RALEIGH — The flame that was the Carolina Hurricanes' playoff chances flickered like a paper match in a stiff breeze Saturday night, flaring briefly before being snuffed out entirely.
Up two goals with six minutes and change to go, on their way to a requisite regulation win over a division opponent, the Hurricanes ended up losing to the Florida Panthers in a shootout. Whatever miniscule hopes the Hurricanes still harbored of making a run at the postseason were certainly lost as well.
So the equation heading into today's NHL trade deadline changes, although not by much. The Hurricanes were never going to be buyers; they just might not have been outright sellers. After losing consecutive games in shootouts, they might as well get what they can today.
That always meant cashing in on Jaroslav Spacek, an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season who should have value to a Stanley Cup contender. That may mean cashing in on Bryan Allen as well, who has been such a good fit in the Carolina dressing room that it made sense to keep him around as long as there was a slim chance of challenging for the Southeast Division title.
Spacek, an experienced veteran, will find a home somewhere. He's added a lot to the Carolina power play since arriving from the Montreal Canadiens in the Tomas Kaberle deal, but he was acquired to be an asset. He's in demand, and the Hurricanes should get a decent draft pick for him.
Allen is a different story. Since arriving at the trade deadline a year ago, he has become a leader in the dressing room and half of Carolina's lockdown defensive pairing on the ice. He also has a no-trade clause, which complicates any effort to trade him.
Objectively speaking, there's no reason to keep him, especially since there's no guarantee the Hurricanes will be able to re-sign him, but from a subjective perspective, he's been a big part of what Kirk Muller has built here and there's something to be said for letting that run its course this spring, even if Allen walks away this summer.
Beyond those two, the calculus hasn't really changed for general manager Jim Rutherford today. There's still something to play for: What happens over the next month and a half will set the tone for Muller's first full season in charge, just as the spring of 2004 set the tone for Peter Laviolette, belatedly, in the fall of 2005.
Still, in the absence of any immediate imperative, there's no reason to keep anyone around who doesn't fit the Hurricanes' plans. Anthony Stewart already passed through waivers, but has played well since then. He might be more in demand as the deadline approaches and teams fail to land their preferred targets, if the Hurricanes still want to move him.
There's nothing wrong with sitting this one out, from the Hurricanes' perspective. They already dealt Alexei Ponikarovsky and re-signed Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu to avoid dealing them today. Trade Spacek, keep Allen and move on.
Let the rest of the NHL partake in the madness. Let the core of this team continue to grow and develop.