Going into free agency this year, there were two moves that I hoped Jim Rutherford would make. First, I wanted him to put a lot of focus on players who would give the Hurricanes a good bargain for his money. This meant looking for free agents who wouldn't cost a lot but had decent upside and could provide a decent amount of value. In addition to that, I wanted Rutherford to sign a defenseman because that is the most glaring need on the team at the moment. On July 1st, Rutherford accomplished both of those goals....sort of.
Rutherford decided to sign Joe Corvo to a one-year contract worth only $2 mil., which is very cheap in today's market and could be a good value signing if Corvo has a good year. It is also a deal that's very easy to move if Corvo becomes expandable during the latter stages of the year, so there isn't much issue with the money or the contract itself. The issue is finding out where Corvo fits the team and if there were better players available.
In my opinion, the biggest need for the Hurricanes this off-season was finding a defenseman who can play the shutdown role and Corvo isn't exactly what I would call a defensive stalwart. He's always been more known as a puck-mover and a powerplay quarterback for most of his career. He was also used as a third defenseman by the Boston Bruins last season in a sheltered role and was even scratched for a few games due to poor performance. He was able to play in the top-four with the Hurricanes but those days appear to be gone. Either his age has caught up to him or Claude Julien didn't trust him enough to use him as anything more than a bottom-pairing defenseman because of the issues he has in his own zone.
How Kirk Muller will utilize Corvo is anyone's guess but after the jump, we'll take a closer look at Corvo's performance in recent years and ponder how he could fit on the Carolina blue-line this year.
While Corvo is not the signing I expected Rutherford to make, he does have a lot of use to this team. One thing I do like about him is that he should be comfortable with whatever role Muller uses him in. If Muller decides to use him as a third pairing/powerplay quarterback, then he should be fine with that because that's what he was with the Bruins last year. He's also shown the ability to play tougher minutes in the past so he can be slotted into a bigger role if needed. The way Boston used him last season was actually a stark contrast compared to how Carolina's (and Washington's) the previous three years.
(Note: This is Corvo's usage chart. It plots his offensive zone start percentage against his corsi relative to quality of competition to show what situations he was being used in at even strength. The size of the bubble indicates his corsi relative value. A blue bubble is a positive corsi relative and a white bubble is a negative value)
Corvo went from being a top-four defenseman to a third-pairing guy in the span of the year and his territorial performance in both situations wasn't terrible. However, you can tell that it has been on the decline over the last few years and he should have been able control possession at a much higher rate in Boston given that he was playing against some incredibly weak competition. Boston restricted him in just about every way possible. He went from playing 24 minutes a night in Carolina to playing barely 19 in Boston which was mostly because they weren't using him on the PK, something he did regularly in Carolina. The Bruins probably did this because they had other defensemen who they can use instead of him in those situations and Carolina did not have that luxury.
There are definitely some warning flags here about how useful Corvo is now but the fact that he was playing in Carolina's top-four only two years ago without much of an issue is somewhat promising. Some problems arise when you take a closer look at his underlying stats, however.
Stats from Behind The Net. All even strength data
Corvo is what most people would call a "high-event defenseman," meaning that he makes a lot of risky plays which can lead to a lot of goals for but consequently, a lot of goals against, as well. That's exactly what happened to him in Carolina while he was playing in the top-four. The Canes were producing a lot of shots and chances, but they were giving up a TON in their own end. Corvo may have been playing in tough situations but he was also struggling to break even shot-wise and was getting killed in that area in 2010-11. He was also on-ice for the highest amount of goal-causing errors that season.
The Bruins had the right idea in sheltering Corvo because his defensive performance improved by quite a bit compared to the previous year. He was producing the same amount of shots at even strength but was on-ice for much fewer shots against. Corvo was also on ice for more of his team's goals that season but I'm not entirely sure if that's due to good luck or him playing on a more offensively talent team like the Bruins. It could be a little of both along with the fact that he was playing in easier situations.
So, how does Corvo fit into the Hurricanes plans next season? I've heard someone say that this will help Tim Gleason because Rutherford needed to find a partner for him with Bryan Allen leaving and Corvo played with Gleason in the past. While that might sound like a good idea, it's really a disaster waiting to happen. According to Hockey Analysis' stat site, Corvo and Gleason do not mix at all.
Corvo w/o Gleason
Gleason w/o Corvo
The Hurricanes were giving up more shots and goals against at even strength while Corvo and Gleason were playing together. To make matters worse, they were not producing a lot of offense either and both players performed a lot better when they were being used with a different defense partner. One could assume that Gleason was the bigger problem by looking at the corsi data, but you have to remember that Gleason plays the toughest minutes among the defense corps while Corvo was likely being used in much easier situations. If Corvo was to be reunited with Gleason, he would have to take on Bryan Allen-type minutes and I don't even need to tell you how badly that could turn out.
There's another way you could look at this signing, though. Another player the Canes lost to free agency this year was Jaroslav Spacek and his numbers last year are comparable to Corvo's.
Corsi Rel. QoC
Both Spacek and Corvo were sheltered by their coaches, provided an offensive presence and were on ice for more shots and goals than they gave up. They can also be utilized on the powerplay and Corvo has an advantage over Spacek in that he can kill penalties, too. As a replacement for Spacek, Corvo certainly isn't a bad choice.
If Rutherford intended to sign Corvo as a third-pairing defenseman, then he may have overpaid by a little bit since those can be found for close to the league minimum, but $2 mil. for one year isn't an albatross by any means. I would have preferred it if the Hurricanes signed more of a penalty kill specialist since that would have been a better replacement for Allen and that is a much bigger need at this point. That being said, I understand the rationale for bringing Corvo back. As a third-pairing guy, he is capable of getting the job done and can be moved if someone like Bobby Sanguinetti or even Ryan Murphy is ready to step into the role. Carolina's in a position where they can't make a long-term commitment to a mediocre player, so a one-year deal for Corvo is fine for now. I wouldn't be surprised if another move for a defenseman is made within the next couple of weeks, though.