There’s really no getting around the fact that this past summer was a redemption year for Jim Rutherford, as much as this season was meant to be a redemption year for the club’s big name players. Rutherford signed Kaberle to a whale of a contract last summer – three years, $12.75 million – that proved to be a mistake early in the going. Rutherford somehow managed to dump that contract onto the Montreal Canadiens, proving he’s got more than a little business acumen; but while that’s impressive, it doesn’t change the fact that he made the deal to begin with.
This summer, pretty much everyone who bothered to talk about the Hurricanes talked about Jim Rutherford needing to make some big changes. The departure of Erik Cole over the summer before had left a hole in the top six that no one had been able to fill, having a negative effect on Eric Staal beyond even the generally down year he had. Rutherford set out with the stated intention of getting a top six winger if at all possible. By the end of the summer, he had two top six forwards: Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin.
Many, many people have mounted arguments that Semin’s one-year, $7 million contract is bad for business. It’s certainly a bit of a gamble. But at the end of the day, Rutherford’s essentially taking money that will be given to Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal beginning in 2013 and putting it towards a contract for someone who might prove to be a valuable addition to the team. It could be considered irresponsible in the sense that the Hurricanes have only just gotten a diversified ownership group and aren’t exactly making money hand over fist, but the old maxim that you have to spend money to make money holds even truer in sports than in most other industries.
In my opinion, the worst contract Rutherford handed out over the summer was actually the least publicized: namely, signing Joe Corvo to a one-year, $2 million deal. Yeah, okay, it’s just one year, but $2 million is a lot of money for a 35-year-old who’s bounced from team to team simply because teams don’t tend to think he’s worth keeping. He seems content enough to return to Carolina; he said the Hurricanes were like an old shoe, a comparison I’m going to go with as being a lot less flattering than he intended it to be. He’s mean to be an offensive defenseman and his numbers last year were similar to Spacek’s, but $2 million is a lot to pay for a third pair defenseman.
It’s been pointed out, and I don’t disagree, that the Hurricanes spent an awful lot of money on offense considering they regularly have some of the worst defensive stats in the league. That’s true enough; even during years when he doesn’t have a brutal SV%, Ward faces some of the most shots in the league (2,143 last year, good for second most in the league). Carolina tends to have bad goal differentials, as well. But what a lot of people overlook is that Carolina has a lot of young defensemen in the system. They’ve drafted defense in the first round often, and have a coach in the A who focuses on defense development. Whenever the season starts, the solution to Carolina’s defense problems could be homegrown.
Later I’ll take the time to break down Carolina’s spending, but for now I’ll just say: Rutherford made three deals of note this summer, and the only one that’s a really flagrantly dubious choice is the one for the least amount of money, and a short period of time. People called the Canes a team to watch this year for a reason. If only the season had started even remotely on time.