Payroll, positioning force Canes' hand at deadline
Posted April 3, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — The NHL trade deadline has as much to do today with where teams are at relative to the salary cap as it does with where a team is in the standings.
The Carolina Hurricanes, just four points out of first place in the Southeast division, have been in a tailspin the last 10 games. Whereas the deadline used to be just the thing to pull a team out of a slide, modern day deals are seen through a different lens, and what the Canes front office is seeing has them in a tough place.
"Based on the position we have put ourselves in the last two or three weeks, I wasn’t going to trade younger players or high draft picks for somebody that may or may not make a difference here in the last month," said president and general manager Jim Rutherford.
In years past, a deal would shake up the dynamic of a team. Wednesday, the team dealt Jussi Jokinen to Pittsburgh for a conditional pick, not to improve the on-ice product, but the bottom line.
“It’s all about preparing our payroll," Rutherford said. "We spent more money this year, we just signed some new contracts and we were in a position that we had to move some money out.”
Penguins GM Ray Shero told TSN that Jussi Jokinen was worth adding to the Pens based on the cost to acquire him. That sentiment is what every front office boss was looking for today, bringing in talent based on cost. The Hurricanes will pick up some of Jokinen’s contract which makes it worthwhile for Pittsburgh and still sheds some of the financial burden on Carolina.
"The main point of Jussi’s deal wasn’t about him or him as a player," Rutherford said. "It was about what we are doing now and going forward payroll wise. We put him on waivers last week and at that point we were willing to not get anything back for him."
Fans are going to be upset that the organization did not make a deal to bring more talent into the Triangle. In reality, what did the Canes have to trade and how much salary can they take on?
There were 17 trades in the NHL on deadline day and a few big names with big contracts did move for what looks like nothing to the Hurricane fan base.
To be in the race for a player like Marion Gaborik it would start with young defenseman Ryan Murphy, an NHL player and picks. You might think that making that deal is a no-brainer, but adding an aging player with a huge contract isn’t something that a team in Carolina’s position can easily do.
"How aggressive do you get on making a deal and how far do you want to go?" Rutherford propositioned. "Do you really want to trade one of your first or second round picks or trade(Zac) Dalpe? I think that would have been very risky for us. This is about as tough a position to be in. A team on a big losing streak. We know we are a better team than that we are playing and not having a deal that could give us a boost.”
Operating under a budget for a squad that has missed the playoffs the last three seasons make it harder to green light picking up a huge salary and giving up young players without the guarantee of post-season play.
So did that make the Hurricanes sellers on Wednesday?
First off, what did they have to sell? Second, the assets that could bring in a cache of talent aren't going anywhere.
The team is not going to move Eric or Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner or the newly signed Alexander Semin. Those are the players that will have to carry the team in the future. Plus a team will rarely fetch a return that equals giving up a franchise player.
“As much as I wanted to make a deal, there wasn’t any deal that made any sense," Rutherford said. "Overall, I don’t think there were as many players available that could really impact or make a difference in what we are doing.”
It is possible Joni Pitkanen could have been on the block, but Rutherford said the team had no interest in dealing him, so his injury had nothing to do with him staying put.
Add into the fact that a player’s salary has as much to do with a player being coveted as his goals. What a calculator spews out as the bottom line is more important than the stat sheet pointing out players’ production. So If the team wanted to sell, the trade partner had to be willing to take on a big contract and gone are the days that star player is swapped for star player.
Much like every deal in the NBA, the money has to match-up more than the talent. We probably aren't too far off from the 12-player, three-team and Keith Van Horne's expiring contract deals that will headline the NHL.
There were a lot of teams Wednesday that would have liked to improve its line-up, that for financial terms, simply couldn’t. Some teams were not willing to make deals because the asking price of players, prospects and picks was just too high. Carolina found both of those situations to be the case.
The next logical question is can the current roster turn this around and end the playoff drought?
"Certainly we are not sitting here saying its over but the most frustrating part is that in the first part of the season we showed what kind of team we had and we are a very capable team and we played very well," Rutherford said.