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Red and Black Hockey

Canes off-season.  The forwards

So we’ve got a few days before the Awards Show, then another week before the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.  Carolina will have the 27th overall pick, and most prognosticators are saying that Carolina will draft a defenseman. 

A few days after the draft, the real fun begins.  The free agent signing period.  Carolina has never been a big spender in the FA signing period, and I don’t expect them to be this summer.  Their primary focus will be on re-signing the guys they have, then picking someone up in the bargain bin.  Last summer, they were inactive in the FA market, but made the blockbuster trade with the Oilers, sending Erik Cole that way for Joni Pitkänen.

This summer, while some people are dreaming up elaborate ways to get Dany Heatley here, I expect little if any activity from the Hurricanes camp.  At least not as far as the forwards are concerned.

For next season, Carolina has a total of nine forwards under contract. 
Eric Staal, Rod Brind’Amour, Ray Whitney, Matt Cullen, Scott Walker, Sergei Samsonov, Patrick Eaves are all good to go.  Brandon Sutter and Zach Boychuk both signed rookie contracts last summer.  Sutter will probably be ready to play in the NHL, but Boychuk will not be.  This means there are eight NHL guys under contract.

The list of free agents is:  Erik Cole, Tuomo Ruutu, Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Bayda, Michael Ryan and Dwight Helminen.  The two Finns are both RFAs, so there’s not as much pressure to get them re-signed. 

In the case of Tuomo Ruutu, I’d say it’s a no-brainer.  He had the best season of his career and is proving to be a very valuable two-way player.  He’s a big hitter with flashes of offensive brilliance and a pretty big fan following.  He earned $2.25M this past season and will deserve a raise to about $3M.  Hopefully also a medium-length contract. 

Jussi Jokinen wasn’t immediately embraced by the Caniac nation when he came here, but he was a playoff stud.  With two heroic goals against New Jersey, he was catapulted to fan favorite.  Jokinen isn’t the type of guy to score a lot of goals in the regular season, but he brings so much more to the table.  He’s a great face-off man.  Carolina will need that since Rod Brind’Amour’s role is probably going to be diminished even more than it already has.  He’s a good specialty teams player.  He also knows what to do when the game is on the line.  He’s an assassin in the shootout, with his patented one-handed shot.  And in late-game situations….  forget about it.  Put the puck on his stick, and you’re gonna win.  I think it’s safe to say that he’s flourishing here in large part because he has his two countrymen Joni Pitkänen and Tuomo Ruutu on board.  They should be kept together.  He made $1.875M this season, and I’d say that he’s earned a new contract.  However, I wouldn’t expect a big raise.  That said, if a bidding war starts, I would expect Carolina to take the compensation for letting him go. 

Erik Cole.  Sorry.  He’s already expressed that he wants to stay here, and he did give Eric Staal a real boost when he arrived at the trading deadline.  However, he’s a little overpaid, and there’s still the question marks about his health.  He made $4M this season in the last year of a contract he signed after Carolina won the Cup in 2006.  Historically, he has been very difficult to deal with when contract negotiations have come up.  One thing that could hurt his cause will be the same thing that will help Jokinen’s cause:  Cole didn’t even exist in the playoffs, and Jokinen shined.  Unless Carolina can get him to sign for the fabled “home team discount”, I would expect to see him go.

Chad LaRose is one of the most popular players on the team.  The players seem to like him, the fans love him, and the coaches do too.  After being a healthy scratch for one game, LaRose didn’t pout and complain.  Instead, he proved to Paul Maurice what everyone else already knew.  He’s probably the hardest-working guy on the team, and he played his way to the top six.  He set new career marks in every category this season, and he was fantastic in the playoffs as well.  Last summer, he filed for arbitration, but there were some eleventh hour negotiations that got a one-year deal signed before the hearing took place.  He made $875k this past season, and he’s in line for a big raise.  I expect him to make at least $2.25M, and I’ll hope that the Canes get him into a three-year deal. 

Helminen, Bayda and Ryan can all be had for cheap.  I think Helminen might be ready for a full-time NHL job.  He brings some of that “defensive forward” stuff to the table, and Carolina could use some of that in the bottom six.  Bayda deserves a job.  Ryan isn’t ready. 

Assuming this stuff goes down, there will be 13 NHL guys signed.  All of this is assuming that Erik Cole isn’t part of the picture. I’m afraid that if Cole is part of the picture, La Rose won’t be.  And it might hurt the chances for renewing and raising Tuomo Ruutu.

Of course, there’s still the matter of the defense.  I’ll cover that at another time.  And I might go into more detail about each of these forwards at some point too.  There’s nothing to say that one of Carolina’s defensemen won’t be traded away.  If this is to happen, I might expect to see someone’s rights traded away at the draft. 

Things will get interesting in two weeks.  I can’t wait!

Filed in: | Red and Black Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: carolina+hurricanes, chad+larose, erik+cole, free+agency, jussi+jokinen, tuomo+ruutu

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About Red and Black Hockey

David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science.  He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows.  Sometimes, all in the same day. 

David has contributed to CBC.ca for their Stanley Cup playoff coverage in 2006 and to the New York Times Slapshot blog for theirs in 2008. Red and Black Hockey was founded in July of 2005.