Jim Rutherford was recently quoted as saying that there was one thing in common with the teams who went deep in the playoffs this season. They each had an experienced blueline.
Experience was an issue for the Carolina Hurricanes blueline last season. The team seemed to have periodic coverage problems, pinched at inopportune times, and allowed multiple odd man rushes against. Once again, they were among teams who allowed the most shots on goal in the league.
If the organization wants to improve the defense and add more experience, they most likely will have to pay more than they did last season. The club had the second lowest paid blueline in the East, (the Islanders were a bit lower),and was the third lowest in the entire NHL, (Nashville was the only team lower in the West.)
Here are the cap hits of the defensemen who played the bulk of last year:
|Joni Pitkanen||$ 4,500,000|
|Tim Gleason||$ 4,000,000|
|Joe Corvo||$ 2,000,000|
|Jamie McBain||$ 1,800,000|
|Jay Harrison||$ 700,000|
|Justin Faulk||$ 900,000|
|Bobby Sanguinetti||$ 700,000|
How did the Hurricanes match up with their competitors in the East? (From NHL Numbers.com.) Let's take a look:
|Team||Cap Hit 2013|
|NY Rangers||$ 16.7|
|NY Islanders||$ 14.1|
|New Jersey||$ 19.6|
|Tampa Bay||$ 21.3|
Of course, spending more money does not necessarily guarantee success. Just ask the Flyers, Panthers, and the Lightning. Each team spent significantly more than the Canes on the blueline and still failed to make the playoffs.
But there is little doubt that Rutherford will have to pay more than he did this past season in order to improve the team.
Another factor to keep in mind is the salary cap.
When there is a limit to be under, general managers need to determine where to focus their money. It becomes a strategy whether defense is more important, or offense, or goaltending. What is the proper balance?
For instance, the two teams playing for the Cup this year are not paying their goalies as much as some of their defensemen.
Tuukka Rask is making $3.5 million while Corey Crawford makes just $2.7. Both have done an outstanding job and Rask is a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe.
Both Chicago and Boston decided to put more money into the blueline. The Bruins spent about $19.7 million while the Hawks top seven were paid over $22 million.
Zdeno Chara, ($6.9 million) makes the bulk of the Bruins blueline money while Brent Seabrook, ($5.8) and Duncan Keith, ($5.6) top the Blackhawks defense in earnings.
In comparison, Cam Ward ($6.3 million) makes much more than any of the Carolina defensemen and more than any of the defensemen on the teams playing for the Cup, except for Chara.
This leads to an interesting question and perhaps another article. In this salary cap sensitive era, is a team better off to allocate a higher portion of salary toward an elite goalie, or an elite defenseman? Most teams cannot afford to pay both, while still having an effective offense.
Jim Rutherford has his work cut out for him this offseason and we will all be watching with interest.