The NHL Draft is as much about older players as it is the league’s newest generation of players. You can’t put that many general managers in one place without a few trades happening by accident. This summer, with several teams scrambling to get under the declining salary cap, there may never have been more players available.
That’s good news for the Carolina Hurricanes, who need to upgrade their roster in several areas, have some cap space available and maybe even a little money to spend for a change.
Even if the Hurricanes don’t make a deal this weekend in New Jersey, they’ll certainly know who’s available – or is likely to be available once the initial days of free agency sort themselves out, starting Friday.
This is a big weekend for the Hurricanes, and it has nothing to do with who they draft fifth overall Sunday. (The smart play, in what may be the deepest draft in a decade, would be to either trade up for one of the three elite players in the draft – Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin – or down for additional first-round picks.)
There will be opportunities, if not now, then soon. It’s absolutely imperative the Hurricanes act on them.
There are three areas that probably need the most strengthening: defense, third-line center and depth forwards who can kill penalties and win a faceoff or two.
The blue line is in obvious need of a talent injection, and there are free agents like Ron Hainsey and Andrew Ference available, while the Toronto Maple Leafs are rumored to be shopping Dion Phaneuf.
Meanwhile, Marc Staal is a year away from free agency and the New York Rangers just made a coaching change. With concerns over his eye injury and contract status, could the Hurricanes pry a Staal brother loose for the second straight summer?
Neither Phaneuf nor Staal would come cheap. Neither, for that matter, will Hainsey nor Ference or anyone else on the open market. But if the Hurricanes are serious about fixing a defense that was painfully exposed as inadequate after Cam Ward was injured last season, they’re going to have to pay for it. That means spending money, and it may mean giving up either the No. 5 pick or a player like Jeff Skinner.
(The possibility of trading Skinner, as noted at the end of the season, is something the Hurricanes should consider – if, and only if, the return justifies his departure.)
There are probably 28 other teams looking for upgrades on defense, which is almost always the case, so it’s never easy nor cheap – which is one reason why the Hurricanes have procrastinated for years, since the core of the 2002 and 2006 teams aged out of the league. They’ve tried to do it on the cheap (remember Josef Melichar?) and they’ve tried to buy low on players who have underachieved elsewhere, like Joni Pitkanen, without success.
As for the additions forward, it sounds like an easier task, but it rarely is. Some of the names floating around are certainly attractive, but not without their negatives.
A guy like Rich Peverley is the kind of multi-role player the Hurricanes need at forward, and the Boston Bruins are likely going to have to trade him for cap reasons, but he’s making more than $3 million. That would make him the Hurricanes’ sixth-highest paid forward, too much for his role as the roster is currently constructed.
Then again, teams that play for the Stanley Cup two out of the past three years are willing to pay that kind of money to that kind of player.
The Hurricanes have talked a good game about increasing their payroll, fixing the defense and getting a better mix of forwards. The time has come to get to work. The time has come to back those words with action.