Toward the beginning of the 2016-17 tryout that started after the trade deadline saw 3 veteran players depart via trade, I posted an early assessment of who I would keep and who I would let go from among the many Canes veterans scheduled to become free agents at the end of the season.
In the games after that assessment, Chris Terry was perhaps the most interesting. He had an impressive 5-game point streak but then finished the season pointless in the last 7 games probably offsetting whatever he gained from the short offensive burst.
My starting point for ‘stay or go’ for the Canes free agents at forward starts with what I think the Hurricanes need from their last 2-3 roster spots. If the Canes had plenty of proven scoring from its top 9 forwards, it might make sense to stock the fourth line with old school spark plugs. That is not the case. The Canes finished 27th in goal scoring and need to work all possibilities to boost scoring for the 2016-17 season. Because of the need for offense, I think the team will be best served by using the last 2-3 roster spots at forward on players who at least have the potential to score at a third line or better production level. Francis will not have the budget to add sure thing scoring for the last couple forwards, but there are 2 other options. First is to find a veteran or 2 with scoring potential who had down 2015-16 seasons that makes them affordable. Second would be to use a young player or 2 with above average scoring potential in 2 of the fourth line slots.
Put more simply, a key evaluation point for the Canes 2015-16 forwards is whether or not they have the potential to provide at least solid depth scoring for 2016-17.
In this post, I will discuss the veteran and more experienced young players who are scheduled to become free agents this summer. In another post, I will discuss the AHL-level prospects who had NHL auditions in March and April.
Chris Terry – Go
Despite his nice 5-game run in March, he just did not provide enough offense with 8 goals and 3 assists in 68 games. Further, his below average speed is not a great fit for Bill Peters’ up tempo system. As a known commodity who knows the system, I would be happy to have him back on a 2-way contract to compete for a roster spot in training camp but most likely being slotted at #14 or #15 as ready depth in Charlotte.
Nathan Gerbe – Go
His 16 goals and 15 assists in 2013-14 would be exactly the depth scoring that the Canes need from the fourth line, but after a decline to only 10 goals in 2014-15 and then only 3 goals in 47 games in 2015-16, his scoring is in decline. I think the Canes can do better both in terms of depth scoring by looking elsewhere this summer.
Brad Malone – Go
In his role providing energy, physical play and a willingness to drop the gloves when needed, I think Malone actually had a pretty good 2015-16 for his role. But in an NHL that has less need for a limited enforcer and with the Canes need for offense, Malone and his 2 goals and 4 assists in 57 games in 2015-16 are not enough to earn a new contract if I am Ron Francis.
Riley Nash – Stay
Of the veteran free agents, he is the 1 that I would re-sign. His versatility across the board is helpful. He is a natural center but also looked okay at right wing this past season. He showed promise in a penalty kill role for part of the year and also contributed on the power play. His skating ability and 2-way play also enables him to play on a defensive line. Finally, considering my top priority, his 22 points in 64 games projects to a respectable 28 points over 82 games.
Defense and Goalie
Michal Jordan – Go unless he will take a 2-way contract
I put Jordan in the same category as Chris Terry. I would be happy to have him back on a 2-way contract to be a #8 or #9 defenseman ready in Charlotte if the injury bug hits, but I would not offer him a 1-way contract.
Cam Ward – Preference is to try to upgrade
My preference is to seek an upgrade over Cam Ward for the second goalie slot. With minimal options on the free agent market and potentially high prices for a couple trade options, the question is whether it is possible to upgrade over Ward without spending a fortune (in terms of contract and/or trade assets) or possibly committing to a risky contract to land someone like James Reimer. I would shop the other options first, but I acknowledge that at some price, buying another year or 2 with Ward could prove to be the best option.
Either tomorrow or soon, I will offer my thoughts on which of the younger prospects/rookies did the most in March to boost his chances to make the 2016-17 roster or be the first call up in the case of an injury.