Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 05/29/10 at 10:45 AM ET
On Friday, the Hurricanes were busy, making three meaningful announcements. Two of them were player re-signings. One might be more significant than it appears at first glance. They have come to terms with defenseman Jay Harrison (details) and winger Jiří Tlustý (details). Each has signed for one year at the league minimum of $500k. The press release didn’t specifically identify Harrison’s as a one-way deal. Tlustý‘s is, and this detail makes me suspect that there could be some big changes.
There’s nothing really noteworthy about the Harrison re-signing. Out of necessity, he played in 38 NHL games last season, and did well with limited ice time. He scored one goal and added five assists for the Canes and he also had 14 (2/12) points in 32 regular season games with the Albany River Rats of the AHL. He appeared in eight postseason AHL games and tallied three assists. Despite playing less than half of the season on the big team, Harrison was second on the team with six fighting major penalties and seventh on the team with 50 PIMs. I think Harrison will be a third pairing player. He played well enough and proved himself to be more than just an emergency call-up. As of right now, he is one of just four Carolina defensemen under contract, but the Canes are expecting to bring Anton Babchuk back to the NHL and they will most certainly re-sign Casey Borer and Brett Carson.
Tlustý was acquired from the Leafs last season, and when the Canes were dealing with a lot of injuries, he got some call-ups from Albany. In 18 games with the Canes, he scored one goal and added five assists. His lone goal came in his first game as a Cane, and it was scored on his only shot of that game. Split between the Toronto Marlies and the Albany River Rats, the Czech totalled 30 (14/16) points in 39 games. He also played in five of the playoff games for the Rats and had one assist. Normally, given the logjam at the forward positions in the Canes organ-eye-zation, I wouldn’t even think a thing of the Tlustý signing. I’d think that he would spend most of the year in Charlotte with an occasional call-up. The big deal here, in my opinion, is not just that he was re-signed, but that he was given a one-way deal. There’s not much room on the upper section of the roster, especially not for a one-way contract. Unless, of course, the Canes brass have made up their mind about Ray Whitney and/or Rod Brind’Amour.
Whitney, who turned 38 a couple of weeks ago, is scheduled to become a UFA on July 1. He’s been a great player for the Hurricanes and a great leader in the room and on the ice. He’s been a steady scorer, getting more than 50 points in each of the last five seasons and more than 20 goals in each of the last four. He’s been a tremendous specialty teams player and a reliable guy in the clutch. He’s not losing his stuff as precipitously as Rod Brind’Amour, but he is getting up there in age and his salary is in the range where the Canes need to consider their options. $3.5M could go quite a ways in the free agent market for a guy a lot younger with similar offensive numbers. Lee Stempniak is a guy who could be had for the same kind of money. Not quite as good, but a lot younger. I have no idea if Phoenix plans to renew his contract before he becomes a UFA on July 1, but I’ve heard his name bandied about.
There’s also been loads of talk for over a year now about the fate of Rod Brind’Amour. He’ll turn 40 this summer and has one year remaining on his contract with a cap hit of $3.6M. He had a rough year this season, scoring just 19 (9/10) points and registering a horrendous plus/minus rating of -29. To be honest, he also had a rough year in 2008-09. He was made a healthy scratch for one game this season. He had the C stripped from his sweater. The writing seems to be on the wall. From a financial standpoint, a buyout wouldn’t help at all, because he signed his current contract when he was 35+ years old. The Canes will be on the hook for the full amount if they buy him out. I have no idea what the CBA says about players retiring while still under contract.
If one or both of Brind’Amour and Whitney are not in the picture in 2010-11, that leaves at least one “A” to be reassigned. To me, it’s pretty obvious that Tim Gleason gets one of the As. The other will eventually go to Brandon Sutter, but I think the honor should go to Chad LaRose for now. Sharpie is, in a lot of ways, pretty much the same as Kevyn Adams (who wore the A for a couple of seasons) was. What he lacks in talent, he makes up for tenfold with enthusiasm and work ethic. He’s one of the most popular players among the fans, and I get the impression that he’s really well-liked in the locker room.
We’ll know really soon what the plans are for the elderstatesmen, but my guess is that Brind’Amour moves into the front office or some other off-ice role. If Carolina can get Whitney to sign a one year deal for a home-team discount, I’m for it. Otherwise, I’d say they should continue with the move to a younger team.
Also, the Canes will soon have to make a decision about the goaltenders.
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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.