The Carolina Hurricanes have many things to address this offseason, but near the top of the list is what they will do with pending free agents.
Both big names and lesser known names have their futures up in the air as the summer gets under way, and this is something that Ron Francis and his staff will have to talk about extensively.
Here’s a rundown of Carolina’s notable free agents and if they should be brought back.
Nathan Gerbe, LW (UFA)
Since joining the organization via free agency in the summer of 2013, Nathan Gerbe‘s production had been respectable in a middle-of-the-lineup role, but his 2015-2016 injury plagued season saw his point per game output of .38 (2013-2014) and .35 (2014-2015) fall all the way down to .15, tallying just seven points in 47 games.
His ankle injury in the first half of the season played a big role in his drop off in offensive output, but the intangibles that he had supplied also fell off.
He was a staple in Carolina’s forward lineup thanks to his consistent effort, his agitating nature, and his occasional offensive flair. Unfortunately, once the offense is taken away, he isn’t more than a small energy player whose role could be much more efficiently filled by a bigger body that specializes in physical play and being hard to play against. Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters seems to feel the same way as he wandered away from utilizing Gerbe down the stretch of the regular season.
For those reasons, it doesn’t make much sense to bring back Nathan Gerbe. His energetic play doesn’t hold as much value that it once did.
Shortly after Carolina’s season ended, Gerbe tweeted out an apparent goodbye to the fans.
— Nathan Gerbe (@NathanGerbe14) April 12, 2016
Riley Nash, C (UFA)
Productive two-way forwards aren’t always obtainable, and when a low-risk trade ends up supplying a team with one of those assets, you shouldn’t do away with the player.
Riley Nash was acquired from the Edmonton Oilers back in 2010 for a second round draft pick just three years after the forward was selected by the Oilers with the 21st overall pick.
He’s now 26-years-old, and he has established himself as a quality NHL player. Throughout the past three seasons, in particular, Nash has taken significant steps forward both in his two-way play and his offensive contributions.
In a third-line role, he was able to post 22 points in 64 games, which are respectable numbers for a bottom-six player, and paired with his ability to play smart hockey from his own end out, it makes him a valuable asset for the Hurricanes moving forward.
Nash is coming off of a one-year deal that paid him $1.15 million in 2015-2016. This was used as a bridge deal for the team to see what they really have in him, and, for the most part, they know what kind of player he is. He’s a steady two-way guy with good size who limits mistakes, and every now and then, he can be an impactful offensive player.
The Hurricanes would be wise to bring back Riley Nash, however; the length of the deal is still a big point of debate. Does he get another one-year deal, or does the organization have enough confidence in him to ink him to a two or three-year contract?
A two-year deal that carries an average annual value of $1.5-1.75 million make sense both for the team and the player. He didn’t fall off last year and he even built a bit on his game, which warrants a slight raise and more protection in terms of contract length.
Chris Terry, LW (UFA)
After a stretch of dominant years in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers, Chris Terry has been an NHL regular for the majority of the past two seasons.
Unfortunately, his minor league scoring pedigree has yet to fully translate to the NHL, and it seems unlikely that this will change in the near future.
Through 138 NHL games, Terry has found the back of the net 20 times and has tallied a total of 34 points. Compared to his lofty AHL numbers (301 points in 380 games), this is nothing to rave on about.
The biggest problem that comes from Chris Terry is that he is a very one-dimensional player. He contributes mostly when the Hurricanes have the puck, not when he is playing defense and getting back to deter opposing offenses.
Terry, who recently turned 27, also struggles to keep the pace of a majority of his teammates. Footspeed continues to be an issue and that interferes with his ability to be a successful offensive player in the NHL.
Another hindrance in his game is his size. He stands at just 5’10” and 194 pounds, so he is hardly an impactful physical presence. He plays small, and to play small you have to have good skating and the ability to make an impact on the game in other areas. Chris Terry just hasn’t been able to do this in the NHL.
For those reasons, bringing him back on a one-way deal wouldn’t make much sense, especially considering that the Hurricanes have a lengthy list of other forwards coming up the pipeline who will, more than likely, be able to take away Terry’s ice time.
However, if the two sides can agree to terms on a two-way deal, the potential of re-signing the forward goes up. He has proven that his skill set plays well in the AHL, and if the Checkers have him in their forward unit, they are a better team.
As an AHL standout and occasional injury call-up, Chris Terry is a good guy to re-sign. Outside of that, the Carolina Hurricanes have very little use for the former fifth-round draft pick.
Victor Rask, C (RFA)
The rapid development of 2011 second-round pick Victor Rask has been one of the most pleasant surprises for the Carolina Hurricanes over the past two seasons.
After playing his rookie season with the Checkers, logging 39 points in 76 games with an offensively challenged Charlotte squad, Rask was forced to make the jump to the NHL as a second-year player after Jordan Staal went down with a broken leg injury in the 2014 preseason.
After a slow start in 2014-2015, Rask turned into one of Carolina’s biggest offensive contributors down the stretch, and this past season solidified him as a top-six NHL center for the long-term.
As a third-year pro last season, he set career highs in goals (21), assists (27), and total points (48) while playing in a second-line offensive role and being a main fixture on the man advantage.
The Swedish RFA has been a big part of Carolina’s offense and, considering that he is only 22-years-old, it’s safe to assume that he will be a big part of the team’s future as well.
This could mean a multi-year extension is in the works. The 6’2″, 201-pound center is in for a big raise coming off of his entry-level contract.
Unless the two sides go for a one-year bridge deal, the Hurricanes could go for a longer-term contract, potentially in the realm of three years, carrying an AAV of $3-3.5 million.
Victor Rask is an offensive leader who is also very effective in the faceoff circle and in his own end. Bringing him back into the fold is a no-brainer.
Brad Malone, LW/RW (UFA)
Canes forward Brad Malone represents a dying art in the NHL. He is a one-dimensional aggressive bruiser who drops the gloves to change the momentum of games.
This has burned the Hurricanes in the past, and it has also helped them. That being said, Malone’s role last season dissipated considerably compared to the year before, and it appears that he is falling out of favor with the coaching staff.
Malone, 26, skated in 57 games last season, which is down from 65 the year before. His point total also decreased by 60% over the past two seasons, going from 15 in 2014-2015 to just six in 2015-2016.
Brad Malone’s negative impact has been magnified over the past year. He is prone to taking bad penalties at the wrong time, and that has been detrimental to the success of the team as a whole.
With all that in mind, parting ways with him would be the right decision for Ron Francis and the Carolina Hurricanes. Brendan Woods, Patrick Brown, and Brody Sutter are all big, physical players who can fill the role that Malone has played in over the past two seasons. They are also all younger than Malone.
Ryan Murphy, D (RFA)
Former 12th overall pick Ryan Murphy is the most controversial position player on the list of pending free agents.
The once highly touted offensive defenseman has yet to play at a consistent level in the NHL, despite being named an AHL All-Star in his second year and dominating the lower leagues as a whole.
Through 124 NHL games, Murphy has shown why he was once regarded as the best defenseman in the 2011 draft, but he has also shown why he ended up falling out of the top 10.
He is a small player, standing at just 5’11”, 185 pounds, but this isn’t the biggest issue for Murphy. The biggest problem lies in the fact that he makes very questionable decisions with the puck on his stick. He has been responsible for a lengthy list of turnovers and goals against over the past few seasons, and his offensive flair hasn’t been enough to make up for it.
That being said, his offensive instincts are there, and his skating stride is beautiful and fluid. His top end speed rivals any defenseman in Carolina, and he tends to use it to his advantage.
This doesn’t change the fact that he gets worked over more times than not on the defensive end. His lack of size plays into this, as he gets bodied by big opposing forwards on a nightly basis, but his defensive coverage as a whole fails in comparison to the likes of defensemen like Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce, a trio of blue liners who are entering their second year as professional hockey players.
Another factor that plays into Murphy’s future is Carolina’s strong pipeline of prospects. 2014 seventh overall pick Haydn Fleury is turning pro this upcoming season and will make a run at the opening night roster, and Trevor Carrick is entering his third season as a pro, was an AHL all-star with the Checkers last season, and played well in his few NHL opportunities in the dying weeks of the 2015-2016 season.
Murphy is still just 23, so to give up on him completely would be a mistake. He still has the raw skills that he had five years ago when he was drafted and his underlying numbers are actually positive. This could make him a valuable trade asset this offseason if the Hurricanes look to trade for forward help like they are expected to.
He is an RFA, so, at the very least, Francis will extend a qualifying offer to the defenseman, which could end with his rights being traded away, a sign and trade, or him being brought back to the fold as a player who could contend for a roster spot when the 2016-2017 season rolls around, but with the aforementioned Hanifin, Salvin and Pesce being locks alongside Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey, and James Wisniewski, it will be a very difficult task for Murphy to make the NHL roster out of the gate.
Michal Jordan, D (UFA)
Michal Jordan, a 2008 fourth-round pick, has been a slow developer for the Carolina Hurricanes over the past six seasons, but the Czech defenseman has spent a majority of the past two seasons in the NHL.
Jordan is primarily a defensive defenseman who doesn’t take many offensive risks. A player like that holds value, and the Czech Republic national team has felt that way as well, using him on their roster in each of the past three IIHF World Championships, including the tournament going on now.
His downfalls come with his defensive consistency. He isn’t a guy who will make a big offensive impact, and that is fine, but only as long as he is effectively shutting down opponents on the other end of the ice.
Like Murphy, Jordan has had issues in defensive coverage, but unlike Murphy, his skating ability isn’t good enough to make up for some of those problems. That said, he is a fearless player who isn’t afraid to get in the way of a shot or make a physical play.
Those intangibles make him worthy of a new contract. In a seventh defenseman role, Jordan is actually pretty capable. He is a competent injury replacement and a guy you can bring in and out of the lineup at will.
Bringing back Michal Jordan on a one-year deal at a very cheap price makes sense for the Hurricanes as it adds stability on the blue line.
Cam Ward, G (UFA)
Last but not least, long-time backstop Cam Ward is an unrestricted free agent, and he headlines the list of Hurricanes players who could be finding a new home this offseason.
Ward is nowhere close to the $6.3 million player he was just a half-decade ago, but his play down the stretch in 2015-2016 proved that he is still capable of carrying some kind of work load in the NHL.
The Ward-Lack experiment rendered mixed results. Their play in the opening months of the season played a primary role in Carolina’s removal from the playoff discussion and insertion into the Auston Matthews discussion, but as the season wore on, the goaltending tandem worked their way up to league-average, and even above league-average at times.
Despite a big second half from Ward, it is undeniable that his best days are well behind him, and at the age of 32, the clock is starting to tick on his career in general.
Ron Francis has an important decision to make. Do you settle with Ward for another year, or do you look for other options in the trade market or free agency?
The way I see this playing out is Francis being very patient. Ward should exercise his right as an unrestricted free agent and field offers from other teams once July 1 hits. Meanwhile, Francis should look at the free agent market and trade options. If he can’t find a considerable upgrade over Cam Ward, he should bite the bullet and bring him back on a one or two-year deal at a significant pay decrease.
Covering News and the Carolina Hurricanes for The Hockey Writers. Senior writer for SB Nations’s CanesCountry.com. Former editor of CardiacCane.com (2013-2016).
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, @brettfinger (Twitter)