CAM WARD | Goalie hopes to lead Hurricanes back to playoffs in 2008-09
The deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents passed Wednesday…so with the full free agency period beginning next Tuesday, here’s how the Carolina Hurricanes are shaping up for 2008-09:
Cam Ward. Under contract through 2009-2010 (makes $2.5 million this season). Was 37-25-5 last season with a GAA of 2.75 and a save percentage of .904.
Michael Leighton. The 27-year-old was signed to a two-year, $1.2 million deal June 11. He was the American Hockey League’s Most Valuable Goaltender last season. In 50 career NHL games, he has an 11-24-10 record with a 3.01 GAA, but was stellar last year for Albany, going 28-25-4 with a GAA of 2.10.
Daniel Manzanto. 24-year-old was solid in ECHL last season and is set to start this year in Albany in the AHL. Signed one-year deal ($552,500 at NHL level, $75,000 at minor league level) on June 6.
Departure: backup John Grahame wasn’t resigned by the team and is reportedly set to play in Russia this season.
Outlook: Ward will be the starting netminder and Leighton should be a capable backup after the confidence he gained in Albany last season.
Eric Staal. Under contract through 2008-09 (makes $5 million this season).
Justin Williams. Under contract through 2001-12 (makes $3.5 million this season).
Erik Cole. Under contact through 2008-09 (makes $4 million this season).
Rod Brind’Amour. Under contract through 2010-11 (makes $4 million this season).
Ray Whitney. Under contract through 2009-2010 (makes $3.55 this season).
Matt Cullen. Under contract through 2009-2010 (makes $2.8 million this season).
Scott Walker. Under contract through 2009-10 (makes $2.5 million this season).
Sergei Samsonov. Signed three-year, $7.6 million deal April 16.
Tuomu Ruutu. Signed one-year, $2.25 million deal on June 24.
Patrick Eaves. Signed three-year, $4.2 million deal on June 4.
Possibilities: Chad LaRose; restricted free agent was made qualifying offer of $550,000. Brandon Sutter; Canes’ top pick in 2007 Entry Draft, signed three-year, $2.535 million deal March 26 after playing most of last season in the Western Hockey League. Will compete for a spot on the 3rd or 4th line this season after only playing a few games in the AHL last season, but if he has a mediocre camp in September he’ll likely be send to Albany in the AHL for playing time. This year’s top draft pick, Zach Boychuk, was a highly-ranked center who’s fast – but small. He played in the WHL last season and will likely be in Albany this season in the AHL to develop.
Unrestricted free agents Keith Aucoin, Ryan Bayda, Wade Brookbank and Trevor Letowski may still negotiate with Canes. Letowski is the mostly likely to re-sign.
Outlook: With 10 veteran NHLers under contract and LaRose likely to return, the Hurricanes aren’t thin at forward – especially with Brandon Sutter eager to make his mark in the NHL. The challenges would be to replace Erik Cole, if he’s traded for a defenseman (as has been speculated), and to sign Eric Staal to an extension.
Frantisek Kaberle. Under contract through 2009-10 (makes $2.2 million this season).
Niclas Wallin. Under contract through 2009-10 (makes $1.725 million this season).
Tim Gleason. Signed four-year, $12 million deal June 19 (makes $2 million this season).
Joe Corvo. Under contract through 2009-2010 (makes $2.75 million this season).
Dennis Seidenberg. Restricted free agent made $850,000 last year and was given qualifying offer.
Departures: Glen Wesley (retired), Bret Hedican (likely to play elsewhere and is said to be shopping himself to West Coast teams).
Outlook: Problematic. With only four NHLers under contract, the Canes will likely sign Seidenberg and then look to acquire two more NHL defensemen after July 1 – possibly through trade (with Cole as bait) or through free-agency. Wade Redden, late of the Ottawa Senators, is said to be a target. Other free agent defensemen who might be considered include former Hurricanes Mike Commodore, Marek Malik and Sean Hill, along with a frequent trade target of the team’s in the past – Bryan Berard.
Bottom line: the Hurricanes’ current salary obligations are around $44 million, depending on how the buyouts of waived players Jeff Hamilton and David Tanabe proceed. The NHL salary cap has been widely speculated to be moving to $56 million, but Carolina’s budget may not be over $50 million. The leaves little room to sign at least one forward and three defensemen. Trading Cole (and his $4 million salary) would be an unpopular move, but he’s a free agent after this year and $4 million could get you two solid NHL blueliners. (UPDATE: NHL and the players association just now announced the cap is $56.7 million.)
Note: RFA’s (restricted free agents) are those players whose contracts have expired but don’t qualify yet (because of age, salary or years of NHL service) for full free agency. A team can retain the rights of its RFAs by making “qualifying offers,” which is essentially a contract offer based on a small raise from their most recent contract-year salary. Beginning Thursday, RFAs can talk to other teams about contracts; if another team extends an “offer sheet” to an RFA, the rights-holding team has first refusal to match the offer. If an RFA signs with another team, the rights-holding team gets draft picks as compensation (the picks depend on the size of the offer). RFAs not given qualifying offers and not going to arbitration become unrestricted free agents (UFAs); UFAs can begin negotiations with any team beginning at noon on July 1.