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Now that Scott Walker is back in the fold, the Hurricanes can focus on filling out their 3rd line with a dependable center. Money of course, is an issue! I have updated the Canes Salary Chart always to be found now on the left sidebar and the Canes currently have 21 players under contract and are obligated to pay $41.6 million dollars in the coming year. That's a lot of bread! The salary cap hit is about 1 million higher than that due to averaging and bonus adjustments. There is no way the Canes will hit the maximum cap figure though, so we'll concentrate on their budget and cash out of pocket for now. It appears that they have a limit of about 2.3 to 2.4 million which can be spent on a new center, based upon reports of what their self imposed cap is. (44 million). Let's review my top 6 choices out of the free agency pool from last week, (who would probably fit in or below that salary range,) and see how they look today. Instead of just looking at last year's stats, we'll look at the past three year averages which might be a more accurate reflection of what to expect next year.

1. Bryan Smolinksi 3 year average GP 81 G 18 A 28 TP 46 PIM 44 +/- +12

2. Todd White 3 year average GP 63 G 13 A 24 TP 37 PIM 22 +/- +6

3. Yanic Perreault 3 year average GP 68 G 20 A 21 TP 41 PIM 34 +/- -5

4. Michal Handzus 3 year average GP 54 G 11 A 25 TP 36 PIM 46 +/- +7

5. Michael Peca 3 year average GP 61 G 8 A 18 TP 26 PIM 62 +/- +5

6. Tyler Arnason 3 year average GP 81 G 17 A 33 TP 50 PIM 26 +/- -6

If we look at these 3 year averages, I stand behind my previous number one choice of Bryan Smolinski. He has no past injury issues to be concerned about, he's a consistent high 40 point a year guy, and he's responsible on the defensive end of the rink. Most of the other centers available have had past injury issues which could surface again. Although to be fair, Matt Cullen and Scott Walker both had injury issues in their past before they came to Carolina and that was never a factor here, so you never know for sure. But we still should play the percentages and look at risk factors. In my opinion, Smolinksi is the best bet. Bryan made 1.5 million last year and should easily fit within the Canes' budget this year. Handzus, Peca, and Arnason might all be signed for amounts over what the Canes can afford. Perreault will be affordable, but can he play defense? Maybe JR has someone else on his radar screen or has a trick up his sleeve with a surprise trade planned on draft day. You never know with Jim Rutherford. I remember a couple of years ago when he traded David Tanabe and Igor Knyazev for Danny Markov on draft day. Now that was a shocker!

In the paper this morning, Rutherford alluded to just that. He said he is targeting a consistent 50-60 point a year guy and could get "creative" when it comes to fitting him within the salary guidelines. While Smolinski is just below the 50-60 point plateau, I think he's still a good fit. Let's take a quick look at the chart and see who he might be targeting. Hmmm, I really don't see anyone that fits that description. It could be anyone I guess, including someone already under contract who could be the target of a trade. We'll have to wait and see. Rutherford also mentioned the idea of adding a "puck moving defenseman" to the mix. He must have some trade partners lined up or maybe Hedican isn't coming back? Good old JR, still can create some interesting drama! Tanabe could be considered a puck moving defenseman I guess, but who will they trade? This weekend could be very interesting for other reasons besides just drafting rookies!

Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at the draft and I'll make an uneducated guess as to who the Canes will pick with their 11th overall selection. Hopefully that truck or van that "caught on fire" the other night is fixed up and ready to go so Versus can televise the event as promised. Go Canes and Go Versus!

Pink Floyd