Bottom-Pairing Defense a Minor, But Heated, Battle for the Canes

Last Thursday, the Carolina Hurricanes signed defenseman Michal Jordan to a one-year, one-way contract worth $625k. As the jokes about his name made their way around the hockey world once again, it was easy to overlook what this meant for the future of Carolina’s defense.

“Michal took great strides last season, and continued that progress when he represented his home country as it hosted the World Championship,” said general manager Ron Francis. “He’s still a young defenseman, and we expect him to continue to improve going forward.”

It’s true that Jordan took a step forward last year. He had his first real taste of NHL action last season, playing in 38 games, earning 6 points and finishing 6th on the team in blocked shots. While he didn’t impress in every game he played, he had enough moments of solid play to earn a spot on the World Championship team for the Czech Republic and earn one-way deal for the upcoming season.

The deal has to come as some relief for Jordan, as he was not the only young defenseman that the Canes put through a trial run last year. Rasmus Rissanen, Ryan Murphy, Danny Biega and Keegan Lowe all played games for Carolina last year, and all are defensemen under the age of 24 that are just chomping at the bit to earn a permanent spot on the Hurricanes roster. But Jordan’s new deal may have the biggest impact on a Carolina defenseman that may have felt his spot was already assured.

Overplaying His Hand

Brett Bellemore has played 121 games in his NHL career, all of them for the Hurricanes. That’s already a solid accomplishment for a 6th round pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Not known for his offense, the 6’4″, 225 pound defenseman filled the physical quota for a defense that was sorely lacking it for the longest time. His lack of foot speed and questionable decision-making has thus far prevented him from becoming anything more than a bottom-pairing defenseman, but that’s all Carolina asked of him.

The first sign of a problem started this past season, where Bellemore often found himself in the pressbox when the Canes wanted to give the aforementioned younger defensemen a few games to strut their stuff. There’s no telling how Bellemore reacted to being a healthy scratch, but his agent certainly took up the cause for him:

His agent seems to believe that Bellemore is more than a bottom-pairing defenseman and the Canes should treat him as such. If the agent has his client believing that as well, it might explain why the Canes signed Jordan rather than focused on re-signing Bellemore. It also probably didn’t sit well with the Bellemore camp that Jordan received a one-way deal, after the Canes refused to give Bellemore the same thing last offseason.

A Dose of Reality

With the limited budget the Canes work with, every dollar counts. I don’t think Francis or many Canes fans would mind bringing Bellemore back for the right price. After all, he’s shown he can play in the NHL, which isn’t often said about Carolina draft picks. But if the choice came between signing Jordan for $625k or re-signing Bellemore for $1.5-$2 million, the correct choice there is obvious. The difference between the two players isn’t worth the difference in possible asking price.

I don’t doubt Bellemore could get $2 million from some team. A team like the Florida Panthers or the Montreal Canadiens may be more willing to pay a higher price for a big, bruising bottom-pairing defenseman. But the Canes cannot afford to do so, not if they want to avoid the mistakes of the past.