It's going to be a long off-season, but it's never too early to start discussing what the Carolina Hurricanes will look like next year. One area where most fans would like to see some change is on the blueline. The aging Carolina defense seemed slow to react and was porous at times, and they continually had trouble moving the puck out of their own zone.
Before Joe Corvo came to town, this was the lowest scoring group of blueliners in the entire league for 2 consecutive years. Corvo had over twice as many points, (48), as his nearest team-mate on defense, Frank Kaberle, who had 22 points.
Let's take a quick look at each defenseman and project whether or not he will return next year.
- Joe Corvo ..... This is a no-brainer. The Canes traded to acquire the high scoring defenseman and they certainly will not relinquish him now. Not only did Joe have 48 points last year, but he also finished at +17. Corvo has never finished with a negative plus/minus in his entire NHL career. He is under contract for another 2 years at a somewhat reasonable 2.75 million each year. Canes Country places the odds of him returning at 100%.
- Tim Gleason ..... Gleason's return is almost as sure as Corvo's. Tim improved a lot this year and at times looked to be a possible legitimate number 1 pairing guy. He needs to work on his consistency and it wouldn't hurt to work on his offensive game as well. Last year he finished with 19 points and was +5. He is a restricted free agent which means that the Canes have final rights to sign him, even if he gets an offer from another team. He made 1.175 million last year and is due a raise, the only question is how much? The one thing that could stop Tim from signing here next year is if his agent and Jim Rutherford can't agree on a dollar amount. I doubt that it will ever get to that point though and I place Gleason's odds at staying here at 95%.
- Dennis Seidenberg ..... Seidenberg had some injury issues last season, but filled in rather well at times when he had the chance. His strengths are that he can be physical and lay a good hit on when necessary and he has a decent slapshot from the point on the powerplay. He does have issues in his own end though. I think that he could be a decent 3rd pairing guy on defense if he could stay healthy and improve his positioning. He finished last year with 15 points and was +6 in just 47 games. Dennis made 850 thousand last year and is also a restricted free agent. If the Canes can sign him for about the same price as before, (which they should be able to), I think the odds of him returning are at 85%. One thing to keep in mind though is that Dennis is a prefect "throw-in" if one of the forwards is traded for a defenseman. Including Seidenberg in the deal would make room for the incoming blueliner.
- Frantisek Kaberle ..... Kaberle had mostly a down year, but he did show some signs of decent play during the Hurricanes winning run near the end of the season. He seemed to play his best when paired with Joe Corvo. Frank can be a good playmaker and while his shot will not scare anyone, it can be accurate at times. The main problem with Frank as I see it is that he is very weak on the puck and will cough it up too easily when he sees a potential hit coming. Physicality is not in his vocabulary. Frank finished with 22 points and was -4 last year in 80 games. He is under contract for the next 2 years at 2.2 million each year. Carolina might try to trade him because Corvo assumes his role as a puck-mover, but he could be hard to trade and I doubt that Rutherford would take a loss for him at this point. The odds of him returning are at 75%.
- Nic Wallin ...... Nic finished with the worst plus/minus on the team with a -18, in just 66 games. He also brings very little offense to the table as he scored his typical 8 points for the year. In his defense, he was injured a lot but he has been pretty injury prone throughout his career. He has not played over 67 games in a season since 2002-03. (He is scheduled to have surgery again this off-season). Nic used to be counted on as being a decent penalty killer and shut-down guy, but he seemed slower than normal this year and very slow to react. This is a guy the Canes would love to replace or throw in another deal, but he is under contract for 2 more years at 1.725 million per year and has already turned down at least one trade, as he utilized the no-trade clause in his contract. Jim Rutherford will undoubtedly try to move him again, but that lovely no-trade clause has literally tied the general manager's hands. Will the Canes buy him out? Fat chance of that happening either because of budget contraints. I think the odds that Wallin will be back are at 70% because quite frankly, the Canes will have a very rough time getting rid of him.
- Glen Wesley ....... Glen signed a one year contract last year for 1.4 million and is a free agent again this off-season. He's getting up there in age (39), but has always been a tremendous shot-blocker and dependable penalty killer. He finished the season with a paltry 8 points though and had a -3. The Canes will probably consider bringing him back again next year for a similar contract if Wesley feels up to the task. At this point my gut says that there is a 60% chance he will be back again next year.
- Bret Hedican ....... Bret just finished the final year of a 6 year deal with the Canes that paid him 2.432 million last year. The past 2 years have been injury riddled and fans were left wondering from game to game whether or not Hedican would be able to play. He obviously played hurt at times which probably caused him to make some mistakes that he normally wouldn't make. Regardless, the man is a warrior and somehow finished with a team high plus 17 and chipped in 17 points in just 66 games. While Hedican's body is undoubtedly telling him to retire, his competitive spirit might be telling him to play one more year. Chances are that even if he does want to play another year, it won't be in Carolina. Rumors have it that he and his wife, Kristi Yamaguchi want to move the family to the west coast. Also, I doubt that the Canes will want, (or be able), to pay Bret what he will demand. I'll place the odds on his return at 10%.
- David Tanabe ..... Tanabe is an enigma in that he has been injured for most of the year with problems related to a concussion. He is in such bad shape that he couldn't even show up for the team photo or his end-of-season exit interview. Jim Rutherford sounded upset with him during his latest press conference, but he is still under contract next year for 900 thousand. He will be here one way or the other, but will he be able to play? Will he be released? Will he remain in a fog for another year? I have no clue on this one.
In summary, as much as Caniacs might want to blow up the blueline and start over, I just don't see it happening. Corvo and Gleason will almost certainly be back. Wallin and Kaberle will probably be back because of their contract status and inability to trade them. I think there is a better than 50/50 chance that Wesley will be back. If they trade a forward for a new defensemen, he would fit in your starting 6, and possibly Seidenberg would be the extra, (if he isn't traded), and there is the 2008-09 blueline.
I know, I know...it's not scaring anyone, is it? Unless the new dude is a big-time minute eater and a bruiser, it looks like more of the same to me. What does everyone else think?