Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 04/18/11 at 08:48 PM ET
It’s been a while since I’ve checked in here, and you probably can’t blame me for failing to find anything to post about. I lost my job. The Hurricanes missed the playoffs on the final day of their season. Things haven’t exactly been sunshine and light over at RBH headquarters. While the Hurricanes are looking at their free agent contracts, the Charlotte Checkers are busy in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs.
On Thursday, the series between the Checkers and the defending champion Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals) got underway in Hershey. Charlotte took that first game 5-4 on goals by Zac Dalpe, Chris Terry, defenseman Brett Bellemore, Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman. Dalpe also added two assists.
On Sunday, the Bears turned the tables on the Checkers. They evened the series at on apiece with a 4-2 win. Dalpe had both goals for the Checkers and now shares the league lead with three goals.
This particular series uses the 2-3-2 format, so Charlotte will get three straight home games: this Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. It will be the first ever Calder Cup playoff game in Charlotte. By splitting the games in Hershey, Charlotte now has home-ice advantage in the five remaining games.
Last season, when the Checkers were playing as the Albany River Rats, they met the Bears in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Although the games were well played, Albany was swept and the Bears eventually captured their second straight and eleventh overall Calder Cup championship.
It’s still very early, but Dalpe got his playoff season off with a bang. He had a really solid rookie season this year, finishing with 57 (23/34) points in 61 games. That was third best among American Hockey League rookies and 29th best among all AHL skaters. In 15 NHL games this season, Dalpe contributed four (3/1) points. He tallied one assist in his NHL debut on opening day in Finland. His first NHL goal was on New Year’s Day. It was the game-winner against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. That’s a pretty special way to score the first goal.
In a span of nine days in early January, Dalpe potted three goals for the Hurricanes, but that was the end of his scoring. He was returned to the Checkers on January 13, then played only one game with the Hurricanes for the remainder of the season. The 21-year old from Paris, Ontario left Ohio State University after his Sophomore season last spring and joined the River Rats for the final nine regular season games and all eight playoff games. He tallied eight (6/2) regular season points and six (3/3) playoff points.
Next season, Dalpe should have no problem finding a regular roster spot on the big team. I don’t think RFAs-to-be Jiri Tlusty and Troy Bodie will be back. I very much doubt that UFA -to-be Cory Stillman will be back. Alternate captain Brandon Sutter is scheduled to become a RFA on July 1, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be back in a huge role. Erik Cole, Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen and Pat Dwyer are all scheduled to become UFAs. I would bet that Cole and Jokinen will be back. I’d be surprised if Dwyer isn’t back. LaRose is a fan favorite, and he’s done a lot for this team on and off the ice, but this might be the summer that other teams come calling for his services.
Carolina has never been very aggressive in the free agent market, and I don’t expect them to go after a brand name forward this summer either. There’s plenty of guys in Charlotte who are ready to make the permanent jump. Dalpe is just one.
On the defensive side, things might be a little different. Derek Joslin is scheduled to become a RFA on July 1. I think he acquitted himself well to the Hurricanes system and I’d like to see him back with Carolina. Jay Harrison and Joni Pitkanen are scheduled to become UFAs. Harrison is a really likable guy and stepped into a bigger role this season. He played for the league minimum this season in his first full NHL season and his first one-way contract. I think he’ll be back in Raleigh with a salary bump.
Pitkanen, on the other hand…. His salary of $4.5M with a cap hit of $4M was third on the team. He plays a TON of minutes and is a really solid defenseman when he’s on his game. When he’s not on his game, though, he’s worse than Avi Tanabe ever was. He goes to “Joniland” and does some really dangerous stuff that hurts the team. All reports indicate that his exit interview with the team wasn’t very good. I’d actually be surprised if he’s back in Carolina this fall.
With $4M off the books, Carolina could go out on the free agent market. The only problem is that there aren’t very many young-ish UFA-to-be defensemen who can be had on the cheap. Even the cheap ones are all old. If Pitkanen isn’t re-signed, Carolina might be forced to make an off-season or draft-day trade. Still, though, if Harrison and Joslin are re-signed, that gives the Canes six NHL defensemen and a few in the cupboard in Charlotte. They might just let Pitkanen walk.
There’s a lot to be settled in Raleigh this summer, but there’s still hockey to be played in Charlotte.
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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.