In a post on their official website this morning concerning details before the season, the Carolina Hurricanes included a link to their current contract chart.
This chart includes a listing of each player currently under contract with the team and a graphical representation of time left on said contract. This is sometimes a very handy way to get a perspective on where a team sits as far as their work force on the ice. The chart being shared this morning shines a light on an interesting conundrum that few might have accounted for prior to now. The core of the team is not going to be there forever, it isn’t getting any younger, and the team isn’t getting any better.
Case in point is current team captain, Eric Staal. Staal played with the Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, as well as the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals. He is the anchor of the team, a fan favorite, and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
While 2016 seems a long way off, when his contract expires, Staal will be 32 years old, which is senior citizenry in NHL years. Not to mention, the very same year Staal goes UFA, so does franchise goaltender Cam Ward, who incidentally will be the same age as Staal at the time.
Two marquee players going UFA at the same time is bad enough, but it gets worse.
The very same year two more players enter free agency — Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu. Both of these guys have been plagued by injury the last two seasons, and both of them will be 33 years of age.
Gleason received some serious press when he signed his last contract for four years and $16 million. Most writers and fans opined there was no way he was worth that much money, and Gleason promptly proved this theory true. Ruutu, on the other hand, has spent more time in the trainer’s room than the bench and is being bandaged with his current four-year, $4.75 million contract. These are two players who at the time of their free agency will be over the hill, underperforming, and either considering or planning for retirement. It’s safe to say at that point they’re either out of Raleigh or hanging ’em up.
Yet, it somehow gets even worse.
After this possible exodus in 2016, the team has two more seasons left with Alex Semin and three with Jeff Skinner. While the safe bet is on Skinner re-signing for the better part of the remainder of his career, but Semin is no such guarantee. Furthermore, the Hurricanes have made no plans for this imminent crash.
Aside from Skinner, the draft has shown absolutely zero benefit for the team. Zach Boychuk has been placed on waivers three times by three teams and still calls Charlotte home more than he does Raleigh. Zac Dalpe, Boychuk’s draft-mate, was just traded by the team this week. Justin Faulk, the “big score” of the 2010 draft, has underperformed at best and has by no means taken the leadership role he needs to. The rest of the Hurricanes’ draftees since 2008 are a “where are they now” list of the Juniors system.
This would be of no concern if Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford wasn’t trying to save the team via the draft and farm system. Rutherford, aside from Semin, has made exactly zero big trades or signings in recent memory. Rather than sign a franchise player with “Stanley Cup Season” written all over him, Rutherford went all in on Jordan Staal for the sake of selling more jerseys.
Put this mountain of situations together and what you have is the impending collapse of the team prior to the 2016 season. Unless the front office makes a major c-change in their way of thinking or the team starts playing 150 percent better, the flight from the team will seem like Black Friday at any department store, in reverse.
Nobody wants to deal with an already cash-strapped team, banking on four players over 30 years old, and a draft system the team has no idea how to use. North Carolina’s lottery would be a better investment.
2016 is coming sooner than we think, and Rutherford would be wise to begin planning for it now. Should he not, he surrenders his right to use the “planning for the future” excuse after his next bad decision.