I've been thinking about this for a while and decided to finally put together my roster plan for the 14/15 Hurricanes. It has been difficult because there really are some holes in the current roster and not all the pieces really fit together. Carolina has a couple of overpriced contracts and has a dearth of good prospects, so free agent signings are difficult and trades are next to impossible. Whatever Ron Francis does end up doing this offseason, he has his work cut out for him, thanks to our former General Manager.
Here are a couple of things I want to point out when I tried to develop my roster. I think a bold move or 2 is needed to get this team into position of being a true playoff team. Minor moves could help, but only get the Canes closer to being a bubble team. I did decide to keep the "core" together (outside of Cam Ward), but this is probably it for this group. If they don't make the playoffs next season, Francis should start selling off veterans and try to stock up with young players, prospects and picks. And even though I kept the "core" together, I don't believe Eric, Jordan and Jeff work well on a line together, so each has their own in my plan. That doesn't mean they can't play with each other, I just think their better apart, rather than with each other. But anyway, here is my 2014 offseason roster plan, somewhat in the order I believe it should happen.
Resign Brett Bellemore to a 2 years, $1,400,000 deal ($700,000 cap hit) - Bellemore had a solid rookie season for the Canes. The big defenseman played simply and played physical, finishing 2nd on the team in hits and 4th among all rookies in the NHL. He averaged 17:28 TOI/G, mainly splitting his time as Hainsey's partner on the 2nd pairing or Harrison's partner on the bottom pairing. Bellemore's offense was very limited, but he was a big contributor on the PK. I think he did a fine job in his role and was even decent when having to play higher than he should. I feel as if he would be a solid #6 defenseman and I would offer him a contract in line with Kevan Miller's in Boston or Jordie Benn in Dallas. Backup Option: Sign Clayton Stoner, 1 year, $900,000 - Sign Deryk Engelland, 1 year, $625,000.
Resign Nathan Gerbe to a 1 year, $800,000 deal ($800,000 cap hit) - Gerbe was one of the bright spots for Carolina this year. He was pick up from the unwanted pile and earned himself top 6 minutes for the Canes, playing in all situations. He tied his career high in goals, assists and points while playing over 70 games in a season for the first time in his career. Gerbe spent a lot of time playing next to Jordan last season, but ultimately that is not where I believe he belongs. Gerbe is a bottom 6 guy that can contribute some on special teams and can move up from time to time. Since he is a RFA, coming off a $550,000 contract, Carolina has some leverage here. I would offer him a 1-way, $800,000 contract and slot him according. Also consider that Buffalo is paying him over $300,000 next season and he will be making over a $1,100,000.
Resign Ron Hainsey to a 1 year, $2,900,000 deal ($2,900,000 cap hit) - When you look at Hainsey's game, you see a guy that is above average in many facets, but not really exceptional at any one thing. He has decent size, but isn't very physical, he skates well, but doesn't have great wheels, he can move the puck, but doesn't rack up many points. But what he does do is log a ton of minutes, positions himself well and was a stabilizing force for Carolina. Hainsey averaged 21:26 TOI/G for the Canes, doing whatever was asked of him and was the 2nd most consistent defender on the roster. He was a good addition last season, but one that might be difficult to keep. His play will most likely warrant other suitors and he might get a bigger offer, but he's 33 years old and most likely isn't going to get better. Maybe he'll find it appealing to stay with the same team, where he knows his role and could get a fair market value. The $2,900,000 salary is a little lower than his comparables (Jan Hejda & Robyn Regehr), but he did sit around unsigned for a long time last year and it would be a 45% increase from last year's salary. Backup Options: Sign Nikita Nikitin, 1 year, $3,000,000 - Sign Andre Benoit, 1 year, $2,000,000.
Resign Manny Malhotra to a 1 year, $700,000 deal ($700,000 cap hit) - Malhotra is an excellent faceoff man, will contribute on the PK and provides leadership in the locker room. He can score a little, but you really shouldn't expect much offense from him. The down side is that he had pretty horrible possession numbers and he's no spring chicken. He was a solid 4th liner last year, coming back from a bad injury. He proved he can still play in this league, but won't be the player he was 2 or 3 years ago. In my eyes, he means to this team what Craig Adams & Dominic Moore mean to their teams. They are high character guys that play a certain role, but at the same time, they are not expendable. I think Malhotra would do well on the 4th line and in PK situations for the Canes next season, but he needs to fit within the budget. Coming off a two-way deal, he deserves a one-way contract, but the salary should be limited to around $700,000. Backup Options: Sign Blake Comeau, 1 year, $800,000 - Sign Adam Hall, 1 year, $600,000.
Resign Jiri Tlusty to a 2 years, $4,200,000 deal ($2,100,000 cap hit) - Tlusty had 16 goals and 30 points in 68 games last season. While pretty close to his 11/12 production, it certainly wasn't what we were expecting after a very good 12/13 season. So the question is, what type of player is Jiri Tlusty? Is he the inconsistent guy from last year or the top 5 goal scorer from 12/13? I think the real Jiri lies somewhere between those two. I feel as if he is a solid complimentary player that can score 25 goals, average around 1/2 point per game and play defensively responsible. He isn't a true top line player, but he can work in the top 6 with the right line mates. Last season for him was a mess due to some injuries and constantly being pulled back & forth by the coaching staff. Tlusty doesn't really create on his own, so give him some consistency and he will figure out how to work in that situation. I would offer Tlusty a show me type of contract. Give him 2 years with modest increases and have him show he can be the consistent player we need him to be.
Resign Brett Sutter to a 1 year, 2-way deal, $150,000/$600,000 - Sutter's a solid AHL player with a great work ethic and do whatever is needed mentality. He also can be called up to play a 4th line energy role if needed.
Resign Matt Corrente to a 1 year, 2-way deal, $100,000/$550,000 - Corrente is a tough defenseman with a little NHL experience. He led the Checkers with a +9 and could be called up to the Canes on an emergency basis.
Do not offer contracts to Mark Flood, Mike Murphy, Chris Terry or Nicolas Blanchard - Flood has offense, but was a disaster defensively. Murphy has gotten considerable worse since deciding to leave for the KHL after the 11/12 season. Terry is a good player, but doesn't have a place on the Canes. Let him go so he can possibly find a place that gives him a legit shot at making an NHL roster or is at least called up more often. Blanchard is a nice stand up for your teammate guy, but he's really not going anywhere.
Qualify Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman, Justin Shugg, Greg Nemisz, Rasmus Rissanen, Zach Boychuk, Michael Jordan and Jared Staal - Loktionov is a NHL player, Bowman can be at times, Boychuk might be and Jordan could be an emergency call-up. I think Nemisz is a project, Rissanen might one day be a 7th or 8th defenseman, Shugg is a decent AHLer and Staal is a Staal.
Do not qualify Aaron Palushaj, Tommi Kivisto or Kellan Tochkin - $175,000 at the AHL level is just too much for Palushaj. Kivisto couldn't cut it in North America and left to go back to Europe, so he's not coming back. Tochkin just isn't that good, couldn't even get in a game at the AHL level.
Compliance buyout Cam Ward, 4 years, $9,000,000 ($0 cap hit) - Unfortunately there just aren't many options for the Hurricanes. I'm sure there are a few teams willing to take a risk on Ward, but not at his current salary, not even at half of his current salary. Buying him out saves the franchise $4,500,000 over the long-term and opens up $6,300,000 in cap space. He would still account for $2,250,000 against the actual budget for the next 4 years, but counts nothing against the salary cap. Ward is an important figure in the Hurricanes history, but right now he is a hindrance.
Trade the 7th Overall Pick & Ryan Murphy to Detroit for 15th Overall Pick, Brendan Smith & RFA rights to Mitch Callahan - This is a little out there, I know, but I do have a plan. This trade moves Carolina down in the draft & results in them losing their top defensive prospect, but they still get a good pick, pick up a more valuable asset right now in Smith and a gritty prospect that can help at the AHL level and now possibly at the NHL level rather soon. Consider that Detroit is one of the oldest teams in the NHL and many of their top guys are over 33 years old and breaking down. They have a number of good prospect on the cusp, but they could probably use a high-level prospect to eventually replace one of these aging stars and they don't get to draft in the top 10 very often (since 1991). Also consider that Detroit is loaded with left-handed defenseman, but don't have many right-handed defenseman. Smith is probably a #4 or #5 on their team, but could be easily be a 2nd pairing guy on many teams, so he's probably expendable for the right price. While the right-handed Murphy isn't ready for top 4 duty, but he could be an asset to Detroit. Playing on their bottom pairing, assisting on their PP or could even be used in another trade. This deal basically allows Detroit to get a little younger and helps them prepaire for the future without hurting their present. Carolina positions itself to make some other moves.
Trade Brendan Smith to Colorado for RFA rights to Jamie McGinn & Calvin Pickard - This is the second part of my trading the 1st Round pick & Murphy. Supposedly the Avs are looking to add a top 4 left-handed defenseman that can grow with their young team. Smith accomplishes that goal, has skating ability that will fit in with the Avs style and could possibly even play on their top pairing with Erik Johnson. Carolina would get a physical winger with some scoring ability in McGinn and a goaltending prospect that can immediately take the reigns in Charlotte and possible be an NHL starter or backup in the not to distant future. In my opinion, McGinn is the type of player we need and I think he's at that age where power forwards generally break out. Tuomo Ruutu had his best 3 PPG season when he turned 25, Erik Cole has 3 of his 4 best PPG season when he turned 26. McGinn will be 26 next season his past 3 seasons are pretty similar to Cole's at the same age. I have noticed that McGinn generally does better playing with skilled guys, but he really could work on any line with either Staal or Skinner, he has versatility. Pickard is 22 years old, putting up solid numbers in the AHL. He could come in, take over the Checkers job, replacing Justin Peters and give the Canes a call-up goaltender if needed. He will most likely work his way up to a NHL backup in a year or two and who knows from there. So in the end, the Canes give up the 7th & Murphy (2 high-level prospects/players) for the 15th, McGinn, Pickard & Callahan (a good player & 3 good prospects). Then sign Jamie McGinn to a 2 year, $4,400,000 deal ($2,200,000 cap hit). Backup Option: Trade Brendan Smith & 127th Overall Pick to San Jose for RFA rights to Tommy Wingels and Freddie Hamilton.
Trade Andrei Loktionov to Dallas for Erik Cole (15% retained) - First, it has been speculated that Cole might be a compliance buyout candidate for Dallas. Second, Rich Peverley played all throughout the Stars lineup last year and he might not be able to play next season because of his heart issue. So from my perspective, this trade is a solution to both issues for Dallas. Retaining 15% of Cole contract saves the Stars just over $2,000,000 and while Loktionov isn't Peverley, he is a versatile player that can be effective in multiple places in the lineup and would come rather cheap. He would help the Stars depth at LW and could also be useful on the PP as a distributor. The reason Carolina does ths is because while Cole is riding off into the career sunset, he can still provide some physical play and some secondary scoring. I would envision Cole on a line with Skinner & Lindholm, create space and adding a veteran presence, but he could also be reunited with his ol' buddy Eric from time to time. This trade is something some of you would balk at, but I think it can be a useful short-term experiment. Backup Option: Sign Steve Downie, 1 year, $1,850,000.
Trade Patrick Dwyer to Pittsburgh for Scott Harrington - The Penguins are loaded with young defensemen, but an identified weakness has been their bottom 6. Dwyer is a solid 4th line RW that contributes on the PK and comes in below $1,000,000. The Penguins are possibly losing a couple of PKers to free agents, so they will need to fill those roles. And while Dwyer isn't the biggest guy, he isn't afraid of throwing his body around and he has speed to boot He also has playing experience with Brandon Sutter and has some familiarity with the new Penguins GM. Harrington is a solid, two-way defensive prospect, but still has a little developing to do before being NHL ready. He is probably behind the likes of Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson, not to mention Olli Maatta and Simon Despres in the Pittsburgh depth chart. But in Carolina, he would instantly jump up to being one of the Canes top defensive prospects. Backup Option: Trade Patrick Dwyer to Florida for Drew Shore.
Trade Jay Harrison & RFA rights to Drayson Bowman to Winnipeg for Eric Tangradi & RFA rights to Keaton Ellerby - In this scenario, the Canes take on 2 projects in Tangradi & Ellerby, but save some money as both players combined make less than Harrison. I would use them as the extra forward and extra defenseman. Tangradi hasn't developed as expected, but he plays physical in his limited TOI (averaging over 2 hits per game the last 2 seasons) and will work the dirty areas. Ellerby also hasn't lived up to his top 10 draft status, but he's huge and plays pretty good defense. The hope is that things would start to click for both players and they start to develop into what they can be, but at a minimum, they would provide some size & physicality to substitute into the lineup. Winnipeg or should I say Paul Maurice would get his boy Harrison back and that actually should be an upgrade for their defense. Harrison is a solid #6 or #7 defenseman that works well with younger defensemen. Bowman was selected the same year as Tangradi and has been a better goal scorer. Bowman could be a more effective 4th liner for the Jets and maybe the change of scenery allows him to advance more. Then qualify Keaton Ellerby to a 1 year, $771,750 deal ($771,750 cap hit).
With the 15th Pick, select Alex Tuch, Ivan Barbashev, Adrian Kempe or someone that falls - Tuch is a big power forward that plays smart, but with an edge. He can play center or wing and plays a Jordan Staal style of game. Barbashev has decent size, but has a more slender build. He plays a strong two-way game with some playmaking abilities. He sort of reminds me of a smaller Sean Couturier with not quite the offensive abilities. Kempe is a two-way power forward that works hard and does the little things to help the team. He got nice size and I've read his game compares to Brandon Dubinsky. Of course in every draft, a player or 2 falls. Maybe someone like Jake Virtanen, Brendan Perlini or Haydn Fleury falls to #15 and the Canes jump at the opportunity to take one of those guys.
Sign Mark Fayne to a 4 year, $11,800,000 deal ($2,950,000 cap hit) - Fayne is a steady two-way defenseman that plays a strong positional game and contributes on the PK. He has very good possession numbers despite a high quality of competition and a particular low number of offensive zone starts. He can contribute a little bit of offense and moves the puck well, but really doesn't seem to want the puck on his stick. Fayne also has very good size, but isn't overly physical defender as he mainly relies on his positioning and stick. But overall he's a real solid and should find himself in the top 4. I think he could work well with Hainsey as a defensive pairing or maybe even Sekera, letting Faulk take on a more offensive role playing next to Hainsey. He's 27 years old, so he coming into his prime as a defenseman. Finding comparable contracts was difficult as most 27 year old defensemen are still RFAs, but Kevin Klein was/is a similar type of player and sign a 5 year deal worth $2,900,000/yr in 2012 when he was 27. At the time, Klein played and produced a little more, but they have similarities. Backup Option: Sign Tom Gilbert, 1 year, $2,800,000 - Sign Derek Morris, 1 year, $2,600,000.
Sign Mason Raymond to a 1 year, $2,250,000 deal ($2,250,000 cap hit) - Raymond is a speedy winger that generally plays a responsible two-way game. He's coming off a good season in Toronto, where he was signed as a free agent to a cheap 1 year, $1,000,000 deal. He plays on both special teams and has actually scored more PP goals than any Hurricane besides Skinner the last 2 seasons. Raymond's really a 2nd/3rd line tweener, but he worked well with Ryan Kesler in Vancouver and I think he could do the same with Jordan, while adding a speed element. He is a little inconsistent and does have an injury concerned from back in 2011, but he seems to be a pretty durable player since then. Raymond might be somewhat in demand this offseason and he will certainly get a raise from his $1,000,000 salary from last season. From 2010 - 2013, he made in the $2,500,000 range and when looking at comparables like Lee Stempniak & Lauri Korpikoski, Raymond will probably get somewhere in that range. I think he would be satisfied getting back to what he was making before last season and it would be a 225% increase in salary. Backup Options: Sign Nikolai Kulemin, 1 year, $2,000,000 - Sign Benoit Pouliot, 1 year, $1,700,000.
Sign Thomas Greiss to a 1 year, $900,000 deal ($900,000 cap hit) - In my plan the Hurricanes buyout Ward, so they will have to find a capable backup. While there are a number of backup available, Greiss is one that I think would work well for Carolina. He's a player that has proven himself to be a quality backup over the years, doesn't need a couple of games to round into form and shouldn't be all that expensive. His 2.43 GAA and 0.915 Save % career numbers are pretty impressive for a backup and he might be looking for a place where he can get a little more work. A $900,000 salary would represent a 20% increase for Greiss and would seem in line with other backup goalies with his experience. Backup Options: Sign Chad Johnson, 1 year, $750,000 - Sign Al Montoya, 1 year, $825,000.
Sign Zach Redmond to a 1 year, $675,000 deal ($675,000 cap hit) - Redmond is a young offensive defenseman that has some very nice qualities, but only limited experience. He has decent size, a good point shot and has shown an ability to put up some points at the AHL and NHL levels. Redmond only has 18 NHL games on his resume, mainly as a result of a significant leg injury that happened in early 2013. But he's recovered, had a good season in the AHL and even got to see some time in the NHL. His leg injury and lack of experience make him a risk, but I think he could be a solid extra defenseman for the Canes and one that might surprise some. I would offer him a one-way deal worth $675,000, lower than his last year NHL salary, but he would be guaranteed to make that amount.
Here are my projected lines after these moves. I have included each players cap hit and actual salary. I've also explained why I made the lines the way I did.
Jiri Tlusty ($2.1M/$1.9M) - Eric Staal ($8.25M/$9.25M) - Jamie McGinn ($2.2M/$2.1M)
This is definitely not a typical top line, but my idea is to get Eric back to being Eric. Over the past few years, it seems as if he's deferred to his linemates, trying to be a playmaker rather than do what he does best. While each of these guys are capable of 20+ goals, Eric again becomes the primary shooter/scorer like the majority of his career. Each of these guys are also above average or better skaters and each is decent along the boards. McGinn add a physical element and Tlusty has shown to be able to get himself in good scoring position. With this hypothetical roster, we could also see Semin or Cole moved up to play with Eric at times and we could see the wingers move down.
Mason Raymond ($2.25M/$2.25M) - Jordan Staal ($6M/$6M) - Alexander Semin ($7M/$7M)
One thing that stuck out to me last season was Jordan's and Semin's ability to work with each other. I really think playing with a skilled winger, showed what Jordan could do with more talent on beside him. We traded for Jordan in hopes that he would take the next step offensively, but he was saddled with bottom 6 forwards for the majority of the season. Raymond and Semin provide Jordan with capable offensive wingers that have shown an ability to be defensively responsible as well. Jordan provides the beef & shutdown ability, Raymond the speed & two-way play and Semin the shot & creativity. If Raymond doesn't seem to work on this line, then Gerbe could move up or Tlusty/McGinn could move down. You have to have options.
Jeff Skinner ($5.725M/$6M) - Elias Lindholm ($925K/$925K) - Erik Cole ($3.825M/$3.4M)
Here the Canes future meets the Canes past and I think it could make for a nice present. Skinner & Cole seemed to have pretty good chemistry back in 10/11 and Skinner & Lindholm showed chemistry last season, so the hope is that all 3 could work well together. While Cole isn't the player he once was, he provides some things that will help balance this line. He has some size, has some speed and has the experience to help these younger players through struggles. I obviously have Lindholm at the center position and I believe this is where he needs to be. If the plan is for him to eventually be a 1st line center, then he needs to gain experience playing the position at the NHL level. I really believe this line could do some serious damage because the primary focus would probably fall on the 2 Staal lines, really making for some favorable matchup here.
Nathan Gerbe ($800K/$800K) - Manny Malhotra ($700K/$700K) - Riley Nash ($575K/$600K)
So all the members on this line were on the Hurricanes last season, but mainly played on different lines. Gerbe played the majority of the year on the 2nd line, but is ideally a 3rd line player. Having him on the 4th gives the Canes some depth, which is never a bad thing. He could move up a couple of lines and shouldn't be a big drop off. Malhotra is a good 4th line center that you can put out there for a needed draw or the PK. Nash made big improvements last season, but it's still a question if he is more than a 4th liner. The good thing is that his experience at center gives the Canes a few more options. Each of these guys can also contribute on special teams, which I think is needed from your 4th liners.
Eric Tangradi ($675K/$700K)
Tangradi is a project player, but if the Canes need to up the physicality in a game, he could be inserted. He is also a big body that could work in front of the net on the PP.
Andrej Sekera ($2.75M/$1.75M) - Justin Faulk ($4.833M/$2.5M)
This was a pretty good pairing last season and could be even better this season. If Sekera can continue to build on his career season and Faulk continue to progress, getting a little more consistent. Then Carolina has a solid two-way pairing that can play in about every situation.
Ron Hainsey ($2.9M/$2.9M) - Mark Fayne ($2.95M/$2.8M)
This is a pairing that isn't really outstanding, but man they would be solid. I kind of view Fayne as a younger version of Hainsey with maybe a little more potential. Each guy can move the puck, each guy plays strong defense and each guy can log a lot of minutes. They can play in every situation and could probably play with multiple partners.
John-Michael Liles ($3.875M/$4.25M) - Brett Bellemore ($700K/$700K)
Honestly, Liles makes too much money to play on a bottom pairing, but there really aren't many options. With this combination, each guy gets someone to compliment them. Liles is smaller & not very physical and Bellemore is big & nasty. Bellemore doesn't have much offense & has trouble moving the puck and Liles is known to be a puck-mover. While it isn't a match made in heaven, I think it is a rather balanced bottom pairing.
Keaton Ellerby ($772K/$772K) - Zach Redmond ($700K/$700K)
Since carrying 2 extra defensemen seems to be common in the NHL, these are the 2 I choose for the Canes. Each is pretty inexpensive and each offers their own strengths. Ellerby is the big, physical player that focuses on his own zone. Redmond is the offensive defenseman that can fill in when more offense is needed.
Anton Khudobin ($2.25M/$2M) - Thomas Greiss ($900K/$900K)
Khudobin is the obvious starter, but Greiss has proved to be a capable backup in San Jose & Phoenix. It appears he wants more responsibility and if an injury occurs, I think he could carry the load for a while.
Cam Ward ($0/$2.25M) - Tuomo Ruutu ($950K/$1M)
It would be a tough pill for Peter Karmanos to swallow, paying $3,250,000 million for 2 players to play elsewhere. But in the end, it really is the best choice for Carolina. Keeping Cam really prohibits the team from fixing other holes in the lineup.
Salary Cap - $64,605,083 / Actual Salary - $64,596,750
According to CapGeek, the Carolina Hurricanes spent $64,240,594 on players salaries in the 13/14 season. This number does not include any insurance credit amounts for players that missed time via injury. With the roster I laid out above, the cap number & actual salaries should be in the same neighborhood. This should give the Canes around $3.4 million to $6.4 million (depending on next year's salary cap) in cap space entering the season. There are moves that could be made to lower this cap & salary number, but I think the team I laid out could be pretty competitive. They are not really Cup contenders, but I think they could be a #5, #6, or #7 team in the Eastern Conference and once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen.
AHL Depth (in alphabetical order by position)
Zach Boychuk-Patrick Brown-Mitch Callahan
Phil Di Giuseppe-Erik Karlsson-Greg Nemisz
Brock McGinn-Victor Rask-Justin Shugg
Carter Sandlak-Brett Sutter-Jared Staal
Sergey Tolchinsky-Brody Sutter
Trevor Carrick-Dan Biega-Daniel Altshuller
Scott Harrington-Matthew Corrente-Calvin Pickard
Michal Jordan-Dennis Robertson
Austin Levi-Beau Schmitz