Although he said he was comfortable with his defense as it stood on July 1, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford feels a lot better about it now.
Since the beginning of free agency, the team has added a key top-four blue liner in Joe Corvo and, most recently, brought back 24-year-old Brett Carson. In addition to the expected re-signing of Anton Babchuk, Rutherford feels his defense has shaped up nicely ahead of the new season.
“We’re very, very comfortable,” he said. “The biggest thing about what we’ve done here is that, unless we run into a rash of injuries, we’re not going to be put in a position to try to push a guy to play 22 or 24 minutes when he should only be playing 16 or 18 minutes. Guys are going to be slotted into the place on the team where they can be the most successful.”
Carson, who was a fourth-round pick by Carolina in 2004, was slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1 but did not receive a qualifying offer from the team. The offer he did receive but turned down at that time, a one-way deal at the league minimum of $500,000, did not qualify as it did not represent the required raise from his previous deal.
The offer agreed upon three weeks later is similar to the one that recently expired, in that it is a two-way deal that would pay him significantly less at the American Hockey League level with Charlotte. However, since he would have to clear waivers for such an assignment due to his age and experience, that assignment may never occur.
“He’s going to play a lot of the season, or all of the season, with the Hurricanes,” said Rutherford.
That statement should indicate the comfort level that the team has in Carson, who proved to be a steady stay-at-home presence in his first extended taste of NHL
action. In 54 games last season, a number that easily eclipsed his career high of five that was set the previous year, he posted 12 points and a +5 plus/minus rating.
“Nothing has changed with how we feel about Brett Carson,” said Rutherford. “We made a strategic move on how we went about doing his contract that allowed us the flexibility to sign Joe Corvo, but at no time did we want to lose him. He can still grow, and he’s just getting into that age where the real development takes place.”
With the team previously expected to field a top six of Babchuk, Corvo, Tim Gleason
, Jay Harrison
, Jamie McBain
and Joni Pitkanen
, Carson would either need to crack that group or stay on the roster as the seventh defenseman, with McBain the only player that could freely pass through waivers for a minor-league assignment.
To take advantage of his depth and avoid the risk of exposing a player on waivers, Rutherford indicated that the Hurricanes may carry as many as eight blue liners on the opening day roster, with draft-day trade acquisition Bobby Sanguinetti
also on the radar.
“We’ll see how camp goes,” he said. “It will be dictated by how well these guys play. We can’t lose sight of the fact that we traded for Sanguinetti, who is another player that’s right there ready to play in the league.”
Carson’s signing, along with those of a handful of players to fill out the Checkers’ blue line, seemingly makes a deal with unrestricted free agent Alexandre Picard less likely. Much like Carson, Picard also hit the open market after the Hurricanes did not present him with a qualifying offer.
”As of now Picard is still looking for a one-way contract, so we’ll let that run its course and make that decision,” said Rutherford, who said he would revisit the situation if a two-way deal presented itself. “I would say that we’re probably at the position where we’ve signed as many defensemen as we’d like.”
Unless something changes there, the only player the Hurricanes are looking to sign between now and training camp will be 2010 first-round draft choice Jeff Skinner
, who will be given every chance to make the team this fall.