Coming off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Carolina Hurricanes and their fans have high hopes for 2009-10. On top of retaining most of last year's squad, GM Jim Rutherford infused some much-needed grit and experience with the addition of role players Aaron Ward, Tom Kostopoulos and Stephane Yelle.
For the first time in a long time, the future looks extremely bright as well. Forwards Zack Boychuk, Brandon Sutter and Drayson Bowman lead a group of young, front-line latent that should make Carolina's AHL affiliate in Albany the most competitive it's been since becoming the Hurricanes' farm team. On defense, Brett Carson, Jamie McBain and Bryan Rodney are all on the cusp of being NHLers, with oft-injured Casey Borer not far behind if he can recover from his latest setback. Goalies Mike Murphy and Justin Peters are both legitimate NHL prospects that provide depth in net.
Outside of the pro ranks, college players Zac Dalpe, Brian Dumoulin and Kyle Lawson are promising, while 2009 first-round pick Phillipe Paradis will look to build on his resume in the QMJHL this season. The Canes even scoured Europe and came away with a few draft-worthy players over the past year.
While the cupboard isn't stocked with can't-miss talent, it's fair to say it's more full than it has been in years.
And it has to be, because following this season there will likely be several openings for young players in Raleigh. Boychuk, Bowman, McBain, Rodney, Carson and Peters or Murphy could all be skating at the RBC Center in 2010-11. When those players graduate to the NHL, it will leave a void in the system that must be refilled with more young talent. That task is easier said than done.
Which brings us to the topic at hand: Would the Hurricanes be better off long term if they had an unsuccessful 2009-10?
I don't think anyone — the team or the fans — wants to see another step-back season as has been the norm following a successful campaign. But if there's ever been a year to struggle and fall out of playoff contention, this year may be it. Why? Because, as mentioned above, the Hurricanes have several players whose contracts expire, and their value at the trade deadline could further replenish the team with prospects and draft picks. Let's jump into a worst case scenario and take a look at who is in the final year of their deal and what they might fetch at the deadline if Carolina becomes a seller:
- Ray Whitney: The Wizard is in the final year of a three-year contract that has paid him $3.55 million per season. He is value personified. Since joining the Hurricanes in 2005-06, Whitney has 276 points in 292 games. His playmaking ability, knack for big goals and status as a veteran presence would make him a hot commodity on the block. Comparable: Veteran Mark Recchi (now 41) was older than Whitney (36) at last year's deadline, plus not as productive, and Tampa Bay got prospects Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums for Recchi and a second-round pick. Whitney would surely fetch a better return. Trade Deadline Value: First-round pick; or high-level prospect; or second-round pick and mid-level prospect.
- Matt Cullen: In Carolina, Cullen has always found a way to be a productive contributor. His stints elsewhere were not as successful. Cullen will be 33 in November, so he is still in his prime even if age begins to catch up with him some. He's been a consistent 40-point producer since the lockout and has value as a point man on the power play, plus he can kill penalties if needed. Comparable: The Sabres sent winger Ales Kotalik to Edmonton for a second-round pick at last year's deadline. Kotalik has had a few bigger seasons than Cullen, but for the most part is a similar player who utilizes his size more than Cullen, but is not nearly as quick. Trade Deadline Value: Second- or third-round pick.
- Scott Walker: The gritty Walker isn't the point-producer he was once upon a time, and injuries have been a concern in recent seasons, but there's certainly value in what he brings to the table. Comparable: At the 2008 deadline, the Blackhawks dealt veteran Martin Lapointe to Ottawa for a sixth-round pick. He was making $2.4 million at the time, meaning the team paid around $500,000 for his services. At $2.5 million a season, Walker would take up a similar amount of cap space and payroll if he was dealt at the deadline. Trade Deadline Value: Late-round pick
- Stephane Yelle: The newcomer signed a one-year deal for a bargain $550,000. Yelle's value goes beyond the scoresheet: he's a solid fourth-line pivot who can kill penalties and is a decent faceoff man. Comparable: Minnesota dealt veteran center Jim Dowd to Colorado for a fourth-round pick in 2006. That was a pretty good return for Dowd, a reliable, but limited, veteran by that time. Trade Deadline Value: Late-round pick.
- Joe Corvo: A defenseman who has mostly shed his mistake-prone reputation and is still a weapon on offense and the power play? Yeah, those are always in high demand. Throw in that he's a right-handed shot — which is always coveted — and you have a prime bargaining chip. Comparable: It was tough to find a player who was moved at the deadline that is like Corvo. The best example might be when Philadelphia dealt Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for Braydon Coborn. Trouble is, people realized that was an overpayment by Atlanta the second the trade was made. Trade Deadline Value: Late first-round pick; or high second-round pick; or very good prospect; or second-round pick and mid-level prospect.
- Aaron Ward: Tons of playoff experience and a vocal leader, Ward would be a nice addition to any team that's not afraid to add a big personality to their room. Comparable: The Blue Jackets sent Adam Foote back to Colorado for a first-round pick and a conditional fourth, another example of a desperate team overpaying for a player. Trade Deadline Value: Third-round pick or mid-level prospect.
- Niclas Wallin: At this stage of his career, Wallin is a third-pairing d-man that would likely be acquired for depth purposes. Still, he's played in two Stanley Cup Finals and another Eastern Conference Final. Comparable: Columbus dealt veteran Luke Richardson to Toronto at the 2006 trade deadline for a conditional pick (fifth in 2006 or fourth in 2007). Trade Deadline Value: Late-round pick
Reserves Tim Conboy, Michael Ryan and Jay Harrison would likely have little value at the deadline, as would backup goalie Michael Leighton.