It’s plain and simple. The Carolina Hurricanes have to make the play-offs this year. And, the good news is …they are knocking on the door.
So, with the trade deadline fast approaching, it is not surprising to hear that Jim Rutherford, the Canes GM, is busy trying to make some moves. Reports suggest the Canes were among three teams that had a real shot at Ottawa’s Mike Fisher, moved to Nashville this week. He is exactly what the doctor ordered, a skilled two-way center with size. Rutherford has historically tried to make his major moves well before the deadline, in order to get the players assimilated into the Canes organization as early as possible. You just need to consider the Doug Weight deal, the year the Canes went on to win the Cup. Timing is even more acute this year. If JR plans to take a serious run at the play-offs, he needs to strengthen the team now to improve his play-off chances.
Making the play-offs won’t be easy. The New York Rangers, Atlanta Thrashers, and Buffalo Sabres are in a virtual dead heat for the final two play-off positions. Buffalo has been on a tear lately and is peaking at just the right time. Based on their current play, you have to think they will take one of the spots. The Rangers, Thrashers, and Canes have been inconsistent, thus creating the opportunity for the others to take the advantage. But, to-date, none of the teams have been able to make a real statement. Rick Dudley, The Thrashers GM, and Glen Sather, the Rangers boss-man, have both been very active trying to land the key pieces they need to make the post-season. As a result, you can expect they will be stronger at the deadline.
So, the Canes will need to make some serious moves to stay in the hunt. Historically, JR has pulled off some real coups at the trade deadline. In 2008, he got Tuomo Ruutu for Andrew Ladd. In 2009, he got Erik Cole back, for oft-injured Justin Williams, and Jussi Jokinen, from Tampa Bay, for spare parts. Last year, he made seven trades and picked up seven draft picks along with a few prospects, clearing out most of the pending UFAs. He lobbied some of those picks into deals at the draft, for Bobby Sanguinetti, a highly regarded D-man in the Ranger organization, and Riley Nash, a former first-rounder of the Edmonton Oilers. Both are expected to fill roster spots on the Hurricanes in the future. So, if history is any indication, expect something major to happen before the deadline.
How is JR approaching the deadline? He gave this indication recently. ““We have two goals,” he said. “One is to make the playoffs and the other is to build this team going forward. Regardless of what we do and how it looks, we’re not going to give up on this year.”
Their needs are clear. They are desperately in need of a quality shutdown D-man. The Canes have quietly assembled a solid defence corps, the only problem being that most are offence first types, like Joe Corvo, Joni Pitkanen, Ian White, and Jamie McBain. This need has been particularly noticeable with the penalty kill unit, currently one of the worst in the league. The lack of a proficient face-off guy has also hurt but a more pressing problem is a top 6 winger. They have not been able to find a winger to join Eric Staal and Erik Cole on the top line, trying a host of players unsuccessfully. They could also use a winger to complement the Ruutu/Skinner combo. It will depend on who is available as to which spot is filled first.
Based on JR’s comment, you might extrapolate that he is trying to move impending UFAs Joni Pitkanen, Chad Larose, and Sergei Samsonov. Of those, Pitkanen would fetch the biggest return and given the likelihood that the Canes do not plan to re-sign him in the off-season and last year’s debacle with Ray Whitney at the deadline, look to the Canes to try and move him now. There is clearly lots of interest for a big minute-munching, offensive D-man, like Joni.
Patrick Dwyer is a lower-cost, more versatile Larose clone, so he is expendable. Samsonov is a clearly a spare part but no one seems interested in him. Rutherford may throw in some draft picks, even a 1st rounder, and some prospects, such as Rodney, Samson, Bowman, Osala, or even Boychuk, in Charlotte, for the right deal.
Based on history, likely trade partners are Edmonton, Boston, San Jose, Ottawa, Florida, and Toronto, all of which have players of interest to the Canes. Of those, San Jose, Columbus and Boston are all looking for an offensive-minded D-man, like Pitkanen. Edmonton, Ottawa, Florida, and Toronto are looking for prospects to support their rebuilding process. If they move Pitkanen, expect them to acquire a solid replacement in their wheeling and dealing. Recognizing the fiscal challenges of the Hurricanes, and JR’s tendency to try to match cap dollars, who might the Canes be targeting?
For draft picks/prospects:
- Vandermeer/Brule/Penner – Edmonton, although JR denies interest in Penner,
- Komisarek/Kadri – Toronto, not likely due to high cost of Komisarek and injury problems,
- Allen/Weiss/Booth – Florida, has potential as rumors suggest Canes are talking to Florida.
- M. Stuart/Wheeler – Boston, a package deal would help both teams,
- Setoguchi - San Jose, makes a lot of sense for the Canes, who continue to look closely at the Sharks,
- Tyutin/Filatov/Brassard – Columbus, intriguing depending on the package.
Or might JR surprise us and bring back former’ Canes, as he is want to do, like Kings’ Justin Williams, Florida’s Corey Stillman, or Columbus’ Mike Commodore, who would cost less and could potentially fill the major weaknesses of the team for this year. Only time will tell. No matter what, expect JR to make a splash at the trade deadline.
He always does.