We are only one day away from the trade deadline and every Hurricanes fan is wondering why GM Jim Rutherford has yet to make any moves. It seems pretty confusing at first glance because the Canes are currently in the middle of a playoff race and have been playing some of their worst hockey of the season. Since Rutherford has yet to make any deal at all, some fans have gotten the impression that he's either fine with the way the team is playing now or is low-balling other teams in trades. Any competent NHL executive isn't going to sit back when their team suffers a bad losing streak at this time of the year, so Rutherford has probably been very active in talking to other teams and trying to make trades. The problem is that he is in a very tough spot right now and there are going to be a lot of things standing in his way when it comes time to make moves.
The Canes are also not definitive "buyers" or "sellers" right now since they are on the cusp of even being in playoff contention. The weakness of the Southeast Division and the Eastern Conference has allowed them to stay in the pack despite their recent stretch of terrible play and a win streak could turn their season around. There are a lot of other teams who are in similar situations, so they are also going to be reluctant to buy or sell at this deadline and that's going to make a lot of trades tough to accomplish, especially for a team in the Hurricanes situation.
Why the Hurricanes will be buyers:
I think any team in the Hurricanes situation will probably look to be buyers at this deadline because of the increased revenue that comes with a playoff birth. That's going to be very important for teams in non-traditional markets like Carolina. The Canes also have only made the playoffs twice in the last nine seasons and there are many fans who are getting restless with the team's season being over by April. Rutherford spent a lot of money this off-season to get this team in a position to make the playoffs by getting Jordan Staal & Alexander Semin, so not even making the post-season would be very disappointing to some. I think he reached his goal in improving the team but there were some missing pieces and injuries have made those even more glaring, so that's put the Canes in a pretty tough spot right now. The team has a good corps in place with their top-six, but the defense and depth scoring have been underwhelming, so it's easy to see what the focal point will be this deadline if Rutherford decides that the Canes will be buyers. However, the Hurricanes team needs are one of the reasons why it might be difficult for JR to get a trade accomplished.
A common mindset among sports fans is that good GMs are magical wizards who can fix everything that goes wrong with their team. Ray Shero being able to add Jarome Iginla for a small price certainly adds to that belief and not all trades are that easy. It's been stated countless times that Rutherford has been looking to trade for a "veteran defenseman" for awhile now, but there still hasn't been a trade. Why you ask? Because other teams are all looking for the same thing and driving up the price. Case and point: Douglas Murray and Robyn Regehr were both recently dealt for a pair of second round picks. Draft picks are never a sure thing, so you could say that a pair of second rounders is fair price for a "gritty, hard-hitting veteran defenseman," but how much of an upgrade would a player like Murray or Regehr be to the Hurricanes? Compare them to the Hurricanes bottom-four defenders and the results may surprise you.
Both Regehr and Murray's respective teams have been BADLY outshot whenever they were on the ice and that is with them playing borderline top-four minutes. Regehr has been especially bad at preventing shots and goals against this year, worse than any blue-liner currently on the Hurricanes roster. Corvo, Harrison & McBain may not have the reputation of Regehr or Murray but it's hard to say that these two would be upgrades over them given the information presented here. If the Canes are going to give up draft picks, it shouldn't be for players who are marginal upgrades or worse than guys who are currently on their roster.
That's the predicament the Hurricanes are in right now, though. They need a top-four defenseman. Not a veteran defenseman who would on the third-pairing on a contending team and those guys are the ones who tend to get traded the most at the deadline. I tried coming up with a list of defensemen who could possibly dealt within the next few days and the number of top-four guys is pretty slim and it's even more difficult trying to find those who would fit in Kirk Muller's system.
The "Carolina Fit" column shows how much I think a player would fit in Carolina's situation right now. Those are guys who can play top-four minutes, prevent shots/scoring chances and contribute on the penalty kill. They should also provide some form of a long-term solution rather than a veteran stop-gap who will be here for only 15 games. You can see that there aren't many of those guys around, or at least not many who other GMs would be willing to part with and Rutherford may have to be very creative in order to get a guy like Robidas or Fayne this deadline. Finding a top-four defenseman may have to wait until the off-season because I don't see one available at the deadline and there isn't really anyone in the team's farm system who is close to being ready.
The Canes cap situation also limits what they can do. According to Cap Geek, they have a little under $7 mil. in cap space invested in 17 players next season, so they will have to send some salary the other way to make a trade for a top-four player. I heard some rumblings about them being interested in Jay Bouwmeester, who would be perfect for the Canes right now but his cap hit would eat up most of their space next season, making an actual trade for him very unlikely to happen. I know that everyone wants to see trades happen, but it's not that easy to make deals if you're in Carolina's situation and the same thing applies to them if they choose to be sellers, as well.
Why Carolina will be sellers:
The Canes need to go something like 9-5-0 down the stretch in order to have a good chance at the playoffs. How likely is that to happen? Sure, getting Ruutu, Ward, Faulk and Sanguinetti back will help but it might be too late before that happens. It seems unlikely that the Canes can pull off a winning streak now after losing eight of their last nine games, so a lot of people believe might as well sell at the deadline and see what some of their younger players can do. Clearing up some cap space for next season will also do them some good. The question is who do they have to sell...which brings us to our roadblock.
Who do the Canes have on their roster that other teams would want? The only pending UFAs on their roster right now are Chad LaRose, Joe Corvo, Dan Ellis, Tim Brent, Adam Hall, Brett Bellemore and Bobby Sanguinetti. Those players have combined for a total seven goals and would net the Hurricanes mid-round picks at most, which have a low probability of turning into useful NHL players. Other players they have now who could interest teams are Jamie McBain and Jussi Jokinen, one of which would clear up only $1.8 mil. in cap space next season and the other just cleared waivers a weeks ago and would not fetch much unless the Canes are willing to eat part of his $3 mil. cap hit.
Needless to say, the Hurricanes would not get much for any of those players and they may have to take another player back in any deal they make with how badly the injury bug has hit this team. Another defenseman would certainly have to come back the other way if McBain is traded since the team can't afford to lose another one right now. That might make things difficult whenit comes to clearing roster space this year and cap space next season.
On that note, there is a lot of talk about "making room" for younger players, but let's not forget that Charlotte's roster has already been dismantled by injuries and NHL graduation. Is it fair to take even more players away from their roster while they are making a playoff push of their own? I don't think so. Jeff Daniels has already had to make due with signing a lot of guys on Tryout Contracts and I don't think it's fair to make him continue that. The only player in Charlotte who I think truly belongs in the NHL now is Zac Dalpe and he will probably stay there unless Riley Nash gets sent down to replace him.
Playing Armchair GM at this time of the year is always a popular thing, but the trade market is not always as easy to work as it seems. The parity in the NHL (mostly thanks to the introduction of the shootout) has made GMs even more reluctant to make deals now since there are so many teams left in the race. This is why I think we could be in for a relatively uneventful deadline. There are always a few surprises, though and we'll just have to wait and see if Rutherford has any tricks up his sleeve.
Stats courtesy of Behind the Net