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Readiness of Youth to Influence Free Agent Moves

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
While General Manager Jim Rutherford has said that he does not expect the Hurricanes to be active in the high-priced early days of free agency, there are a few areas which could be addressed in the right situation.

Paul Branecky
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Before deciding to bring in players anytime after the frenzy begins at noon on Thursday, the Canes must first decide how many of the young players they’ve acquired via recent drafts and trades will feature on the team right away. There are unquestionably enough talented players in the system, but decisions will have to be made on whether the team can be so young so quickly.

That starts at the third-line center position behind Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter, which is possibly the most wide-open spot on the roster. Patrick Dwyer filled that role for much of 2009-10 and could do so again, and should at the very least be a strong candidate for the fourth line job. 

After Wednesday’s retirement of Rod Brind’Amour, Rutherford cited Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Jeff Skinner as potential candidates for the role. The Canes think all three will be more than capable at some point in their careers, but as of right now they have a combined zero games of NHL experience and just 17 games at any professional level – all by Dalpe at the end of last season with Albany.

“There are a bunch of guys there that are certainly good enough players, but we don’t know at this point in time if they’re ready or not,” said Rutherford. “We’ll find out pretty soon and then we’ll keep our eyes open.”

A more experienced option is Jon Matsumoto, who will turn 24 near the start of the season, making him older than the previously mentioned group, but he too has yet to make his NHL debut despite consistent success at the minor-league level. The Canes have also mentioned the possibility of moving Tuomo Ruutu into that role, with a younger player then taking his place as a top-six winger.

While there will be a few young players filling out the remainder of the forward ranks, the sheer number of able bodies should help off-set that inexperience. Of that group, only Jiri Tlusty is on a one-way contract and would fill a spot at wing if Ray Whitney were to sign elsewhere. That would just leave one job open for the likes of Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, Oskar Osala, Jerome Samson and Chris Terry to fight for in camp and throughout the season.

If nothing else, the Canes will almost certainly make one signing on defense in the form of Anton Babchuk, who could not be officially brought in prior to July 1 after playing overseas last season. That move, which is expected to come any time now, would present a grouping of Tim Gleason, Joni Pitkanen, Jamie McBain, Jay Harrison, Babchuk and one of Bobby Sanguinetti, Casey Borer or Bryan Rodney if the latter two are brought back as restricted free agents.

While that’s enough bodies on paper, Rutherford said that this week’s decision to let Brett Carson and Alexandre Picard go as unrestricted free agents could allow him to bring in someone else.

”We could take the money we had budgeted for both of these players and possibly use it on one player in free agency,” he said.

To back up Cam Ward in goal, the Hurricanes’ preference is to re-sign Justin Peters to a two-way contract so that he would earn a separate AHL salary if reassigned to Charlotte for performance or conditioning reasons, but those negotiations are still ongoing. If they prove difficult, the Canes could yet look to bring in another player to spell Ward, although it looks like Manny Legace will not be that player.

In short, the Canes seem to be prepared to roll with young players if they need to, but will at least explore other options if they present themselves, likely later in the free-agency period. Until then, things to watch for will be the status of Whitney, whose future could be decided very early as a prime target across the league, and some of the team’s other outgoing free agents, both restricted and unrestricted.

To help keep track, we’ve compiled a list that we’ll update throughout the rest of the offseason (note – anyone who is an unrestricted free agent is technically “outgoing” at this point, even if they end up coming back to the Hurricanes). We’ll also make updates to the depth chart, although rankings and line combinations are nothing more than educated guesses as this point (same rule as above – UFA’s not included).

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