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Rutherford has Options for Defense

Thursday, 04.22.2010 / 4:05 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky
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Rutherford has Options for Defense
As they look to reshape their defense this offseason, Jim Rutherford and the Hurricanes will have no shortage of options.

Paul Branecky
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In what may seem like a dire situation at first glance, the team only has three blue liners with NHL experience under contract through next season. However, those three - Tim Gleason, Jamie McBain and Joni Pitkanen – are arguably the three they would want. 

Also, the team still owns the rights to eight additional defensemen who have played with the Hurricanes in the past that will become restricted or unrestricted free agents on July 1. Even though there are many spots to fill, the available in-house player pool should provide most, if not all, of the solutions.

”We have some flexibility,” said Rutherford, who hopes the 2010-11 edition of his defense will be more physical and better at moving the puck than last season’s.

While there’s plenty of work to do, the first order of business for Rutherford will be rounding out his top four. The three contracted players listed above will be part of that, as Rutherford indicated that McBain has already earned that distinction and will not necessarily have to do so in training camp.

“Based on how he played in the second half of the season and how he played here with the Hurricanes, he looks like he’s a real good player,” said Rutherford of McBain, who had a team-high four goals and +5 rating in Albany’s recent first-round sweep of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.. “He’s going to be a real good fit for us, not only starting next year but for a long time. We expect him to start the season and play a prominent role.”

The fourth spot will likely be held by either Anton Babchuk or Brian Pothier. Babchuk, a 16-goal scorer two seasons ago, played in Russia last year due to a contract dispute but is still classified as a restricted free agent with the Hurricanes. The two sides have already begun speaking about a return to the NHL next season.

‘There’s interest from both sides,” Rutherford said.

How that interest progresses will probably determine the fate of Pothier, an unrestricted free agent who would be free to find a new team in July.

Favorites to round out spots five through seven include restricted free agents Brett Carson and Alexandre Picard and unrestricted free agent Jay Harrison. Harrison, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds, could be in store for a bigger role with the team due to the need for more of a physical presence to support Tim Gleason.

”We’ll see when Albany’s season ends, but he did a good job early in the year, battled an injury all year and I thought he played well at the end of the season,” Rutherford said of Harrison, who logged 38 games with Carolina. “He’s a big guy, he’s physical and is certainly capable of getting into the top six.”

Also in the mix for now are free agents Casey Borer, Bryan Rodney and Tim Conboy (more often been used as forward at the NHL level), who all have at least some experience with the Hurricanes.

Beyond all that, there’s still the matter of the NHL Entry Draft. Although they’ve been hesitant to take defensemen in the first round in recent years, blue liners Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley could still be around when the Hurricanes make their first selection at No. 7.

”If we end up getting one of these top-three guys, one of them could end up making the team,” said Rutherford.

While the general manager said last week that he would consider making a trade to bolster his defense, he would prefer to avoid that if possible and should be able to with enough capable players currently at his disposal. He’s also expecting to steer clear of the initial free-agent frenzy in July.

”Sometimes a very useful player falls into September that ended up not going where they wanted or don’t get the deal that they want,” he said. “We’ll keep our eyes open there, but we’re not going to look at free agents in the early going.”


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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 BOS 55 30 19 6 163 150 66
5 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
6 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
7 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 56 28 21 7 124 124 63
10 PHI 54 24 20 10 128 140 58
11 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
12 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 54 15 19 -13 34
J. Skinner 55 19 12 -3 31
V. Rask 53 12 19 0 31
J. Staal 55 12 19 7 31
K. Versteeg 54 10 21 1 31
E. Staal 55 9 21 1 30
E. Lindholm 55 8 16 -9 24
A. Nestrasil 48 8 12 0 20
J. Nordstrom 44 5 10 2 15
R. Hainsey 55 3 11 -12 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 15 11 7 .909 2.34
E. Lack 9 10 3 .901 2.74
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