RALEIGH — A holiday for most, the Fourth of July was a busy work day for the Carolina Hurricanes and other NHL teams.
Free agency begins Friday at noon. NHL teams will start the scramble to sign players, and hopefully fill needs, from a free-agent pool enlarged by NHL compliance buyouts and teams looking to shed salary with the NHL salary cap shrinking to $64.3 million next season.
Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said he was not sure how active the Canes will be Friday. Rutherford and other GMs could wait until after the initial signing flurry and see what makes sense, both financially and from a roster standpoint.
Its hard to say, Rutherford said Thursday. We were working (Wednesday) and will continue to work, looking at different options what our projections are and what the possibilities are. The options range from free agency to a trade to continuing on the path were on now.
A year ago, the Hurricanes made megabuck offers for free-agent forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter. Both signed with the Minnesota Wild.
If the Canes have targets in mind, they likely will not be as high profile or costly as Parise and Suter. Carolina traded for veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera on Sunday, during the 2013 NHL draft, and Rutherford said Thursday, our focus will continue to be on improving our defense.
Defenseman Andrew Ference of the Boston Bruins and Rob Scuderi of the Los Angeles Kings are due to become unrestricted free agents Friday. Both could fetch longer contracts at bigger salaries than the Canes are willing to pay, and Scuderi could re-sign with the Kings.
Another defensive option for the Canes, Rutherford noted, was inserting former first-round pick Ryan Murphy and Brett Bellemore into the lineup. Murphy has the speed and Bellemore, recently signed to a one-year contract, is a physical type.
We could let Murphy and Bellemore play full seasons, he said.
The Canes have 10 forwards signed to NHL contracts. Among them: Drayson Bowman and Jeremy Welsh, who has a $1 million salary next season.
Forward Elias Lindholm of Sweden, the fifth overall pick of the draft Sunday, is expected to be on the Canes roster. Others who will compete for jobs are forwards who spent a chunk of last season with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL Riley Nash, Zac Dalpe, Brett Sutter and Zach Boychuk.
Rutherford indicated Sunday the Canes are leaning toward having goaltender Justin Peters go into training camp as Cam Wards backup, but he said Thursday the Canes would continue to look at options.
We like Justin a lot and he played some very good games for us as he continues to learn the league, Rutherford said. If the right goalie is there for the right price, wed take a look, although Im not suggesting its a top priority.
Rurherford said sometimes the best bargains and signings can come late. He noted former goalie Arturs Irbe signed with the Canes in September 1998. Irbe played with Carolina until 2004 and helped the Canes reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2002.
There are going to be a lot of goalies this year playing musical chairs, Rutherford said. A few arent going to find an open chair when the music stops.
The Hurricanes have some decisions to make about their own unrestricted free agents, including goalie Dan Ellis. The others are forwards Chad LaRose and Tim Brent; and defensemen Joe Corvo, Bobby Sanguinetti and Marc-Andre Bergeron.
LaRose, 31, has been a part of the organization for many years. A popular player, he was a part of the Canes Stanley Cup run in 2006.
Odds are, LaRose and the Canes will be parting. But Rutherford did not rule out signing one or two others.
Well have a better idea in 48 hours to a week, he said. Some of those guys can still play and help teams, including ours, so well keep an open mind.
Free agency has a different twist to it this year. Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, teams were able to conduct interviews with soon-to-be unrestricted free agents on Wednesday and Thursday, and make verbal agreements.
I dont know that it changed a whole lot, Rutherford said of the interview period. It does give you the chance to get a head start, but the real work will start (Friday.)
As we have seen in the past, some free agents sign right out of the gate and for others it might be a week or a month. If nothing happens (Friday) it doesnt mean we will not continue to work on things and look at options.
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