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Hurricanes facing tough decisions on defense

Tuesday, 10.05.2010 / 12:32 PM / 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Hurricanes facing tough decisions on defense
The Carolina Hurricanes are fortunate to have so many defensemen playing well during the preseason. The tough part now is going to be picking who stays and who goes.
HELSINKI -- Carrying eight defensemen when your American Hockey League affiliate is a three-hour drive or 45-minute flight away is not the best idea for a team. Carolina GM Jim Rutherford won't even consider it, telling NHL.com the Hurricanes could at times have only six blueliners on the roster due to the proximity of the Charlotte Checkers.

Deciding which two go won't be easy. Deciding which two sit Thursday may be tougher.

Contract situations may determine the six (or seven) defensemen Carolina eventually carries once it returns to North America, but Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said Tuesday after a workout here at Hartwall Arena that he has no problem playing any of the eight defensemen the team brought to Finland for the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere.

All eight are eligible to play Thursday against Minnesota. Only six will skate, though, with the top four of Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Joe Corvo and Anton Babchuk expected to get the bulk of the minutes. That leaves Maurice to choose from Jay Harrison, Jamie McBain, Brett Carson and Bobby Sanguinetti.

"I hope we have to deal with this problem all year, but most times you're wishing you have nine or 10 defensemen just because of the way the season goes. We'll have to make some tough decisions for the opening lineup, but chances are we're going to need all of them." -- Paul Maurice

He said he has his lineup set in his mind, but needs to sit with his staff and Rutherford to go over it.

"I hope we have to deal with this problem all year, but most times you're wishing you have nine or 10 defensemen just because of the way the season goes," Maurice said. "We'll have to make some tough decisions for the opening lineup, but chances are we're going to need all of them."

Sanguinetti seems the most likely to get sent down once the 'Canes return home. He still is working on his entry-level contract, so it's simple to send him to Charlotte, where he'll continue to develop and play big minutes.

McBain also is on his entry-level deal, but he seems to have found a home in the top six for now. Carson is on a two-way contract, but he'd have to clear waivers before going to Charlotte. Harrison is on a one-way deal but has never played a full NHL season.

Three of the four could stay with the NHL club through most of the month because the Hurricanes go on a West Coast trip before opening their home schedule Oct. 27 against Washington, and carrying an extra defenseman on a long road trip might be necessary.

But Rutherford wants to whittle it down to six at some point, which means decisions will have to be made. The problem is McBain, Harrison, Carson and Sanguinetti all have done enough to prove they can play on this team.

"I think you just go on a game-by-game basis and evaluate how guys are doing," Corvo told NHL.com. "If guys aren't getting the job done there are other guys who are ready. Just the fact that these guys are still here shows they're good enough to play in our lineup and that we have depth."

Gleason added: "They have put themselves in that situation to where they could possibly stay the rest of the year. It's good to know they have made a name for themselves. How long they'll be here, who knows, but if they keep playing the way they're playing, we'll see how it goes. It'll be interesting to see what happens."

Maurice on Tuesday pretty much guaranteed that no matter who stays and who goes, the defense corps on a nightly basis will consist of four players getting a lot of minutes and two others picking up the scraps.

He said Pitkanen, who led the League in ice time per game last season at 27:22, is better when he plays more. Gleason said he's not good at 30 minutes, but easily could play 25 a night. Corvo wants to play a lot, and Babchuk didn't come back to the NHL to watch.

"We're going to run those four significant minutes to start and see where they're at, and we'll use our five and six to spell those other guys off," Maurice said. "You may even see us not playing 5-6 as a pair every night."

Meanwhile, Nos. 7 and 8 may wind up as Charlotte's one-two blue-line punch.
 
"The players that will be out (Thursday) didn't necessarily have weak camps," Maurice said. "I mean, they made it here. I would play any of the eight."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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