With just two weeks left in the regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes find themselves in a tough spot. They are five points behind the Buffalo Sabres, their closest competition and best chance to make the playoffs. The club has seven games to make up the deficit and needs a lot of help from the outside for that to happen.
The Sabres certainly aren't showing any letdown. They have won three games in a row, two of them being shutouts by Ryan Miller, and have a 9-3-2 record for the month of March.
The Canes have won 3 of their last 4 games, but have a 6-5-1 record during the same time frame.
While the team is not mathematically eliminated, it's going to be very tough to make the postseason at this point.
Of course the players are true professionals, they won't give up, or give up hope until time officially runs out. But some players have a bit more to play for than others. A few of them will be unrestricted free agents and will need a new contract for next year. Jobs are on the line.
And it's never too late to leave a positive impression in front of your boss, Jim Rutherford.
Toward the end of "The Aftermath" show on Saturday night, John Forslund was asked who, from the team's group of free agents, he thought would return next season. Forslund, in his ever diplomatic way, said that he felt Erik Cole, Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen, Patrick Dwyer, and even Cory Stillman might all be offered contracts and could be back depending upon whether those players accepted the (hometown discount) offers and wanted to be back.
He also mentioned that two or more players from Charlotte would probably be ready to move up next season as well.
There are a couple of problems with that scenario. Number one, there isn't enough room for everyone to come back next season, plus have room for two young players. Number two, if you bring back everyone from this season, how does the team improve, or improve enough to make a difference?
You can make a case for each of these pending free agents to return, but in my opinion, you just can't bring back all of them.
Erik Cole has certainly made a strong case to be re-signed. He is making $3 million this season.
|2010 - Erik Cole||75||23||25||48||-2||47||3||1||7||179|
Chad LaRose scored 15 goals so far, second highest in his career. He's a hot and cold player with a terrible plus/minus, but he would probably be considered a perfect fourth liner who could kill penalties and fill in on the third line if needed. He's popular inside and outside the locker room and if you could sign him at the right price, why not? He is earning $1.9 million this season.
|2010 - Chad LaRose||75||15||13||28||-20||57||2||1||0||162|
Jussi Jokinen is another popular player with a good stat line, but he has been very quiet here down the stretch. Currently, he and LaRose make the same money.
|2010 - Jussi Jokinen||63||16||32||48||-2||22||7||0||1||123|
Patrick Dwyer is another good penalty killer and decent fourth liner, do you bring him back at minimum wage?
|2010 - Patrick Dwyer||73||8||10||18||-6||12||0||1||2||95|
Cory Stillman has undeniable chemistry with Erik Cole and Eric Staal. He's made a difference since he's been in Raleigh, (11 points in 14 games), but he's not getting any younger. His current salary is $3.5 million.
|2010 - Cory Stillman||58||10||24||34||5||24||1||0||2||102|
On the blueline, there are a couple of pending unresticted free agents as well. The biggest question mark is Joni Pitkanen. Will the team offer him another contract next season and if they do, how much will it be? He is currently earning $4.5 million.
|2010 - Joni Pitkanen||65||3||30||33||-6||58||0||0||1||128|
Jay Harrison performed well considering his salary and what expectations were for him. At his current level of 500K or a little more, he could also come back.
|2010 - Jay Harrison||72||3||7||10||5||72||0||0||0||49|
There are also a handful of restricted free agents who need contracts. Brandon Sutter, Jiri Tlusty, Derek Joslin, and Troy Bodie are all fighting for pay increases or better contract terms.
Who should stay? Who should go? And at what price? We'll be discussing this subject on the blog quite a bit once the season is over.
But for now, playoffs or not, these guys still have a lot on the line and a lot to play for in the next two weeks. We'll see what happens.