Ask any Canes fan to point their finger to the one most important personnel loss between the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion team and the 2007 team that missed the playoffs. They'll point to Matt Cullen. They'll also point to the loss of defenseman Aaron Ward, and to the fact that the blue line was decimated with injury all season long, that the Canes had a fully healthy squad for only 18 minutes this season.
Carolina filled the Matt Cullen vacancy with Scott Walker. Walker scored 51 points (21/30) in 2007, which is actually a hair better than Cullen's 49 (25/24) in 2006. We certainly like him here, but it wasn't the same. There was something else that Cully brought to the table. He brought a lot of that "intangible" stuff. That je ne sais quoi. This summer, Carolina will have to re-sign Scott Walker, and they'll have some other work to do. They'll also have to find some more of that je ne sais quoi stuff. Justin Viva Williams has it. Erik Cole has it. Cory Stillman might have it. Ray Whitney has it in spades. I don't think Eric Staal has it. I'm pretty sure the Captain doesn't have it. Trevor Letowski sure as hell doesn't have it.
On the blueline, Carolina will most likely be waving goodbye to Glen Wesley, and injury will probably force Bret Hedican to retire. Although N&O writer Luke Decock seems to think the Canes have enough defensemen in the cupboard, we think differently here at RBH.
Here's a look at the defensemen who are under contract for next season:
- Frantisek Kaberle (through 2010) $2.2M
Nic Wallin (through 2010) $1.75M
Mike Commodore (through 2008) $1.3M
Tim Gleason (through 2008) $1.175M
Dennis Seidenberg (through 2008) $850k
Andrew Hutchinson (thorough 2008) $500k
Hedican is also under contract with a player option for $2.4M next season, but there are serious doubts about his hip.
"Even without Hedican, the Canes are loaded on the blue line." -- Luke Decock, News & ObserverIf he doesn't come back (and he shouldn't), that leaves the Canes with exactly six defenseman. That isn't exactly "loaded", as Decock puts it.
Canes GM Jim Rutherford, quoted in that same article:
"If he plays, he's a good player for us, but if there's a question about whether he can play in most of the games, we'd probably want to bring someone else in."
This summer, Hedican will be seeing the same doctors who put SuperMario back together again. However, that statement from Rutherford sounds like a vote of no-confidence if I ever heard one.
Carolina will have to spend some dough to keep Scott Walker around. They will have to pay Cam Ward, who is scheduled to become an RFA. They will need to spend some money to acquire a goal scoring forward. They will have some money left over, and they will need to focus on a shut-down defenseman. Sure, the fans want to see a flashier move, like an Andrei Markov. His price tag will likely be around $2.2M, and the Canes could afford it, but I'm just not sure that another "offensive" defenseman is what the Canes need.
David Tanabe showed tremendous improvement over the course of this past season, and will be an UFA in July. If the Canes can bring him back cheap, I think they should. I don't think that'll be much of an issue. Even with Tanabe, that's only seven defenseman. They'll need to sign an every-night defenseman and probably one more reserve-type. I certainly wouldn't sneeze at an Andrei Markov, but I just don't think it's the right direction.
Later, I'll glance at the needs in the forward lines, and I'll have a better assessment of the defensive needs and the available FAs.