Now on to the rest of the offseason. What do we do in free agency? Are there any trades looming?
The Hurricanes rarely find themselves in the position to sign big-name free agents, and this summer is no different. The Canes are heavily budgeted and must comply with the salary cap instituted by the NHL. We do have some projected salary cap space to work with ($11,720,000), but big names follow money, and Peter Karmanos will have to shell out some cash to lure them in. Historically, the Canes utilize their available money to shore up depth positions, resign players, and to find bargain buys. Recent examples of this include Anton Khudobin (signed for $800,000) and Nathan Gerbe (signed for $550,000), both of whom played key roles in last year’s ever so familiar effort. This upcoming free agent period will be eerily similar in my opinion.
During the Draft, GM Ron Francis keyed us in on some possible moves that the fans could see. The Hurricanes are negotiating with current RFA Jiri Tlusty on a new deal and assume that he will be qualified. Defenseman Brett Bellemore, Goalie Justin Peters, and Center Manny Malhotra will test free agency. The team has also decided against resigning Mike Komisarek and the aging Radek Dvorak. Additionally, Francis foresees a goaltending duo of Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward next year.
Well, where does that leave us? A couple RFAs remain in Andrei Loktionov and Drayson Bowman and I would expect the team to qualify one, if not both, of them. Bowman has been with the team for years, even though he has been a relative stalwart. Loktionov joined the team following the Tuomo Ruutu trade last year and showed promise. His injury at the World Championships may be the deciding factor in the negotiations, however. Ron Francis also revealed that, “We’re looking potentially more in the fourth-line need, maybe, or a depth defenseman at this point,” during free agency. These positions do not carry heavy financial burden with them and we could end up finding a gem or two.
I would expect potential signings to accrue no more than a $1,000,000 per year cap hit unless Peter Karmanos frees up some extra spending money. Some names that fit the bill include: Tom Gilbert (D), Nate Prosser (D), Colin Fraser (C), Carlo Colaiacovo (D), and Zenon Konopka (C).
If we have extra money to spend, I would like to see these players in Hurricanes jerseys: Brooks Orpik (D), Steve Ott (C), Matt Moulson (LW), Matt Niskanen (D), Brian Boyle (C), and Daniel Winnik (LW). How the potential signees fit with the team financially and strategically is purely up to the front office.
Trade winds have also been slowly blowing through Raleigh as of late, but there haven’t been many concrete, realistic offers presented. Recent rumors have had Cam Ward moving out West to San Jose, Calgary, or Edmonton. Eric Staal has also caught the brunt of some rumors linking him to Nashville and St. Louis. While I believe trading the former Conn Smythe winner, Ward, would be the right thing to do, the front office seems to feel differently. His $6.3 million cap hit may be scaring teams off and we just might have to wait until the trade deadline to unload it from the books. Additionally, Ward still has some juice in him and he will apparently have the opportunity to show it next season. The Staal rumors are unclear at best. The captain has been questioned based on his effort and commitment to the team and the Canes may be exploring ways to receive a good return if he were to be traded. The Nashville Predators are in need of a player of his stature and could be willing to trade current roster players along with prospects/picks to acquire the elder Staal. I just don’t see it happening. Eric Staal is still a cornerstone for the Hurricanes and should be treated as such. Instead of moving him, I say we should focus on enhancing the talent that surrounds him. So, from my perspective, the trade winds will most likely die down throughout free agency and the remainder of the offseason (other than minor trades that the front office deem necessary).
We could very well see a similar Carolina Hurricanes squad next year. Money will be applied in a smart, budgeted manner. Big names will sign elsewhere. We will have depth, but it will be low-priced, potentially aging depth. Minor trades could be made. The major difference lies in new coach Bill Peters. It may be up to him to develop this team and turn things around. We will just have to wait and see when the free agent signing period begins July 1.