DeCock

Canes' $44M question

Staff WriterAugust 12, 2010 

As an overwhelmingly quiet summer winds down for the Carolina Hurricanes, with training camp a little more than a month away, it's clear the belt-tightening imposed by owner Peter Karmanos has had an effect on the roster.

Good or bad, it's hard to say right now, but there's no question it's a different look than last year, or the year before, or the year before that.

The question at the start of the summer, when Karmanos insisted general manager Jim Rutherford slash the payroll to stem the NHL team's operating losses and make the franchise a more attractive proposition for a would-be buyer - no takers yet, it must be noted - was this: What does $44 million get you?

At this point in August, we've got some answers.

It gets you a training camp with at least four open spots for young players, unlike last year's camp when every roster space was accounted for in August. Brandon Sutter played well enough to make the team but was sent to the AHL anyway because there was no room at the inn. Not a problem this year.

It gets you Joe Corvo back to help stabilize a young defense, as well as The Anton Babchuk Project Part II, but it doesn't get you Shaone Morrisonn as well, who signed with the equally thrifty Buffalo Sabres for less than Corvo. The Hurricanes aren't believed to have pursued the free agent, but the 27-year-old would have helped on the blue line.

And it gets you a whole mess of players on entry-level or minimum-wage contracts, from the dirt-cheap $500,000 deals signed by Jiri Tlusty and Jay Harrison which all but guarantee them roster spots, to youngsters such as Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman, whose rookie contracts pay them less than $1 million each before bonuses.

It also doesn't get you a single veteran reinforcement at forward, on defense or in goal, save Corvo, who was gone for only a few months anyway. This franchise is rarely a player in free-agency, but it's not uncommon to see Rutherford sniff around the edges, with mixed results. But even Ray Whitney was given only a desultory offer to return.

The Hurricanes successfully shrugged off Rod Brind'Amour's contract by nudging him into retirement, saving $2 million this season. They decided not to buy out Sergei Samsonov for a net savings of $500,000 or so, and they wouldn't or couldn't trade Erik Cole ($3 million) and Joni Pitkanen ($4.5 million).

Without moving either of those two, both in the final years of their contracts, the Hurricanes won't make their $44 million goal, but they won't be far off. Depending on which rookies make the team, the wage bill will fall between $46 million and $47 million.

This is 180 degrees and more than $3 million away from last summer, when the Hurricanes added veteran reinforcements for another run to the conference finals or beyond. Those hopes died an ugly, noisy death almost immediately with an awful 14-game losing streak, and the injury problems further inflated the payroll to the neighborhood of $55 million.

Debate the causes for that dismal start at will - the low-impact training camp played a role, but Paul Maurice's coaching has to be considered as well - but it helped put the Hurricanes where they are now.

There's more pressure than ever before on Eric Staal, Pitkanen and Cam Ward, who as a trio will account for more than a third of the total payroll. And no matter how badly the Hurricanes want to get off to a better start, they'll face a devilishly difficult opening road trip that starts in Finland and takes them, literally, to the other side of the world.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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