In the same way that Wednesday’s captaincy transition was symbolic of a new era for the Hurricanes, it could also mark the unofficial starting point of a flurry of changes for the organization.
General Manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday that he expects to make any number of trades from now until the league deadline on March 3 involving a group of veteran players who are on the last years of their contracts. In return, he hopes to bring back young talent and draft picks in order to re-stock the team down the road.
”We have veteran guys that have won the Stanley Cup, so not only are they good players but they’ve had the experience of winning,” said Rutherford. “These are guys that can certainly go into any top team and help them this year. We’re going to get some interest in some of our unrestricted free agents.
“At this point it’s about building real good assets for the future,” he continued. “It’s not about trying to put the team together for next year. It’s about getting as many young assets as we can, and then in the off-season we’ll look at what our needs are and try to shape the team then.”
Players whose contracts expire after this season are Joe Corvo, Matt Cullen, Manny Legace, Scott Walker, Niclas Wallin Aaron Ward, Ray Whitney and Stephane Yelle. Corvo, the youngest player in that group, is 32, indicating that many of those players will likely not be part of the rebuilding process. Walker, Wallin and Whitney have no-trade clauses, although they could be willing to waive them in the right situation.
That being said, it may actually be easier to determine which players will almost certainly not be traded than those who could be available. Although nothing is set in stone, the Hurricanes would need to be blown away to part with any of Tim Gleason, Tuomo Ruutu, Eric Staal, Brandon Sutter or Cam Ward – established younger players whom the team can continue to build around.
While Rutherford has been working the phones since the team’s struggles became evident in the opening months of the season, he said it wasn’t until after the Christmas break that contending teams began to approach him more seriously about making deals. Talks should continue to heat up between now and March 3, although some around the league foresee a busy trading period prior to the Olympic roster freeze that runs from February 12 at 3 p.m. until 11:59 p.m. on February 28, giving those who wait to make deals less than three full days before the deadline.
While acknowledging that a de-facto “early deadline” on February 12 is a possibility, Rutherford could not predict it with any certainly.
“I think teams ideally would rather wait until the deadline and let the team they’re acquiring the player from continue to pay the salary, which makes it easier to fit into their budget or their cap,” he said. “At the same time, if a team really wants a player, they don’t want to get in that flurry of a few days before the deadline and find that they may not get the player that they want.”
Even if several veterans are traded from the Hurricanes’ current roster, Rutherford made it clear that he still expects the team to compete at the highest level possible down the stretch. When addressing the team Wednesday to made the captaincy change official, he also personally conveyed that message to the team.
“We’re not as good as a bunch of teams and we could give 100 percent and still lose games, but as long as we give everything we’ve got for the remaining 35 games then we can accept that as an organization,” he said. “For the players that don’t, there’s not a future here for them.”
Rutherford said that Brett Carson, Patrick Dwyer and Jiri Tlusty have already given themselves the inside track for spots on next season’s NHL roster with their play. He added that Drayson Bowman and Zach Boychuk will also be given a longer look with the Hurricanes, and that defenseman Jamie McBain will likely make his NHL debut later this season.