Canes will wheel and deal this offseason

calexander@newsobserver.comApril 28, 2013 

— With their season at an end, the Carolina Hurricanes will begin to scatter in the next few days.

Seven are headed to the IIHF World Championship in Sweden. Eric and Jordan Staal, Jay Harrison and Jeff Skinner will play for Canada. Defensemen Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain will be on Team USA and forward Jiri Tlusty will compete for the Czech Republic.

Others will head to offseason homes for a long summer. Forward Tuomo Ruutu will undergo hip surgery and others have injuries that need to heal.

How many will return to Carolina in September for preseason training camp remains to be seen.

The Hurricanes, after missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, have some tough decisions to make. General manager Jim Rutherford and Canes coach Kirk Muller say they like the “core group” of the team, but there should be a number of new faces next season.

“This is honestly one of first times I’ve been involved with a team not making the playoffs where you feel really optimistic about it,” Muller said Saturday. “Some teams are in situations where they have to disrupt the whole nucleus. Our nucleus is good. We just have to make the right decisions in the summer.”

The Canes have six players due to become unrestricted free agent — forwards Chad LaRose and Tim Brent; defensemen Joe Corvo, Bobby Sanguinetti and Marc-Andre Bergeron; and goaltender Dan Ellis. It’s hard to say how many will be re-signed.

LaRose won the Stanley Cup with the Canes in 2006 and has played more than 500 games with the franchise. But has he played his last game with Carolina?

The Hurricanes’ new eight-team division next season includes the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. That will factor into personnel moves.

“There will be physical games. They’re big teams,” Muller said. “I think it’s important for us as an organization and looking at the opponents we will face, to make decisions based on how we feel we can improve to play against them.”

Rutherford said restructuring the defensive corps will be a priority. The Canes scored 2.65 goals a game this season, 14th in the NHL. But they allowed 3.31 goals, 29th in the league, after the 8-3 beating by the Penguins in the final game Saturday.

“We put some defensemen in roles they couldn’t handle,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford is confident defenseman Joni Pitkanen will be able to return from a broken heel bone. But his spot may not be secure.

Backup goalie Justin Peters, who had the unpleasant task Saturday of facing the Pens, has a one-way contract next season. So do forwards Drayson Bowman and Jeremy Welsh.

“But we’re not keeping anyone just because they have a one-way contract,” Rutherford said. “They clearly have to make the team.”

As for this season, the Hurricanes finished 13th in the Eastern Conference after a 15-9-1 start. They lost No. 1 goalie Cam Ward to a knee injury March 3 and never really recovered, although Ellis and Peters did their best.

“You can’t replace a No. 1 guy,” Muller said Saturday. “As hard as the other two guys played, it’s a different role. It’s like a No. 2 center saying ‘I can be a No. 1 guy’ and all of the sudden you’re playing against tougher defensive guys.

“It takes a certain mental toughness for a goaltender. It’s like a starting quarterback or pitcher. Lose one, then it would hurt pretty much every team. It was a big blow to us when Cam went down.”

There were other injuries. Faulk sprained a knee and Tim Gleason played with a broken foot. Skinner had a concussion and Alexander Semin a shoulder problem.

“It’s like we were going up the mountain one side, and then came right down the other,’ Muller said. “Once we hit our injuries we just were not able to get points in games where we actually played better than our opponents. It’s not excuses. It’s reality.”

The NHL draft lottery will be held Monday in Toronto and all 14 non-playoff teams now have a shot at the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina, in the fifth spot, has an 8.1-percent chance of winning the first overall pick, but the draft pool is believed to be a deep one this year.

Rutherford believes the Canes’ top pick should be able to play and help the team next season. But uncertainty surrounds the Hurricanes’ offseason.

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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