It's been the debate all summer and it's really been a debate for the past couple of summers. But the question seems more pressing now than ever. Will Jim Rutherford actually make a move to acquire a 1st line winger for Eric Staal? He stated at the beginning of the offseason that this was his #1 priority and Peter Karmanos had given the go-ahead for the "right" acquisition. JR did acquire someone at the NHL Draft, but it wasn't a winger. He then made a pitch and ponied up the cash for Zach Parise, but Parise wanted to play close to his home and with signed with the Minnesota Wild. So JR turned his attention to the next big name and went after a trade for Rick Nash. But it seems as if the asking price for Nash is just too rich and it appears the Canes have bowed out of the Nash sweepstakes. So now the attention has turned to Alexander Semin and Shane Doan. JR has said that he would look at Semin short-term, but the enigmatic winger wants something longer than the Canes are willing to offer. And Doan might not even leave the Phoenix, but if he does, moving across the country to Carolina is not likely.
So where does this leave JR and the Canes? The team can put together a decent top 6 that includes Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen, and Jiri Tlsuty. But this was not the plan that JR laid out in the media for all of us. And while experimentation will happen, having Eric and Jordan on separate lines should make the team more difficult to play against. So do the Canes bite the bullet and sign Semin to a longer-term deal? Do they try to find the pieces to put together a deal for Bobby Ryan? Do they throw an offer sheet at Evander Kane? Do they look toward one of the 2nd-tier players that might be available? Or do they do nothing and go into the season with the current roster?
What do you believe is the most likely course of action Jim Rutherford will take regarding finding a top-line winger?
Signing Semin Longer-Term
JR and pretty much the rest of the league seem to be at an impasse with Alexander Semin. Everybody sees the talent, but they also hear the stories. The guy is possibly one of the most talented players in the league, but he might also not care that much. He has averaged 31 goals a season over the past 6 years and being a right-shot is exactly what the Canes need. But he also has the power of invisibility and his personality seems to go over like a ton of bricks. A former teammate made very critical statements about his work ethic and that is something you don't often here. So there is room for concern, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Semin is the most talented player available in free agency and the Canes are not exactly stocked up in the asset department. So if a player with his talent can be had without losing any assets, then JR might have to do go against the tide and sign him to a longer-term deal. There is always a risk with every free agent signing, but when you haven't made the playoffs in 3 seasons, it might be time to go "all-in" with the best hand you've been dealt.
Put Together an Offer for Bobby Ryan
I'm sure JR has already made some inquires into Bobby Ryan, but maybe he needs to revisit the situation. This guy is 25 years old and has averaged 32 goals over the past 4 seasons. He, like Semin, is a right-shot and similar size, but Ryan actually uses his size to his advantage. He appears ready to be traded and to begin anew with a different team. The main problem is the assets Carolina would need to give up to get him. It is rumored that Anaheim wants a 2nd line center, a defensive prospect to replace Justin Schultz, plus more for Ryan. I've noticed that while the Ducks have a good number of offensive prospects in their system, they are not very deep with quality bottom 6 players. I also remember a friend of mine saying that Patrick Dwyer had a lot more value around the league than I might think. So would Anaheim consider Jussi Jokinen, Jamie McBain, Patrick Dwyer and Carolina's 2013 1st Round Pick for Bobby Ryan & Toni Lydman? Jussi can play a 2nd line center or other positions and he would fit in with Anaheim's other Finnish players. McBain is a young offensive defenseman that would give them a right-shot on the blueline (their current top 6 defensemen are all left-shots) and he will still be a RFA when his current deal expires. Dwyer would be a solid bottom 6 winger that can contribute on the PK and score some short-handed goals. And the 1st Round Pick, based on the Canes defensive weakness, would probably be somewhere in the teens or low 20s, so it would probably be better than the Flyers or Rangers 1st Round Pick. It would also open up about $3 million dollars for the Ducks and they are going to have to resign Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry after the upcoming season.
Offer Sheet Evander Kane
This would probably go against everything JR would want to do because it creates bad blood among GM's. But with so little options out there, it might be the only way for the Canes to actually get a player they want to play with Eric Staal. Kane reached the 30 goal plateau this season and appears to be a player that will get there often. He also seems to be a guy that doesn't necessarily like playing in Winnipeg, so he might sign an offer sheet that comes his way. He's a big guy that plays with an edge and can be compared to an Erik Cole, who EStaal worked very well with. He's not much of a playmaker, but he has also not played with a player as talented as EStaal, so you just don't know what he could actually do. If the Canes offered him $5.75 million per season, the Jets MIGHT let him go. They would be compensated with a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Round Pick in 2013. This would be an interesting situation because while Kane would be an improvement for the Hurricanes, I'm not sure if he would take them to that next level. He's a hell of a player, but I don't think he is Bobby Ryan good or even Alex Semin good. This option is definitely not the most likely option, but if JR gets desperate enough, you just never know.
I mentioned some of the 2nd-tier players in an article a couple of days ago and I think one of they will be the most likely course of action that JR takes. These players are not necessarily the big names of the NHL, but they are quality players with some question marks. Given the Hurricanes limitations in assets, these 2nd-tier players can work out better for the Canes because they cost so much less. But again, you just can't be sure what you are getting. A favorite of mine is Ales Hemsky. He is a talented player that plays RW and is a puck-distributor, all the things the Canes are looking for. But he is injury prone and isn't physical at all. If he could stay healthy, he would be a terrific acquisition that should help increase EStaal's point totals significantly. But the key word there is "if", he has missed 118 games over the past 4 seasons. Another project is Mason Raymond. This guy was really impressive and was an up-&-comer 3 years ago. He 25 goals, 28 assists, had speed, and played a solid two-way game. Then the playoffs hit and he struggled. The next season he didn't do quite as well, only registering 39 points. Then in the playoffs he was hit hard and broke a vertebrae. It took him a time to recover and he just didn't seem to get his form back. He was moved further down the lineup and with reduced time, his numbers suffered. Now if he can get back to form, Raymond could be a 50 point player, but will he return to form? There are other 2nd-tier and project players out there, but as we all know from last season, they don't always work out.
The last option is for the people without hope. Honestly, it is something that very well could happen. JR did acquire Jordan, so he improved the top 6, but is that enough to get this team into the playoffs? I'm assuming that JR doesn't believe that is all it will take or he wouldn't be going after these other players as hard as he is. But there really are very few options available and maybe Peter Karmanos doesn't want to spend money on certain available players. If that is the case, then JR, with the limited assets, pretty much has his hands tied. While the Canes should be an improved team if no other additions were made, the team is nowhere close to a Stanley Cup contender. All you have to do is get into the playoffs, but having the horses to ride once you get there is just as important. I really hope this is not an option for the organization, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.