NHL free agency begins on Friday but the mostly rounded-out nature of the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster — not to mention the amount of payroll they already have committed — means that the organization will most likely not be big players.
After awarding wing Alex Semin a five-year, $35-million contract extension last season, the Hurricanes did most of their big-spending long before free agency neared. Also, they had inked center Jordan Staal to a 10-year, $60-million deal last summer shortly after acquiring him from Pittsburgh via trade. With Semin, Staal, Jordan’s brother Eric, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu, the Canes’ top six forwards would be the envy of many teams.
According to the website CapGeek.com, which tracks NHL salary information, the ‘Canes have 17 players under contract for a total of $57.9 million, which presently ranks fifth-highest of the league’s 30 teams. Technically speaking, that means the ‘Canes only need to add three more players to their roster.
One of those is likely to be defenseman Ryan Murphy, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, and another possibility is 2013 first-round pick Elias Lindholm, a center. And while goalie Justin Peters counts among those 17, it’s possible the Hurricanes will go after a more proven NHL back-up.
Then it’s a matter of signing third- and fourth-line forwards and perhaps a depth defenseman with an offensive upside.
Pat Dwyer is one of the few bottom-six forwards under contract who appears set to make the opening roster. Other possibilities are Jeremy Welsh, who would still have rookie status, Kevin Westgarth and Drayson Bowman. It remains to be seen whether the team and forward Chad Larose, one of the franchise’s longest-tenured players who will be an unrestricted free agent, can agree on a new deal or whether the ‘Canes want him back under any circumstances.
The ‘Canes could use a penalty-killing forward, as two of their top five in average shorthanded time on ice from last season (Jussi Jokinen, Adam Hall) are gone.
Here are five possible players the Hurricanes could target in free agency or through trade to fill out their roster:
Matt Cullen, center: Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford loves to go back-to-the-future and re-acquire his former players. Cory Stillman, Erik Cole and Joe Corvo are just but a few with whom he has done that. Cullen, who will be 37 in November, already has done two stints in Carolina, which, incidentally, account for his two best pro seasons, including 2005-06 when he played on the franchise’s Stanley Cup-winning team. He would provide excellent two-way depth as a third-line center, possibly allowing Lindholm to ease into the league either on the wing or as the fourth-line center. Cullen has the added benefit of being able to kill penalties.
Danny Cleary, right wing: The 34-year-old is coming off a contract that averaged $2.8 million. He has hit the 20-goal plateau three times, but at this stage in his career he could be more of a third-liner who has the ability to step up into a top-six role, if called upon. He comes with tons of experience: He won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008 and scored nine goals in 23 playoff games the next season as the Red Wings fell to Pittsburgh in seven games in the Cup Final.
Matt Hendricks, left wing: After seeing the 32-year-old play against them in the Southeast Division for the last three seasons as a member of Washington, this move would be of the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”-variety. At 6-foot, 211-pounds, Hendricks brings a rugged style and personality that teammates love and opponents hate. In 263 career games, he has 365 penalty minutes. But he also brings a measure of skill. He has 27 goals and 31 assists (.22 points per game) and, surprisingly, is a good shootout player.
Johan Hedberg, goalie: The 40-year-old remains under contract for one year at $1.4 million with New Jersey (although it was reported on Thursday that the Devils placed him on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out his contrat). After trading for Cory Schneider, the Devils needed to move Hedberg, who could be a good insurance policy for another team. As recently as 2011-12, a year the Devils advanced to the Cup Final, Hedberg went 17-7 with a .918 save percentage. There are few better teammates or pros in the league than Hedberg, who always keeps himself in top condition.
Joe Corvo, defenseman: Is it possible that Rutherford will bring the 36-year-old back for another season, his sixth in three separate tenures with the franchise? He was still productive offensively last season, totaling six goals and 11 assists in 40 games and was a respectable minus-3. Rutherford has said he will allow all of the team’s free agents to become unrestricted. He also said he wants a quarterback for the power play. Newly acquired defenseman Andrej Sekera does not seem to fit that role and if Murphy is not yet up to the task as a rookie, Corvo could be a good fall-back policy — at the right price.