While Carolina might end up targeting an elite defensive prospect with their first draft pick, counting on that prospect to provide immediate help would not be a good plan. The best options for an immediate impact would be through trade or through free agency. I've already discussed some potential trade targets, so now the focus shifts to the free agents. This year's free agent market might not be the highest quality or deepest, there are still a number of players that could help out a weak Hurricanes blueline. The benefit of looking toward free agents is that acquiring one doesn't cost assets to get them. The negative is that often the cost is significant to get the quality free agents.
Typically when it's come to free agency, the Canes have generally looked more toward the affordable, lower-end defensemen rather than top 4 guys. While I can see them pick up a bottom-pairing guy to help out the younger players in the system, I really believe this team needs to find a top 4 blueliner that could be paired with Justin Faulk or someone that could stabilize the 2nd pairing. With that, this article will focus more on the potential top 4 defensive target. I have come up with a list of 6 guys that I feel could play in the Canes top 4 and fit Bill Peters preferred style of play. As with the previous articles, I will give a summary of each player and how they might fit in Carolina's system. I've also included what I feel would be a fair contract offer to each of these players in early July. So have a read, vote for the option you like best and as always, free free to share your thoughts and ideas.
Johnny Oduya - LD (coming off a $2.85 million salary & $3.383 million cap hit)
Oduya is a 33 year old defenseman that was a staple on Chicago's 2nd pairing pretty much throughout the year. He averaged over 20 minutes a night and played a pretty significant role on the Blackhawks PK. Oduya did end up having the worst offensive production of his career, scoring only 2 goals and accounting for only 10 points. But Oduya's game has always been more focused on his own zone. He isn't that big and isn't very physical, but he will block a good number of shots and is positional sound. Oduya also skates pretty well and has the type of attitude that his coaches and teammates love. Unless he takes a significant pay cut, I just can't see how he stays in Chicago. His experience will have some other teams interested, but his age and down production might keep his cost moderate. In Carolina, I could see him as the Canes current #3 defenseman, in a more shutdown role. He is a stable defender that could help mentor some of the younger players as they come up. A bigger, physical partner would probably be best, but Oduya can work in a couple of situations.
Hypothetical Contract Offer: 2 year, $6 million - $2.9 million the first year, $3.1 million the second year.
Jan Hejda - LD (coming off a $3.25 million salary & cap hit)
Hejda is a big defenseman that can log some minutes, contribute on the PK and plays a physical game. Over the past 4 seasons in Colorado, Hejda has mainly been playing on the top pairing with Erik Johnson. He doesn't provide a lot of offensive, but he moves the puck pretty efficiently. The strength of his game is definitely in the defensive zone. Hejda uses size size effectively, averaging over 2 hits per game and just under 2 blocks per game. His biggest negative is his age, he'll be 37 years old this summer, but he has only missed 8 games in the past 4 seasons. The Avalanche have the cap space to resign Hejda, but they might have their eyes focused on a longer term solution. With the Canes, Hejda might be a good bandaid with Faulk for the next couple of years, until one of the kids is ready to assume the role on the top pairing. Hejda has proven able to play big minutes against top competition and would provide the Canes top 4 with some toughness. Because of his age, a performance based contract is a possibility. The question is what would it take to get him to sign?
Hypothetical Contract Offer: 1 year, $3.5 million - $2.5 million base salary, $500 thousand bonus for averaging 21 minutes per game, $250 thousand bonus for 70+ games played, $250 thousand for playoff appearance.
Andrej Sekera - LD (coming off a $1.75 million salary & $2.75 million cap hit)
I think we all know Sekera pretty well, spending 1.5 of the past 2 seasons with the Hurricanes. He's an all-around defenseman that can & does play in every situation. He's probably classified as a high-end 2nd pairing defender, but he can play top line minutes if needed and that is what's needed in Carolina. He's a responsible blueliner that is good in his own end and can provide some offense. His strengths are his positioning, his ability with the puck and his higher-end skating ability. The difficulty in signing/resigning Sekera will be that he's one of the hotter commodities on the free agent market and he has been underpaid the past couple of years, so he's going to be looking for a nice payday. He obviously would be a good playing partner for Faulk, but could be moved down to a 2nd pairing role as he ages or if someone assumes the top pairing mantle. Los Angeles has already had some extension talks with him, but their cap space is tight and other teams would love the opportunity to talk with him. So if Carolina has any chance, they are going to have to make a solid offer that will amount and term. The good thing is, the Canes know how he would work in the system, so there isn't quite as much risk as there would be with other free agents.
Hypothetical Contract Offer: 6 years, $33 million - $5 million in 15/16, $7 million in 16/17, $6 million in 17/18 and $5 million the final 3 years.
Jeff Petry - RD (coming off a $3.075 million salary & cap hit)
Petry is a solid, right-handed defenseman that was probably a weak Oilers team best defenseman. Like Sekera, he can do a little bit of everything, but doesn't really stand out in any particular area. He played 2nd pairing minutes in Edmonton and has done the same in Montreal since being traded. He plays a pretty responsible game, can skate pretty well and contributes on both special teams. He has a decent shot and while he isn't a huge body, he'll try to play physical and block some shots. I would imagine that Montreal will make a good attempt to resign him and if they can't, he'll be a pretty sought-after target. With Carolina, he would probably be the 2nd best defenseman, but would be on the 2nd pairing. Petry has experience playing with younger defensemen, so that could work as some of the prospects move their way into the lineup. The issue is that he's a right defenseman and Carolina has a number of right-handed prospects. Possibly top 4 prospects Ryan Murphy, Brett Pesce and Roland McKeown are all right-handers, so it's something to consider. The Canes could try to bring him in shorter term, as a stop-gap, but I think Petry is probably looking for some salary and term. He would immediately upgrade the Canes defense, but I'm not sure if he's the best way to go at this time.
Hypothetical Contract Offer: 3 years, $15 million - $4.5 million in 15/16, $5 million in 16/17 and $5.5 million in 17/18.
Paul Martin - LD (coming off a $5 million salary & cap hit)
Martin is an experienced, mobile defenseman that can do a lot of things. He skates well and can contribute offensively, but his strength is in his own zone. He will lay out his body to block shots and does a pretty good job going up against the opponents top line. His weaknesses are that he isn't physical, seems to be a little fragile over the past few seasons and has probably already seen his better days. His days in Pittsburgh are almost certainly done, but instead of considering Carolina, he might be looking for a chance to get his name on the Stanley Cup. In Raleigh, Martin would easily be a top pairing defenseman, playing a ton of minutes and contributing on both special teams. The question is for how long can you count on him? In the last 6 seasons, Martin has only played in 70% of games possible and he's 34 years old. He would be a good option for the next couple of years as long as he stays healthy, but if not, the Canes simply wouldn't have anybody that could fill his role. And unlike some other potential targets, staying healthy might be more difficult for Martin. The Hurricanes would have to offer a contract that would be worth Martin's while and it might just be to cost prohibitive for the franchise.
Hypothetical Contract Offer: 3 years, $16 million - $5.5 million in 15/16 & 16/17 and $5 million in 17/18.
Zbynek Michalek - RD (coming off a $4 million salary & cap hit)
Michalek is a veteran shutdown defenseman that is use to playing for a small market team. He's a solid defender that doesn't really do anything spectacular, but can do a little bit of everything. Michalek has pretty good size, but isn't a guy that plays overly physical. And while he has a nice shot, he doesn't contribute much offensively. He focuses on his defensive game, blocks a lot of shots and plays a lot on the PK. He likely won't be resigned by St. Louis, but returning to Arizona could be a possibility. He has spent most of his career in the desert and when he did sign as a free agent with Pittsburgh, he didn't seem to care for the spotlight of a high-profile team. The big concern is that he gets banged up pretty easily. He has missed 71 games over the past 4 seasons and hasn't played over 73 games since the 08/09 season. With the Hurricanes, he would be a 2nd pairing defenseman that played significant minutes on the PK. But like Petry, Michalek faces the same dilemma with the Canes right-handed prospects. Because of his age, Michalek might be more of a gap-filler than Petry and that might be a benefit to Carolina. He could come in for 2 or 3 years, improve the Canes defense and allow the prospects time to develop. If he could stay in the lineup, he would work nice, if not, the Canes would have a hole on the blueline.
Hypothetical Contract Offer: 3 years, $11 million - $4 million in 15/16 & 16/17 and $3 million in 17/18.
Here are some other defenseman that it might make sense for the Canes to target when free agency opens: Kobinian Holzer - RD, Adam McQuaid - RD, Cody Franson - RD, Matt Hunwick - LD, Christian Ehrhoff - LD, Matt Irwin - LD, Mike Green - RD.