Free agency kicked off with a bang on Friday at high noon, and by the end of the day it looked like a successful garage sale with just a few random odds and ends still strewn about.
By my math, the Hurricanes filled 2 of the 3 roster spots that they had open. Once restricted free agents Victor Rask and Ryan Murphy are signed, the Hurricanes will have 13 forwards, 6 defenseman and 2 goalies under contract. While I think it is possible that the Canes GM Ron Francis could still explore options to upgrade at forward and even possibly in net, I would not expect him to increase the roster count by simply adding a free agent at either position.
Still possibly work to do finalizing the blue line for the 2016-17 season and also next summer’s expansion draft
But there might still be work to do building out the 2016-17 blue line. On Sunday, the Hurricanes signed 26-year old defenseman Matt Tennyson. I will be listening for how Francis positions him in his next media discussions.
While it is possible that Tennyson is the last piece on defense and expected to win a #7 role at the NHL level, I continue to think that the Canes need and hopefully will add 1 more proven NHL defenseman to the mix for 3 reasons. First, it makes little sense to put a still-developing player like Trevor Carrick, Haydn Fleury or Roland McKeown in the #7 slot ad up in the press box when he could instead be playing 20+ minutes per game in Charlotte. Important to note is that Tennyson could be the solution to this potential problem. Second, I think the Hurricanes could use another veteran on a blue line that is suddenly pretty thin after the buy out of James Wisniewski. The current set of 6 features 4 players who are still very early in their NHL development.
Finally, at some time between now and next June, the Hurricanes need to add an ‘expansion draft shield’ who meets the requirement to expose an experienced defenseman to next summer’s expansion draft. The penalty for not having such a player on the roster when the expansion draft rolls around is that the Canes would be forced to expose 1 of their young core defensemen. Solving this problem would require adding a player on a 2-year contract who either plays at least 40 games in both 2015-16 and 2016-17 or plays a total of 70 games between the 2 seasons. I wrote about this situation and a couple options a few weeks ago HERE.
Salary math and considerations
In shopping for a #7 depth defenseman, ideally the budget is around $1 million per season for a 2-year deal for expansion draft reasons. I already left Kris Russell off the list altogether because he is expected to price much higher. A couple of the other options listed below are veterans who could have more value to a couple of the teams still desperate to improve their blue line. So when one of these players comes off the board for a deal priced at $2.5 million per year, best is just to shrug and realize that he was not a possibility. The budget makes this exercise more about being opportunistic than aggressive. Setting standards for a #4 but a budget and also time in free agency for a #7 obviously does not match up.
As an aside, what would be really cool is if Francis could sign this player to a 2-year deal that is a bit back loaded. If the average price was to be $1.2 million per year, signing a contract for $800,000 this season and then $1.6 million the following would be interesting. This would save some $ if the player is selected in the expansion draft. (I actually doubt that will happen. The Canes will likely need to make a younger forward available who would be a more enticing option for a new team.) Alternatively, if the Canes kids on D continue to develop, it might make sense to trade this player after the expansion draft passes next summer.
In order of preference, here are the best remaining options:
Injuries limited Quincey’s 2015-16 campaign in Detroit, but he still averaged 19:45 of ice time in Detroit. He is only 30 years old and still probably rates as a borderline top 4 defenseman. If he does not price above the Canes role with a 3-year deal or too much $, he could be a very heady depth addition in the form of a player who could still legitimately compete for a top 4 role in an open tryout. He is a strong-skating mobile defenseman whose skill set fits in Peters uptempo style.
Ability to meet 40/40 or 70 over 2 seasons for ‘expansion draft shield’: Quincey was limited to 47 games in 2015-16, so he would need to play at least 23 games in 2016-17 to meet the 70-game requirement and be the experienced defenseman that the Canes expose in the expansion draft. Of my list, he carries the greatest risk of having a preseason or early season injury and not reaching the minimum 70 games to qualify as an ‘expansion draft shield’ next summer.
Bartkowski averaged 18:37 of ice time in 80 games with the Canucks in 2015-16 in a regular role on the blue line. I am not sure he is an every night top 4 on a team trying to make the playoffs, but the Canes are simply looking for depth. If the price is right, he could fit the bill. He is a good skater and can both carry and move the puck which is a decent fit for Bill Peters’ uptempo system.
Ability to meet 40/40 or 70 over 2 seasons for ‘expansion draft shield’: Bartkowski logged 80 games in 2015-16, so he is already certain to meet the experience requirements to be a veteran defenseman to expose and therefore protect the Canes young core on defense.
He is a hard one to judge. On the one hand, he was bumped down and nearly off the Lightning depth chart and bought out this summer. That is obviously not a positive. But it is important to also consider that the Lightning are deep with veteran defensmen and that the buy out was a function of Yzerman’s financial maneuvering to make room for big contracts for Stamkos, Hedman and Vasilevskiy. Carle is only 31 years old, is still at least average in terms of skating ability and was fairly recently a serviceable top 4 defenseman. Interesting will be to see how far his stock has fallen and if there is a 2-3-year deal out there for more money than the Hurricanes can afford to pay for this role.
Ability to meet 40/40 or 70 over 2 seasons for ‘expansion draft shield’: Carle played 64 games in 2015-16, so he will require only 6 games for 2016-17 to become eligible.
Schultz is the most talented offensive player still on the board, but the flip side is that if Francis wants to add a safe and sound, “won’t kill you” type defenseman who can just quietly take a few sheltered third pairing minutes without incident Schults is not that player. He is the poster child for why NHL GMs should not go overboard winning usually bad bidding wars to win the services of college free agents. When signed, he seemed to be labeled as a can’t miss, and soon after he was paid accordingly. In his rookie season in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he posted an impressive 27 points in 48 games. But he never really figured out the defense part of the defenseman role, and his production and role has shrunk since then. He finished the 2015-16 season as a depth defenseman for the Penguins on their run to winning the Cup. I think the interesting thing about Schultz is that if you think/hope Ryan Murphy is going to seize a role as an offensive skating right shot defenseman as buying out Wisniewski might indicate, Schultz’s skill set is very similar as a plan B for the exact same project.
Ability to meet 40/40 or 70 over 2 seasons for ‘expansion draft shield’: Schultz played 63 games last season. Needing to play 7 games in 2016-17 has some risk, but as long as he is not suffer a full-season injury in training camp or early in the season, he should qualify.
At 35 years old and with a ton of hard miles on his resume, Jackman would add a grizzled veteran, a strong locker room character and a physical presence when in the lineup. The question is whether he is still serviceable in that important role of still playing defense at this stage of his career.
Ability to meet 40/40 or 70 over 2 seasons for ‘expansion draft shield’: Jackman played 73 games in the NHL last season, so he is another player who already meets the 70-game over 2 season requirement.
Like Jackman and Carle, former Hurricane Dennis Seidenberg is another from the list of veteran defenseman who were bought out this summer. He was once a solid complementary top 4 playing Robin to Joni Pitkanen’s Batman with the upstart 2008-09 Hurricanes and then being a regular partner for Bruins #1 Zdeno Chara on and off during his time in Boston. He will be 35 years old when the 2016-17 season starts. From watching him last season, my fear is that injuries, age and his rugged style of play have taken too much of a toll mobility-wise for him to be more than a #7. But then depending on what happens with better options, maybe that is enough for the Hurricanes.
Ability to meet 40/40 or 70 over 2 seasons for ‘expansion draft shield‘: Seidenberg logged 61 games in 2015-16, so he would need only 9 more in 2016-17 to meet the 70 requirement.
Especially if you consider the need to fairly easily qualify for the ‘expansion draft shield’ role next summer, there really is not much, if anything, else on the free agent market. There is always the possibility to explore the trade market or give Tennyson a go to start the season.
Do you think Matt Tennyson is intended to be a final addition on defense? If not, who do you think the Canes should pursue?