NEWARK, N.J. — To hear him tell it, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford got to have his cake and eat it, too.
Leading up to the fifth overall pick in the NHL Draft, there was great speculation that the Hurricanes, holders of that pick, would deal it to for a top-four defenseman, one of their top offseason priorities.
Rutherford eschewed the offers for the pick — he said after making the pick that they all were for forwards — and took Swedish center Elias Lindholm. Later, he picked up that top-four defenseman in a deal with Buffalo in the form of Andrej Sekera, sending Jamie McBain and the 35th overall pick to the Sabres.
Rutherford called the 6-foot, 201-pound Sekera a “shut-down” defenseman and expected him to play with Tim Gleason. Last season the 27-year-old Slovak averaged 21:12 per game, third on the Sabres, and ranked second on Buffalo in points with 12 (two goals, 10 assists) in 37 games.
Sekera also comes with the added benefit of earning less than his cap hit. He will make $1.75 million over the next two seasons — $1 million less than his cap hit. Rutherford said Ron Francis, vice president of hockey operations, had targeted Sekera long ago.
“We’re really pleased to get Sekera,” Rutherford said. “We feel very comfortable in our top four. He can play top-four minutes. He’s a good player. He’s got good experience playing with Buffalo. He’s the guy we were trying to get with Buffalo to move back to (the eighth pick) in the first round. As it turns out, we got to stay at five, get the player we wanted and also get the defenseman when we came here to this draft we were hoping to get.”
Rutherford had some strong words about the outgoing McBain, 25, who had shown promise as a 2006 second-round pick by the ‘Canes but whose play took a downturn this past season. In McBain’s second and third seasons in Carolina, he totaled 30 and 27 points, respectively, while playing 76 games in each, an average of 0.375 points per game over those two seasons. In 2012-13, McBain’s production fell to eight points in 40 games — almost half the pace of the past at 0.2 points per game.
“I think Jamie will turn his game around next year, but unfortunately he didn’t come to camp ready to play,” Rutherford said. “He wasn’t in good shape and because of that he didn’t have a good year and he got in the coach (Kirk Muller)’s dog house and I really didn’t see that he was going to get himself out of it … so I wish him well. He was a good guy, but I do feel we got a more reliable top-four defenseman with the deal we just made.”
One of the higher-profile trades made on the day was a deal by Stanley Cup-champion Chicago to move center David Bolland, who scored the Cup-winning goal, to Toronto. Bolland is a third-line center who earns $3.375 million. From the way Rutherford described his talks for the fifth pick and the way he described Lindholm, it sounds as if Carolina might have been offered Bolland by Chicago, which held the 30th and last pick of the first round.
“The best offers we were getting were for forwards and moving further down the draft than we wanted,” Rutherford said. “They were good offers but it didn’t make sense for us. The player we got could be as good as the one we were being offered in a year — making a lot less money.”
Coming into the draft, Rutherford felt the ‘Canes had enough skill. He said the 6-foot, 181-pound Lindholm possesses skill but also a complete game. Playing 48 games for Brynas in the Swedish Elite League, he finished third on the team in points with 11 goals and 19 assists despite being the youngest player on the roster.
“He put up a lot of points in the men’s elite league, but he plays with grit,” Rutherford said. “He does everything at a high pace. He’s a puck-pursuit guy. Plays both ends of the rink. He’s a good all-around player.”
Lindholm said he has good hands but is still working on his goal-scoring. Asked to compare himself to Swedish center Filip Forsberg, selected 11th overall last year by Washington and sent to Nashville at the trading deadline, Lindholm said, “maybe I’m a little bit dirtier player than him.”
Lindholm said he has one more season left on his contract with his Swedish club but will come to development camp and then training camp hopeful.