 0.207 goals per game over the past 3 seasons (a 17 goal per season pace).  At $1.3 million, that's good bang for your buck.  Pouliot was also pretty good on the PP this year, scoring 7 PP goals.  I'm sure he'll probably see a raise coming his way, but as long as it isn't too pricey, I would consider making him an offer.

Marcel Goc - C - If the Canes are looking for a good 3rd line center, Goc might be their man.  He plays an all-around game, can chip in some offensively, goes against top lines, wins faceoffs and will deliver some hits.  His only downside is that he usually misses some time due to injury.  But if you take into account his solid possession numbers and coming off a $1.7 million salary, he might be a wise investment.  He could the Canes a legit 3rd line center and take some of the defensive responsibilities off of Jordan.

Derick Brassard - C - While Brassard is actually a RFA, I think he could possibly end up as a cap casualty for the Rangers due to all the people they need to resign over the next 2 years.  He's actual current salary is $3.7 million and is probably going to be looking for something in the $4.5 to $5 million range.  That's a lot of money for, according to TOI, New York's 3rd line center.  He really is a solid all-around center that seems to finally be coming into his own.  If the plan is to move Eric to wing this year, I could imagine acquire Brassard to play the #1 center role.  I don't think he's a true #1, but it might work.

David Moss - RW - Moss is a guy that just hasn't really found his place.  He's got size and a shot, but it just hasn't come together for him and given that he's 32, it might not.  But he does have some scoring & hitting ability in limited ice time, so if he comes down from the $2.1 million he made last season, I would consider giving him a look.  He plays a significant role on the PK and has good possession numbers.  I think he could be a guy that rotates between the 3rd & 4th line and one that can provide some secondary scoring.

So what do you think.  Do any of these guys I listed make since for the Canes?  Or are there other free agents on this list that you have an interest in?  Again, this list is only free agents that averaged over 1.5 hits per game.  There are other quality players out there, but I was trying to focus on the physical element.  Hope you enjoyed the read and I look forward to seeing your thoughts.

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