Wednesday, June 30, 2010
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
Email Puck Drops
In January of 2000, Jim Rutherford had a problem.
His captain, Keith Primeau, was holding out and had yet to play a game in Raleigh; even though the RBC Center had opened three months prior, the team's captain had not yet seen the home locker room in the new building. The well was so poisoned between the Canes and Primeau that Rutherford had little choice but to shop his captain to the rest of the league. Finally, after an excruciatingly long three months that cast a pall over the team finally being home in Raleigh, Rutherford pulled the trigger to acquire an injured player, a prospect and a draft pick, an indication of just how far Primeau's stock had fallen.
Ten years, two contracts, 299 assists, three division titles, two Prince of Wales Trophies, two Selke Trophies and a Stanley Cup later, that injured player retired, likely on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Rod Brind'Amour's retirement today was not unexpected. Ever since tearing his ACL in a February 2008 collision with Montreal's Georges Laraque, Brind'Amour has been slowing down, and with the Hurricanes poised to go considerably younger next season (to wit: with the expected departures of Ray Whitney and Brian Pothier, the old man of the roster next year will be 32-year-old Sergei Samsonov), his role has diminished to the point that a buyout seemed increasingly likely.
But it's obvious from talking with both Brind'Amour and Rutherford that this was the most agonizing hockey decision either man has ever faced. Rutherford brought up the experience of dealing with Steve Chiasson's death in saying that this isn't the most difficult situation he's ever faced as a GM, but in terms of actual on-ice scenarios, nothing compares to this. How do you tell the man who's been the face of the franchise since at least 2004, the man who captained your team to its only Stanley Cup, that he no longer has a role on the roster?
You don't. You let the decision make itself. Today, that decision was made, not by Brind'Amour or Rutherford on their own, but by the circumstances surrounding the two men. Rutherford said to Brind'Amour, we think it's time. Brind'Amour said to Rutherford, I think it's time. And so, it was time.
When Brind'Amour arrived in Raleigh, it was just before that famous 20-inch snowstorm that shut the city down for the better part of two weeks. The snow's arrival felt to Raleigh natives much the same way Brind'Amour felt toward the city he'd been traded to: cold, unfamiliar, difficult to comprehend. He himself admitted today that he had every intention of hitting the highway approximately six seconds after his contract expired in July of 2002, but then a funny thing happened: he grew to first respect, then like, then love, the area and the Hurricanes franchise.
By the time the extension that he signed in 2001 expired, he had won a Stanley Cup, and his name had become synonymous with Hurricanes hockey. Who'd have thought that?
Check out the picture of Brind'Amour with Ron Francis and Glen Wesley on the ice in Toronto in 2002. You can almost see it in his face: "We won an Eastern Conference title? A team from Raleigh, North Carolina? Maybe there's something here after all."
There's going to be a debate in days to come as to who the greatest Hurricane of all time should be. If we're restricting things to players since the Canes moved to North Carolina in 1997, there's no question. Rod Brind'Amour is the greatest Carolina Hurricane of all time. Greater than Francis. Greater than Wesley. Greater than any other player who have put the jersey on in the past thirteen years.
Brind'Amour may not have wanted to hang up the skates. He thought that he still had something to give. But in the end, he did what a captain always does: he did what was best for the team.
Eric Staal is now the captain. He has every chance to surpass Brind'Amour and be the fourth jersey in the rafters of the RBC Center. But as of right now, he might be the captain, but he is not The Captain. That's an honor reserved for the man who was so impatient for Gary Bettman to finish his accolades on June 19, 2006 that he ripped the Cup out of Bettman's hands before the photo ops were even completed.
That's The Captain. And at the risk of hyperbole, it's not unfair to say that an era ended today.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
Email Puck Drops
One of my favorite tweeters is a fellow who I only know as Puck Sage. He (?) is a Bruins fan who does a great job of covering and commenting on his hometown team, while reaching out into the rest of the NHL every so often. After his Bruins were unceremoniously dumped in the East semifinals, becoming the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead since the 1975 Penguins, he turned his attention to free agency with a cool contest that I figured I'd try my luck at.
There are four aspects to the contest. The rules are listed here; I won't list them again to save some space, but you'll need to refer back to them to figure out what the heck I'm talking about.
Here goes nothing...
Part 1: The First Domino
Forward: I might be called a homer for this pick, but I'm going to go with Matt Cullen. Here's why: we know Kovalchuk won't be the first to sign. He'll sign on July 1, no doubt, but it will be later in the day. That rules out guys like Whitney and Frolov signing early, because they're going to have to wait until Kovalchuk sets the market. Cullen is the type of player that teams like to target right off the bat. He signed early with the Rangers in 2006, and I think he'll probably do the same on Thursday.
Defenseman: Doubt it will be either Martin or Volchenkov, so I'm going to go with Willie Mitchell. Like Cullen, he's probably already being targeted by at least a couple of teams, and someone will snap him up quickly. A wild card is Henrik Tallinder, who I could see being signed early if he doesn't re-sign with Buffalo.
Goalie: I don't think it will take too long for Marty Turco to find a new home. And I'll go ahead and throw this out there: I think he goes to San Jose.
Part 2: Team UFA
Short and sweet:
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
Email Puck Drops
For a couple of hours on Tuesday, there was a good bit of confusion in the Twitterverse about when a player needs to clear waivers to be eligible for a buyout. Since the blog doesn't have a 140-character limit, it's easier to explain here than it is over the course of five or six tweets, so here goes.
The governing rule of buyouts is paragraph 13 of the Standard Player's Contract, which is (obviously) a standardized contract that every player in the NHL signs and is specified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here's what it says about buyouts:
So in English, that means that A, B, and C all must happen, but -- and here's the key -- they aren't required to happen in that order. The most important things in the above are that (1) the player must be placed on waivers and (2) the buyout form must be into the NHLPA and the NHL Central Registry by 5pm Eastern on June 30. As long as those two things happen by 5pm Eastern on June 30, the buyout is valid no matter when the player actually clears waivers.
(a) The Club shall offer the Player on Unconditional Waivers, either before or promptly after the notice of intention to exercise the Ordinary Course Buy-Out option (herein called "notice of termination") is given.
(b) Termination pursuant to this Paragraph shall be effective upon receipt by the Player of the notice of termination and the Player clearing Unconditional Waivers pursuant to Paragraph 13(a) above.
(c) The notice of termination shall be effective if given in the form attached as Exhibit 20, with a copy faxed to the NHLPA and Central Registry as follows:
(i) beginning the later of June 15 or forty-eight (48) hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals and ending at 5:00 p.m. New York time on June 30; and
(ii) For Clubs who have Club or Player elected Salary Arbitration filings pursuant to Article 12, within the forty-eight (48) hour period beginning on the third day following the later of:
(i) the Club's receipt of its last salary arbitration award; or
(ii) settlement of its last case (provided such award was received or such settlement occurred after 7:00 p.m. New York time; awards or settlements that occurred or were received after 7:00 p.m. New York time will be deemed to have occurred or received the following business day for purposes of this provision).
A quick note on waivers. Players placed on waivers must be available for no less than 24 hours, and the waiver wire processes daily at noon. So a player placed on waivers at 11:58 am on Tuesday will hit the wire at noon Tuesday and clear at noon Wednesday, but a player placed on waivers at 12:02 pm Tuesday will hit the wire at noon Wednesday and will clear at noon Thursday.
The understanding of plenty of media members and agents, self included, was that the player must clear waivers by 5pm on June 30 to be eligible for a buyout. The "promptly after" clause of paragraph A above indicates that the buyout may be performed in the reverse order, and while "promptly after" is not defined, in practice it means that a player can be placed on waivers at the same time as the buyout notification. That effectively makes the buyout deadline noon on June 30, because the player must hit the waiver wire on June 30 to make the buyout valid.
A second buyout window opens if the team involved has two or more players involved in salary arbitration, whether it's player- or club-elected arbitration. This is the window in which the Canes bought out Frantisek Kaberle last offseason. The window opens three days after the final case is settled, and closes 48 hours later. The Canes have four players eligible for arbitration this season: Justin Peters, Justin Pogge, Bryan Rodney and Casey Borer. If two of these players elect arbitration, or if the Canes elect arbitration for two of them (or one apiece), the second buyout window will come into play and the Canes will have the ability to buy out a player after the cases are settled or after the players involved sign new deals that avoid arbitration.
Hope all this makes sense. It's not easy to parse, and as we learned today, even veteran hockey minds can be confused by the mind-numbing legalese of the CBA.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
Email Puck Drops
In a relatively quiet draft day in terms of player movement via trades, the Canes made waves a couple of times throughout the day. As mentioned earlier, the Canes moved their second pick of the 2nd round, number 45 overall, to Edmonton for Cornell center Riley Nash, a former first-round pick who just completed his junior season at Harvard University. Nash projects to a third-line center who won't put up astronomical numbers but is a solid two-way forward in the mold of an undersized Ryan Kesler. Assistant GM Ron Francis is unsure whether Nash will stay for his senior season with the Big Red, but he was having trouble agreeing to a contract with the Oilers and he may have one foot out the door already. If he leaves Cornell, Nash will fall in line with the likes of Zac Dalpe and Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll as candidates for callups from Charlotte next season.
The biggest trade of the day (and really, that's a commentary on how quiet the trade market was today) saw the Canes acquire defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti from the New York Rangers for a sixth round pick this year plus Washington's second rounder next year, previously acquired as part of the Joe Corvo trade at this year's trade deadline. Sanguinetti is one of the not-quite-ready for prime time players Jim Rutherford loves to stock up on; he's developed in the Rangers' system, making his NHL debut this past season, and is a self-described offensive defenseman with a good transition game yet is defensively solid in his own end. If that sounds to you like a description of Joni Pitkanen, you're not the only one who thought that. Sanguinetti said that while he was disappointed to leave the Rangers, he had mentioned to them that he wouldn't mind being moved given the Blueshirts' logjam on defense with unsigned RFA Marc Staal, Michael del Zotto and Matt Gilroy all standing in the way of getting Sanguinetti regular NHL playing time. Sanguinetti is signed through next season with an NHL salary of $765,000 on his entry-level deal.
With the addition of Sanguinetti to the Canes defense corps, they now have four former first-round draft picks on their defense, including the impending re-signing of Anton Babchuk. Pitkanen and Tim Gleason are the other rearguards chosen in the first round, and a roster spot is almost certainly Sanguinetti's to lose at training camp. It sounds like with the acquisition of Sanguinetti and the eventual signing of Babchuk, Rutherford is basically casting his lot with this group next season, plus maybe Brian Pothier if the Canes can make the numbers work. He ruled out any quick strikes in free agency, although he said they'd sniff around in late July or early August if any bargains fall through the cracks. If they do, expect an Andrew Alberts-type signing, a near-minimum-wage signing that will keep the Canes well within their budgetary constraints.
Late in the day, the Canes flipped Washington's seventh round pick, previously acquired for Scott Walker, to Philadelphia (and it's been a while since the Canes made a deal with their one-time frequent trading partner) for AHL center Jonathan Matsumoto. A player the Canes have had their eyes on for a while, Matsumoto scored 30 goals for the Flyers' AHL team this season but he was stuck in a similar logjam as Sanguinetti; with Mike Richards, Claude Giroux and presumably Jeff Carter all signed in Philly there was no space for Matsumoto. Rutherford said that Matsumoto will be a depth center, so it's likely that he will start 2010 in Charlotte but he'll be on the short list of potential callups. Matsumoto is a restricted free agent on Thursday, partly explaining his bargain-basement price on the trade market, and he had an NHL salary of $550,000 last year although he has yet to play a game in the NHL.
It seems obvious that the Canes are planning for life without Rod Brind'Amour, and while a buyout seems increasingly unlikely the Canes are lining up potential replacements to fit in behind Eric Staal and Brandon Sutter, if not this season then next for sure.
Now the Canes will turn their attention to free agency, with a haul of players who will be without a contract on Thursday. In addition to the news today that Brett Carson and Alexandre Picard will be tendered qualifying offers, we expect offers to also hit the mailboxes of Matsumoto, Bryan Rodney, Justin Pogge, Justin Peters and Casey Borer. It wouldn't surprise me to see Nick Dodge and Nicolas Blanchard the odd men out, although both could certainly receive offers. Among the unrestricted free agents, only Michael Ryan and Tim Conboy seem like players who may return to the organization, plus Pothier if the Canes can fit him in their budget. Ray Whitney is not coming back; you can take that to the bank.
We'll be back if and when the Canes make a splash in the free agent market...
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
Email Puck Drops
On Friday night, Jim Rutherford told us that he planned to take two defensemen among his three second round draft picks. Mission accomplished, with a trade thrown into the mix as well.
At number 37 the Canes took U.S. under-18 team defenseman Justin Faulk, who is committed to Minnesota-Duluth next season. Faulk describes himself as a good all-around defenseman who can shoot and skate well, with good offensive instincts. GM Jim Rutherford told the media that Faulk was the player they had targeted at 37 and were quite pleased to see him fall to them without needing to move around. Click for audio from Faulk's media conference call.
The Canes traded their second pick of the round, #45 overall, to Edmonton for center Riley Nash; more on him in a bit. To finish the round out, the Canes selected Minnesota high school defenseman Mark Alt, a big (6'3"), powerful rearguard who was recruited to the University of Iowa as a quarterback; he played both hockey and football in high school. He has a long way to go to make the NHL, but with that kind of size in high school he could eventually serve in a shutdown defenseman role. Alt will attend the University of Minnesota next season.
In the third round, the Canes again went for defense, taking Harvard freshman defenseman Danny Biega, the youngest of three brothers playing on the Crimson hockey team. Biega, a Montreal native, told us that he thought Carolina was an option to draft him, and was thrilled at how things turned out. He describes himself as a hybrid defenseman who enjoys jumping up on the play but also has a sound defensive foundation. The International Scouting Service scouting report on Biega noted that he goes looking for the big hit sometimes, and Biega said that his hitting ability is something he can use to contribute both defensively and as a momentum-shifter. He plans to play at least one more season at Harvard, but after that he said that his options are open and it sounded like he may have one eye on going professional in 2011. Click here for Biega's call with the media.
An annual rite of passage, it seems, is the Canes taking a player from the Plymouth Whalers, the Ontario Hockey League team that Canes owner Peter Karmanos also owns. This year, the token Whaler was defenseman Austin Levi, a stay-at-home defenseman taken at number 85, late in the third round. Levi admitted to the media that he was caught off-guard when his name was called because he was busy texting his teammate Scott Wedgewood, a Plymouth goaltender who went one pick before Levi to New Jersey. Despite the connection with common ownership, Levi was caught by surprise when his name was called, and he described himself as a stay-at-home defenseman who was just now coming around to worrying about offensive contributions. If he makes the NHL, it will be as a defensive specialist or penalty killer; it's doubtful he ever develops a true two-way game. Click here for Levi's media call.
The Canes' fourth round pick, Windsor Spitfires left wing Justin Shugg, was a steal at number 105. Shugg was projected as a mid third-rounder, at the latest, and the Canes were pleasantly surprised that he fell to them early in the fourth round. He was also the first forward the Canes took since drafting Jeff Skinner in the first round, so the team's priorities on defense were quite obvious. Shugg spent the OHL playoffs riding shotgun on first-overall pick Taylor Hall's line, but in the regular season he played most of the time on the third line and so he told us he takes a lot of accomplishment and pride in his defensive game. Shugg is a potential captain of the Spitfires next season, and will be among those leading the charge to win Windsor an unprecedented third straight Memorial Cup. Click for Shugg's conference call with the media.
Two more draft picks rounded out the Canes' draft. In the sixth round, they took a Stahl to go along with their two Staals. Chilliwack Bruins (WHL) defenseman Taylor Stahl racked up 146 penalty minutes, but only scored six points this season, so if he makes it to the NHL it will probably be as an enforcer. In the seventh round, the Canes took Danish goaltender Frederik Andersen, who played well at the World Championships a month ago and (trivia question!) is the first Danish player the Canes franchise has ever drafted.
Overall, it was a good if slightly disappointing haul for the Canes. They got a surefire NHLer in Jeff Skinner at number 7, and they indeed loaded up on defensemen like they promised they would on day two, but none of the drafted defensemen really jump off the page and project to a long NHL career. Of the defensemen, Justin Faulk and Danny Biega seem like the most promising prospects, with Mark Alt an outside shot many years down the road. I would be surprised if Levi (an incredible reach in the third round; he probably would have been available in the 5th, if not later) and Stahl ever play an NHL game, and Shugg has AAAA player written all over him; like Keith Aucoin and, to an extent, Patrick Dwyer, he will likely light the AHL on fire and be a serviceable NHL fill-in, but never pan out to anything of consequence. Andersen is nothing more than depth in goal; with Mike Murphy, Justin Pogge and Justin Peters all in the pipeline the Canes have plenty of organizational depth at goaltender.
Back in a second with a breakdown of the trades…
Friday, June 25, 2010
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
Email Puck Drops
It wasn't outside the realm of possibility that the Canes would have at least one of the top three defensemen in the draft when their turn to pick came around at number 7. Two of them indeed fell to them, but the Canes went off the board and took Jeff Skinner, an undersized left wing who was the leading scorer in the Ontario Hockey League this season.
Skinner told the media that he didn't know what to expect today, and tried to prepare himself for the unexpected. "At any point when you get drafted, you try to not be surprised and excited," he said, "but you can't help but be excited and surprised" at finally being selected. He met with the Canes once before the draft, and he said it was a very good meeting.
He expects to get bigger and faster over the summer and to do "whatever it takes" (sound familiar?) to make his success translate to the NHL. A center by trade in the OHL, he said that he would prefer to play the pivot in the NHL, but he would be willing to play anywhere the team asked him to. A self described "competitive" player, he said a few times that he hates to lose and is driven to succeed.
Oh, and this: Skinner was a figure skater in a former life, and while he said that the training he received there helped his balance and agility in hockey, he admitted that he gets good-natured ribbing from his teammates about his former occupation. (No doubt that will continue in the NHL, right?)
As for Jim Rutherford, it was a bit of a surprise to all of us but Rutherford said that Skinner rated behind only Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin on the team's chart. Rutherford described Skinner as a "great competitor with great character", and remarking on Skinner's scoring output Rutherford said "anyone who scores 50 goals in his draft year is impressive, but more impressive is his 20 goals in 20 playoff games. We talked to a couple of OHL coaches, and they all said that this guy is very difficult to shut down."
Rutherford had hinted that the guy they had their eye on had potential to play in the NHL next year, and he didn't back off that tonight. "With the transition of our team, the opportunity will be there. We will watch him closely in camp, but the big advantage is that physically he is as fit as anyone his age, and he is ready to take the next step to the NHL."
When asked why Skinner over Brandon Gormley or Cam Fowler, the two defensemen who were free-falling through the first round when the Canes' number came up, Rutherford couldn't give a concrete answer, saying that the team liked all three players and simply felt Skinner was a better fit. He did say, though, that the Canes attempted to trade back into the first round and grab one of the defensemen, but were unsuccessful in doing so.
In tomorrow's second round, where the Canes have three picks, Rutherford expects the team to take at least two defensemen. He isn't specifically ruling out trades, but there's a high likelihood that the Canes will stay put with their three picks. They plan to go off their list with regard to ratings, so don't be surprised to see a surprise or two tomorrow.
We'll be back tomorrow for more fun and excitement...
Saturday, June 12, 2010
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
Email Puck Drops
Two bits of news from the corner office at the RBC Center this week that seem to indicate the Canes are at least leaning toward a youth movement for 2010-11, if not yet committing to it wholeheartedly.
First, the smoke signals seem to indicate that Ray Whitney's time with the Canes may be numbered. Chip Alexander talked to both Whitney and GM Jim Rutherford earlier this week, and reading between the lines it seems that Whitney and the Canes aren't seeing eye-to-eye on Whitney's potential earnings, never mind discussing the length of any new contract. Sources I've spoken to also indicate that Whitney may be at the end of his road with the Canes, with the Canes hesitant to give Whitney a significant salary and Whitney believing (almost certainly correctly) that he will command a hefty salary on the open market.
The skeptical types might say, correctly, that last year the Canes said the same thing about Erik Cole and Chad LaRose, essentially writing both of them off before re-signing them early in the free-agency period. The difference, though, is that last year the Canes were preparing for a playoff run that never came, and believing that the team who lost to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference final in 2009 could repeat history simply by coming back together was the prime motivation for re-signing Cole and LaRose. This year, the three things that matter on Edwards Mill are the budget, the budget and the budget; Whitney at anything other than a significant discount from his $3.55 million salary for 2009-10 doesn't fit with any of those three goals.
Then today, Rutherford told Chip that the backup goalie question has been settled and Justin Peters has been anointed the backup goaltender for 2010-11, leaving Manny Legace to pursue an NHL contract elsewhere that he almost certainly earned after swooping in and saving the day when Cam Ward was hurt in November. This is all well and good, and indicates that for the first time in a while (probably since the 2003 offseason) the Canes aren't going to look to plug holes with veterans; as we learned the past few years with the likes of Trevor Letowski, Andrew Hutchinson, John Grahame and Stephane Yelle, that idea seems to be the proverbial good idea in theory that never pans out well in practice.
A disturbing trend of Paul Maurice-coached teams is the propensity to play the #1 goaltender in a high number of games. In ten full seasons as an NHL head coach, Maurice has played his #1 goalie in more than 60 games six times, topped by Arturs Irbe's ridiculous 77-appearance 2000-01 season, tied for third all-time in NHL history in games played by a goalie. Including the 2008-09 season, when Maurice took over in December and coached the final 57 games (or nearly 70%) of the season, the number rises to seven in eleven seasons.
Here's the full list:
2000-01: Arturs Irbe, 77 GP
1999-2000: Irbe, 75 GP
2006-07: Andrew Raycroft, 72 GP
(2008-09: Cam Ward, 68 GP)
2003-04: Kevin Weekes, 66 GP
2007-08: Vesa Toskala, 66 GP
1998-99: Irbe, 62 GP
The last thing the Canes need is for Peters to sit on the bench and make eighteen appearances in a season. However, getting Maurice to change his ways in regards to goaltenders has proven difficult in the past. Even this past season, when Ward was limited to 47 games due to various injuries, over half of those games came in one stretch when he started 24 in a row from December 16 until February 3, after which his back started acting up and he hit the bench for two months. With Legace as the backup, 24 straight starts is still a very long stretch, but it's at least sort of OK since Legace is in no need of further development as an NHL goalie. With Peters serving as Ward's caddy, his development will be severely stunted if he goes two months without seeing live fire in a game.
As I wrote at the start of the season, Canes backups have generally fallen into two categories: fall-on-your-face bad (Eric Fichaud, Tyler Moss, Jamie Storr) or good enough to eventually wrest the starting job from the incumbent (Trevor Kidd, Irbe, Weekes). Peters has shown signs that he will not belong to the former group, and no one expects him to supplant Ward as the starter anytime soon, if ever. However, the Canes are doing a disservice to both goaltenders if Maurice insists on playing Ward 65 or 70 times next season. Not only is Ward recovering from two injuries suffered this past season, but Peters has earned the shot to play regular minutes in the NHL. Playing Ward a manageable 50-55 games, with 30 or so starts thrown in for Peters along the way, is a good mix that should reward both goalies and keep them both fresh for the stretch run. As we've seen with Grahame and Michael Leighton lately, irregular starts for a goalie keep him off-balance and more susceptible to inflated statistics. The Canes don't have the luxury to play Ward every game, nor does Peters deserve the table scraps that have so often been fed to Canes backups. Will Maurice be able to snap his habit and give Peters the ice time he will hopefully earn?