The past week has been the usual exercise of teams rapidly cutting players to reach an opening night roster of 22-23 players. Most of the players who are cut are young prospects most of whom were not expected to compete for roster spots this season but are expected to be back within the next couple years. But amongst the cuts are also a collection of older players looking for another season in the NHL, fringe AHL/NHL players hoping to finally stick in the big leagues and a few players whose contracts are out of whack with their current value by so much that the owning team tries waivers hoping to just give them away.
In recent years, the combination of players not being good enough to make other teams sticking on the Canes and players who were pretty recently in significant roles in Raleigh being passed on as a free pick up by all 30 teams is striking commentary on the Canes lack of depth. It also makes it fairly obvious why the Canes keep missing the playoffs. Seemingly players who are at least in the hunt to play for the Canes often cannot elsewhere. And players who are not good enough to make the roster in other places can make and even climb the roster with the Canes.
Consider that this summer 4 defensemen who recently logged top 4 ice time with the Canes were not good enough to make another NHL roster:
–Jay Harrison who was ideally a #5/#6 defenseman but did see decent stints in the top 4 in Raleigh was put on waivers by Winnipeg as not good enough to make their roster as a character-strong, experienced veteran at a reasonable price. Tonight will tell if someone else can squeeze him onto their roster.
–Brett Bellemore who was a regular top 4 next Ron Hainsey in 2013-14 took a tryout with the Rangers this summer and ultimately ended up back in the AHL after clearing a waivers options given to all 30 teams.
–Tim Gleason who was actually pretty good in a Canes uniform in 2014-15 playing some in a top 4 role next to John-Michael Liles and also playing a part in a strong penalty kill unit, is still unsigned. With Gleason it is largely about age and being at the end of his career, but it is still startling that a player who managed to climb into the top 4 in Raleigh is not even a quality, experienced #6 or #7 elsewhere only a half year later.
–Jamie McBain who was once 1 of the most promising Canes prospects on defense has turned into a journeyman depth defenseman who again saw the waiver wire today.
The waiver wire for depth AHL/NHL forwards seems to be a who’s who of former Canes top prospects.
–Zac Dalpe and Jeremy Welsh both flew across waivers earlier this fall.
–Zach Boychuk who remains with the Hurricanes (in Charlotte) was passed on by other teams.
–Patrick Dwyer who is only 32 and saw ice time up on Jordan Staal’s second line only 2 seasons ago seems like he could be headed for retirement after being released from a tryout with Arizona.
–Chad LaRose seems to be finished again after a return in Charlotte last year. He is only 33.
And on the pickup front:
–Andrej Nestrasil was added by the Canes when he was not good enough to make the top 13 on Detroit’s roster last fall. Yet he was instantly in the mix for top 6 slots when the Canes started shuffling lines to try to find offense last year.
–Kris Versteeg was let go largely for salary cap reasons when his $2.2 million salary was a bit steep for a player likely to play on a third or possibly even fourth line on a deep and talented Blackhawks club. He parachuted directly into top line duty with the Canes.
–Joakim Nordstrom was also added in the same Blackhawks trade. The Hawks did the math and saw the writing on the wall that he was probably #14 or #15 on their depth chart (i.e. the AHL) and let him go. He immediately leapfrogged the young depth forwards in the Canes system and seized a fourth line roster spot.
–The ones the Canes kept. The fate of the players who were one notch below them and only modest NHL production even raises the question of if players like Andrej Nestrasil, Chris Terry and Riley Nash have truly risen to be good NHL players or if they have instead just benefited from the lack of other options. The Canes record the past few years suggests it is at least possible that these players really are not at the same level as similarly slotted players on other teams.
There are obviously individual circumstances with each player (age, contract, needs of the team trying him out, etc.), but when the story of players who are roster players, even top half of the roster players, with the Canes leave and cannot even find NHL work elsewhere, it is a damning statement about the quality of the team’s quality and depth right now.
The positive on this situation is that Ron Francis is obviously working to address this issue and doing it in the right way. He has been keeping his own draft picks instead of using them as currency to try to patch holes. He was pretty aggressive selling off assets at the trade deadline to add more young depth. Especially with the blue line that continues to rate as both high volume and high quality, the Canes seem to be getting closer.
Just maybe the blue line can get there in 2 years, and Ron Francis can shift focus to the forward position and restock there as well. Here is hoping that one day not too far in the future, the Hurricanes are the team with too many decent young players such that they have to trade a couple or even risk losing them on waivers. It will be a sign that the team has caught up in terms of its system and the depth and quality of its roster.