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Back in Black

The Hurricanes went over budget yesterday when they brought Matt Cullen back into the family, but they're hoping the move will end up helping them get back into the playoffs and "back in black" eventually with their bottom line. According to the CanesCountry Salary Chart, the out of pocket annual salary cost for the Canes at this point would be $44,766,000, a bit over their 44M budget. Their cap hit for the year would be about $45,833,000. That is an unbelievable amount of money for a team that had total salaries of under $30,000,000 just 3 seasons ago, the year before the lockout. How can they do it? Jim Rutherford alluded to it in an interview with Luke DeCock which he posted on Lord Stanley's Blog. Season ticket sales are tracking higher than before as well as corporate support. Also revenue sharing is helping the cause. How much is the revenue sharing? That's the best kept secret in sports right now! The funny thing about this particular situation is that since the rich teams like the Rangers help to support the small market teams like the Hurricanes, technically the Rangers are still paying Cullen's salary! Good times!!

Some people might be thinking that 2.8 million per year for a 3rd line center is a lot of money, and it is! But Cullen brings much more to the table than a typical 3rd liner. Last year the Canes failed to win a single over-time shoot out and could only muster 1 goal out of 15 attempts. Cullen was second best on the team in 2006 and fared well for the Rangers last year, scoring more goals in shoot outs by himself than the whole Hurricane team! Cullen also won about 55% of his face offs last year. The only Hurricane who was better than that was Rod Brind'Amour. Cullen had 3 short-handed goals last year, higher than any Cane. He also plays a solid point position on the powerplay, something the Canes desperately need. He's one of the fastest players on the team, is super creative with the puck, fits in the system perfectly, and is well liked in the dressing room and by the fans. Need I continue?

Some people might say that the Canes gave up too much. Well, let's look realistically at what they gave up. While Andrew Hutchinson is a super nice guy and always helped out with any community event, he was nothing more than an extra defenseman on this team. Hutch was a nice option to have on the bench and could occasionally offer some offensive spark, but in my opinion he was usually a liability while playing defense. At one time Joe Barnes was a promising young prospect, but he opted out of his original draft year because of an injury, he spent a portion of the following year injured, and then only played 15 games with the River Rats last year because of a concussion. This kid may never play in the NHL, he's a huge question mark. Of course a 3rd round pick is something of value, but it will also be a total crap shoot if a player of value ever emerged. From that deep in the draft, most times they don't. On the otherhand, Matt Cullen is a proven commodity. Another idea to consider is that the Canes were not the only team in the league interested in acquiring Matt. Rutherford had been working on this deal for over a week, I'm sure there was some competition. Would you have preferred he passed on the deal and kept that 3rd round pick? I don't, I think it was a good deal. If Barnes or the draft pick turns out to be a superstar, then maybe it was a mistake, but the odds are against that happening.

The one negative aspect to this trade in my opinion is the salary obligation to Matt in future years. Again looking at the salary chart, in 2008-09 the Canes have committed over $32 million to 12 players. They will still need to sign 10 more, including Cory Stillman, Andrew Ladd, and 5 defensemen, including Gleason and Commodore. I have a feeling that someone will be left out or someone else will be traded to free up salary. But let's worry about that next year and enjoy this year while we can! Cullen is an unpredictable, creative, and exciting player. He's almost always skating at full speed and he never gives up on a play. He's going to be a lot of fun to watch here again!

So, now is Rutherford done? Is Erik Cole still on the block, or was he ever? Will JR try to free up some salary now in order to sign another defenseman? (David Tanabe?). Right now the Canes have 4 solid lines, (Staal, Ladd, Stillman, Cole, Brindy, Williams, Whitney, Walker, Cullen, Adams, LaRose, and Hamilton) with Trevor Letowski being a healthy scratch. They have 7 defensemen. With the blueliners under contract now, they might want to strongly consider carrying 8. Kaberle is coming off a serious injury and played gingerly at best last year when he finally did play. Will he be at full strength? Wallin and Gleason both missed several games because of a variety of issues. Can they stay healthy for a long stretch? Wesley is solid on the penalty kill, but won't be any faster chasing down loose pucks in his own end. He's also coming off a broken foot. Will he be able to hold up? Last but not least is Bret Hedican. There are tons of questions about this defense, but he's the biggest wild card of them all. Of course, Dennis Seidenberg will be asked to fill in when needed, but he's far from being a proven, dependable NHL player. Maybe JR looks to trade Hamilton since he has Cullen now? Letowski and Hamilton are both making 800K, that's a lot for 4rth liners. One of them should probably go. You can get someone else to sit in the pressbox for 450K these days. So many questions and so few answers! I wonder if Rutherford can sleep well at night? Hopefully everyone will be healthy, everyone will play well, and all this interesting conjecture will be for nothing. It's a great day to be a Caniac! Happy Hump Day!