We all know that defense is a major need for the Hurricanes. For the last two seasons, they have been among one of the worst teams in the NHL at preventing shots against and have also struggled mightily on the penalty kill. Rebuilding a team's defense is always a long-term process and with quite a few young players working their way through the system, the Canes' defense corps is a work in progress. The emergence of Justin Faulk and development of Jamie McBain has made things go along quicker than normal but there are still some holes that need to be filled and that is especially true when concerning the upcoming season.
Jim Rutherford seems to know this, as well because he has stated that he intends to acquire a "veteran defenseman" and feels confident that he will be able to do so this July. Bulking up the defense corps is always a good thing but a "veteran defenseman" can mean a multitude of things. Are the Hurricanes going to be looking for someone strictly to replace Bryan Allen if he leaves? Or are the going to try to bolster the defense by going for a top-pairing player? Both seem to be possible right now and there are quite a few options available if the Canes were to pursue either option.
As of right now, the Hurricanes have six defenseman under contract for next season (Pitkanen, Faulk, Gleason, McBain, Harrison, Joslin) I would assume that the likes of Ryan Murphy and Bobby Sanguinetti are going to be in the mix, too. Going off this information, we can safely assume that the Hurricanes are likely going to target a defenseman who can at least kill penalties and play in the top-four like Allen did last year. If they can get someone of higher caliber then that would be even better.
We all know that Ryan Suter is the top-dog of this free agent class and that everyone is interested in him, so what we're going to do is look at some names who could be getting overlooked in the grand scheme of things. We will look at these players and whether or not they will be a good fit for the Hurricanes after the jump.
#25 / Defenseman / Philadelphia Flyers
Sep 25, 1984 (age 27)
The word on the Internet for the past week was that Matt Carle had a contract extension in place with the Flyers but that turned out to be untrue as it was reported that Carle will now "test the market" come July 1st. Carle is likely the "fall-back" option for teams who strike out on signing Suter and to tell the truth, he isn't a bad option for any team looking for a defenseman. No Flyers blue liner played more minutes at even strength than him last year and he also contributed on both the powerplay and penalty kill.
Carle's reputation around the league is that he is more of an offensive defenseman and that is fair to say. He will get you 30-40 points a year from the blue line and is a very skilled puck-mover. He also produced 1.08 points for every 60 minutes he was on the ice at even strength, a rate that was higher than anyone on the Hurricanes' blue line last season.
Offense might be his best asset, but Carle is also very capable of standing his ground in the defensive zone. He led the Flyers in blocked shots last year with 164, which is very good when you consider that he was on ice for fewer shots per 60 minutes than all but one defenseman on the Flyers. Carle also saw the third toughest competition among Philadelphia defensemen and started a little over 50% of his shifts in the defensive zone but managed to post a very solid corsi relative of 3.2. Showing that he did a very good job of keeping the puck out of the Flyers' end.
Carle being such a skilled player is the reason why quite a few teams have shown interest in him. It's also why he is likely going to get a rather large payday from whoever signs him, especially after seeing what Dennis Wideman got from the Calgary Flames. The Hurricanes might like to add him but it's tough to say whether or not he would be worth the price tag. They already have a similar player in Joni Pitkanen and not a huge budget to go around, but I think he should be considered.
#52 / Defenseman / Florida Panthers
Nov 13, 1984 (age 27)
Jason Garrison had a season that seemingly came out of nowhere. He ranked third among NHL defensemen in goals with 16 and second in powerplay goals with 9. If that wasn't enough, he was also a key part of Florida's top defense pairing with Brian Campbell last year playing over 20 minutes a night in all situations. While it is doubtful that Garrison can repeat this kind of season, there are plenty of other things about him that make him an attractive option in free agency.
Before Garrison became Mr. Goalscorer, he played on Florida's shutdown pairing the year before and was very successful in that role. He and Mike Weaver played some of the toughest minutes in the NHL (42.2 OZ Start%) and managed to nearly break even in terms of Corsi, which is pretty amazing when you consider the role they were playing. He and Weaver were basically the Panthers version of Gleason/Allen. This most recent year, Garrison gets upgraded to a more offensive role with Campbell and has a points explosion as a result.
Who knows what role his next team will use him in but I think he would be a very solid acquisition for whoever picks him up. The 16 goal season was likely a fluke, but at the very worst, he will be a solid 2nd pairing defenseman who can play against tough matchups. That fits the Hurricanes needs at the moment. He's probably going to try to parlay his career season into a big contract, though.
#17 / Defenseman / Ottawa Senators
Dec 29, 1976 (age 35)
Having the luxury of playing with Erik Karlsson can do a lot of amazing things. For Filip Kuba, it made him look like a possible top-pairing defenseman and not the aging blue-liner he appeared to be the year before. However, if you take a closer look at Ottawa's underlying stats, it becomes obvious that Karlsson was the driving force behind that pairing. Karlsson was a possession demon at even strength while Kuba, along with the rest of the Senators defense, was struggling to break even.
In fairness to Kuba, he is still a useful player and would probably make the top-four of some teams in the league right now who are looking to sign a defenseman. Some could say that he fits the mold of what Rutherford is looking for. He's got a lot of experience that he can pass on to guys like Faulk, McBain and Murphy and and was one of Ottawa's main penalty killers last year.
The question is how good will Kuba be in a different system away from Karlsson, and is it worth the money he is looking for? Kuba has gotten the tough matchups from the Senators coaching staff but has started at least 54% of his even strength shifts in the offensive zone the last two seasons. When you consider that he had to block 119 shots at even strength despite starting so many of his shifts in the offensive zone, it makes you question his ability to control puck possession. That along with his age make me hope that Carolina looks for other options but Kuba's certainly not the worst player out there.
#33 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Jul 03, 1973 (age 38)
The 38-year-old quietly had a solid year defensively for the Phoenix Coyotes and has actually been pretty good over the last couple of seasons. He might be getting up there in age, but he was still a positive player in terms of possession with the Coyotes last season and didn't need to be protected to get those results. Aucoin was also one of the Coyotes' top penalty killers last year as he spent at least two minutes per night on the PK and was one of the team's best defensemen at preventing shots against.
If the Hurricanes are looking for someone to replace Allen for next season, Aucoin isn't a bad option by any means. He seems capable enough to play the shutdown role and is versatile enough to be used on almost any defense pairing. The major red flag with him is his age since he's going to be 39 when the season starts. Aucoin's offensive production was almost non-existent last year, too (9 points in 64 games) but he is normally a better contributor than that.
Like I said, he wouldn't be a bad pick-up if the Canes are looking to save money but I'm always iffy on signing players who are close to 40 because their performance is prone to drop at any minute.
#23 / Defenseman / Calgary Flames
Jan 23, 1979 (age 33)
If the Canes were going to "buy low" on a player, Scott Hannan would be one of the guys to do it on. Hannan is usually a very steady stay-at-home defenseman who is able to hold is own against tough matchups but he was torched at even strength as a member of the Flames last year. He had the worst Corsi Relative rating among Calgary defensemen, which is saying a lot because the Flames were an extremely poor possession team last season. Albeit, he was playing in tough situations (4th in QualComp, 48.7% OZ Start) but the Hurricanes need someone to fill that role right now and may need someone better than Hannan to do it. He could easily rebound but I would only sign him if he is cheap.
#32 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Sep 03, 1978 (age 33)
The criticisms directed towards Michal Rozsival in the past are mostly concerning the massive contract that Glen Sather signed him to. He is soon to be free of that deal in a couple of days and will likely sign somewhere else for a much lower cost. Could Carolina be one of those places? His stats are very similar to Aucoin's in the sense that he got the secondary competition among Coyotes defensemen, started most of his shifts in his own zone and was regularly used on the penalty kill. Rozsival doesn't have much offense to his game anymore, but he still might be able to play in a top-four role and I suspect that he could be on Carolina's radar. It's been three years since he has played a full season, so health concerns may cause a lot of teams to shy away.
#24 / Defenseman / New Jersey Devils
Feb 11, 1976 (age 36)
Savaldor fits the billing as a shutdown defensemen but he is getting old and his performance in the playoffs was just ghastly. Yes, he had 14 points but take a look at some of the underlying stats from the Stanley Cup Finals. He was getting abused at even strength, something that was occurring all season long. Salvador has not played well enough defensively for the Canes to consider signing him for a top-four role. If he wasn't producing points then I'd be willing to bet that not many would be even considering signing him this off-season.
#28 / St, Louis Blues
Jan 27, 1983 (age 29)
Colaiacovo will likely be one of the more underrated/undervalued players this summer. He's been hit with the injury bug more than a few times in his career and that held him back a little but he's been a very strong two-way defenseman for the past few years. Last season, he was used on the Blues top-pairing with Alex Pietrangelo and took on the tough assignments that came with it. How did he fare? Well, he was on ice for only 23.9 shots against per 60 minutes and less than 2 goals, which is pretty strong when you consider the situation he played in. I would be on the lookout for some team to pick him up and possibly use him in a top-four role.
My concern with Colaiacovo aside from injuries is that a lot of success could be him relying on Pietrangelo, since he is a Top 10 defenseman in the NHL and Colaiacovo might be just riding his coattails. His possession numbers are strong enough to make me think he will be successful in another system, but his WOWY suggests otherwise. You can see that his ability to drive play drops when he isn't playing with Pietrangelo.
Colaiacovo also hasn't been used much on the PK so that might hurt his value to Carolina but the upside is certainly there.
#6 / Defenseman / Boston Bruins
Jun 05, 1980 (age 32)
Here's yet another player that fits the "Bryan Allen Replacement Model" if Carolina wishes to go that route. He's only a few months older than Allen and does the same things. He is relied on for most of his team's defensive zone starts, plays the shutdown role and his heavily depended on to block shots. The difference between the two is that Zanon is a significant downgrade from Allen. He plays fewer minutes, isn't used in a tough minute role anymore and has gotten less reliable in the past couple of years. Allen played a top-four role on this team and I'm not sure if Zanon is anything more than a third-pairing defenseman right now. He would be cheap, though.
There are some other players out there who Carolina might pursue, as well. Colin White, Dylan Reese, Sheldon Souray, Sami Salo and Kent Huskins come to mind. Like I said earlier, whoever we sign is going to depend on what Rutherford wants to do with the defense. He might go for a higher end player in an attempt to shake things up a little or he might just be looking for someone to replace Allen. If he were to take the latter route, there are plenty of options out there but not many offer a huge reward.