Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Carolina Hurricanes - Is GM Jim Rutherford A Genius?

A little Point-Counterpoint here without the famous 'Jane, you ignorant slut' retort:

Arguments In Favor of Jim Rutherford Being a Genius

1. Trading Erik Cole for Joni Pitkanen. Kevin Lowe runs a leaky, incompetent ship up there in Edmonton, so I'm sure Rutherford was happy to take the call when Lowe wanted a big power forward who was a free agent in a year for a promising defenseman. Pitkanen's play is still up and down, but he is massively talented, and he's signed for two more seasons, unlike Cole who is UFA on July 1 of this year.

2. Trading Jack Johnson and Oleg Tverdovsky for Eric Belanger and Tim Gleason. Wags laughed at Rutherford's vengeful excommunication of 2006 3rd overall pick Jack Johnson when he refused to leave the University of Michigan to play for Carolina - evidently Mr. Johnson does not care for the four-lane nightmare of chain restuarants that is Raleigh, N.C. Rutherford shipped him out before he even showed up for a training camp, getting back a decent center and a solid young defender. Jack Johnson has since been plagued with injuries and been unremarkable as an LA King. Meanwhile, Belanger was completely unremarkable as a 'Cane, but Tim Gleason has been a steady defensive defensemen who also happens to lead all D men in penalties drawn, which leads into the next point:

3. Somehow managing to lead the league in power plays drawn every season. The 'Canes have finished in the top 3 every season since the lockout in total power plays. In the years where they went deep in the playoffs, their team was 28th and 27th in power plays against - in the seasons where they didn't make the playoffs, they were 19th and 14th. Whatever the case, the Canes are excellent at drawing penalties and don't take many of their own - they are so good at this that their general manager must be intentionally finding players who have this skill, as their proficiency dates back to well before the lockout.

4. Trading Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman for Joe Corvo and Patrick Eaves. In March of 2008, Rutherford decided he wasn't going to re-sign Mike Commodore or Cory Stillman, but he managed to ingeniously trade them for veteran players - Corvo was in the first year of a 3 year deal, and the Canes could hold Eaves's RFA rights until 2011. Eaves has been fairly underwhelming, but Joe Corvo has slid right in on the Carolina backline.

Reasons Why Jim Rutherford is Not a Genius

1. Signing Oleg Tverdovsky In The First Place. Tverdovsky's last NHL season was with New Jersey in 2002-03, where he was mostly terrible, but Rutherford looked at his play in the Russian league and decided to give him a whirl in the summer of 2005. Signing him was a low-risk move, except that he signed for 3 years and 7.5 million dollars. Oops. Tverdovsky is now back in the KHL after about 100 unremarkable NHL games, except that he once again piggybacked his way to a Stanley Cup.

2. Signing Frantisek Kaberle and Niclas Wallin. The two combined make around 4 million dollars and are producing nothing of value. This is standard after a Stanley Cup championship - try to keep everyone around who was responsible for it. Still, a minor mistake in the grand scheme of things.

3. Drafting Not Particularly Well. The Hurricanes have found two All-Star level players in Cam Ward and Eric Staal, but beyond that their organization does not have very much depth. Rutherford is particularly inept at getting anything out of players below the 1st round - the last Cane drafted below the first round to have significant impact at the NHL level was Erik Cole in 1998.

Conclusion: Rutherford is a man who understands his strengths and plays to them. He is not particularly good at drafting, but he can recognize undervalued veteran players; he's rehabilitated the careers of Ray Whitney and Sergei Samsonov, and looks to have worked the same magic on Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen. The 'Canes aren't ever going to be consistent contenders under his rule, but if things break right for them, they are always a threat in the post-season.

Hurricanes Salary Cap Situation

Again, green are estimates of RFAs, a red field means UFA, and the purple... is totally irrelevant, and will not be on future spreadsheets.

How Much Do The 'Canes Have Left to Spend? Not much. Last season, they stayed well below the salary cap, finishing up at $51.0 million dollars. Assuming they don't do something outlandish like non-tendering Anton Babchuk (a possibility considering he only registered 1 assist in 13 playoff games), they have enough to make a few fringe signings and that's about all.

Holy Sh*t Look at 2010-11 Though: The 'Canes have a ton of money potentially coming available, as they may have as many as 9 UFAs. This is favorable for Jim Rutherford, as he usually makes good decisions in this spot. If the 'Canes can wrangle up low-cost depth as the Ducks have managed to do, they can certainly look to add a Rick Nash level player.

Let's take a look at their lines:

2009-10 Carolina Projected Lines




But Jokinen Isn't Really A Center? With the emergence of Jussi Jokinen, the 'Canes now have 4 LWs and nowhere to put them all. They might let either Ruutu or Jokinen walk and use that money to re-sign Chad Larose. They might just re-sign Chad Larose anyway, seeing as how they had 8 home playoff dates; that may lead them to increase spending for next season.

Any Young Players Who Can Crack This Lineup? 2008 1st round pick Zach Boychuk played 2 games for the 'Canes last season. While in most organizations this would be an enormous feat for an 18 year old and an indication of prodigious talent, the 'Canes have tended to be very quick to put their guys in the NHL - David Tanabe and Josef Vasicek jumped straight on to the roster, and Brandon Sutter cracked it at 19. However, Boychuk's junior numbers are impressive and he might be one to watch.

Conclusion: The 'Canes have an odd team full of misfit parts who somehow work together. The team are all excellent skaters even if they're not the toughest bunch around, and they draw many more penalties than they take. Looking forward, it's hard to see where they will go - they may be contenders for the Southeast Division, they may be hanging on to a playoff spot, or they might collapse completely if Ward or Staal gets injured. The 'Canes have a lot of older players whose performance is difficult to predict. Basically, the future is not particularly bright, but certainly not dim either.

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