Jim Rutherford and the Carolina Hurricanes are facing a situation they’ve never faced before and may never face again. For the first time in its existence, the salary cap has come into play.
As a team that operates on its own budget that always falls comfortably below the league’s maximum, Carolina has allowed the league’s bigger-spending teams to fret over the finer points of the cap. However, since both injured players and their replacements count towards the maximum amount, things have changed.
“If you get in a year like we have with the injuries, it doesn’t take long to get up there,” said Rutherford, who has had to recall Zach Boychuk, Justin Peters, Bryan Rodney and Brandon Sutter in addition to signing Manny Legace and using Jay Harrison more than anticipated.
Tim Conboy became a cap casualty on Wednesday, as he was assigned to Albany of the American Hockey League to provide space for the recall of goaltender Peters. There were other avenues for the Hurricanes to create a roster spot for Peters, but this move saves the team Conboy’s cap hit of nearly $500,000, even if he will still earn the full amount in the AHL due to his one-way contract. The team was able to make the move after Conboy cleared waivers last week.
Similar transactions are on the way. According to Rutherford, Joni Pitkanen and Eric Staal are not due back until next week, and Scott Walker is out for at least two more weeks. Michael Leighton is week-to-week after an already-existent groin strain worsened in Montreal, with Rutherford still unsure if the team will play Legace exclusively or try to work Peters into the lineup.
Those injuries leave the team without enough healthy bodies to field a 20-man roster for Thursday’s game against Toronto and insufficient cap space to summon replacements. To alleviate the problem, Rutherford said the team will place Cam Ward on long-term injured reserve, thus eliminating the goaltender’s $2.667 million cap hit for the time being (according to NHL Numbers). According to Rutherford, a player must be out for 24 days or 10 games to qualify for that status, which fits into Ward’s target return date of December 5 against Vancouver.
Once that move is made, Rutherford said the team will likely recall either Patrick Dwyer or Jerome Samson from Albany in time to face the Maple Leafs.
“We’ve figured out the cap issues and how we can work that,” said Rutherford.
Regardless of who suits up on Thursday, Rutherford said he was encouraged by the 3-2 shootout loss in Montreal – more so than at any point this season.
“I look at last night’s game as one of the best signs I’ve seen in a while,” he said. “Our team has worked real hard through this tough time, but really struggled with bad bounces and team confidence. Last night I saw a team that played with a lot more confidence, good work ethic and scored a couple of real nice goals. That’s what I would like to see us build on.”