"Anton Babchuk is dead to me!" Okay, Jim Rutherford didn't use those exact words, but he meant them. The Canes' general manager made it clear to everyone before the draft that the disgruntled defenseman was on the trading block. Since the draft has come and gone and there weren't any deals, one can assume that Babchuk has about as much value to the rest of the NHL as he does to the Canes. nada.... When asked about Anton's status recently, Rutherford's exact quote was "We'll leave him in Russia, he's a defected player, and he can stay there and we'll keep his rights." Ouch! I would guess we shouldn't use the title "From Russia with Love" if Babchuk returns.
July 1st gets closer and closer and the plot thickens! Will either Briere or Drury remain in Buffalo? Where will Ryan Smyth sign? How much money will Scott Gomez get? Who will the Canes enlist to be their third line center? So many questions and so few answers, so far. Can we wait one more week to find out? The biggest question of all that I have is, what will the salary cap limit be? Here we are just one week before the start of free agency, and there's no firm cap number yet. How in the world can general managers make educated plans about where their spending should be if they don't even know what the cap limit is? Initially it was supposed to be 47 million. Then a few weeks ago the NHLPA petitioned the league to increase it to 52 million. Rumor has it that it will end up at about 50 million. That's a lot of wiggle room if you are trying to sign one of those super stars, or a combination of highly paid free agents and you don't know exactly how far you can go. Most teams can't spend to the cap limit anyway, but there are a few teams that will. One or two million might not seem like much of a difference, but if Chris Drury is getting offered 7 million a year by team X and team Y is pushing the cap limit with that number at 50 million, then they can't bid anymore. If the cap limit is set at 52, they might be able to bid 7.5 or 8 million a year. I'm not sure what the big hold up is. Maybe the people inside the NHL already know the number and it's just not been made public yet. If anyone knows for sure what it is, please let me know. I would appreciate it!
The Hurricanes' rumor mill is still out in full force. Rutherford has been quoted more than once as saying that he wants to change up the defense. Since the previous rumor of trading Erik Cole was put to bed, the latest rumors have Niclas Wallin's or Mike Commodore's respective heads up on the chopping block. But both defensemen have been through the wars here at Carolina and most fans will be unhappy to see either of them go. The proposed acquisition target is Joni Pitkanen of Philadelphia. Pitkanen is an offensive dynamo, but had a horrid time playing positionally sound defense last year. He had a tremendous 46 points in only 55 games in 2005-06 and was a plus 22. Last year he continued the high scoring with 43 points, but he ended up with a negative 25. So which year was the aberration? Obviously, Rutherford feels that it was last year, when Joni was playing on the worst team in the league. Pitkanen would be the obvious cure for what ails the Hurricane powerplay and is only 23 so could vastly improve, but will the already "soft as Charmin" Hurricane's defense miss the physicality of Commie or the "Secret Weapon"? Rutherford is playing with fire here and hopefully the Canes don't get burned like they did with the Sandis Ozolinsh experiment. Another thought.... would we even be having these concerns if Bret Hedican would have retired? Instead of having to trade Commodore or Wallin, Rutherford could have used the 2.4 million tied up on Bret's salary to sign a free agent. Hedican better be healthy and better be ready to let it all hang out once training camp starts or there might be a few unhappy Caniacs wearing their bathrobes and wigs, blaming him because they don't have their quirky hero to watch this coming season.
If I hear anything about a trade, I'll be posting it as soon as can!