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Tracking the Storm

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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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - MTL 76 47 21 8 200 169 102
2 x - NYR 75 47 21 7 228 177 101
3 TBL 76 46 23 7 244 198 99
4 PIT 76 42 23 11 210 190 95
5 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
6 DET 75 40 23 12 220 206 92
7 WSH 76 41 25 10 223 188 92
8 BOS 76 38 25 13 201 196 89
9 OTT 75 37 26 12 218 203 86
10 FLA 76 35 26 15 190 207 85
11 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
12 CBJ 75 36 35 4 207 232 76
13 NJD 76 31 33 12 168 194 74
14 CAR 75 28 36 11 174 204 67
15 TOR 76 28 42 6 198 244 62
16 BUF 75 20 47 8 144 254 48

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 70 21 28 -12 49
J. Faulk 75 15 32 -17 47
E. Lindholm 74 16 21 -19 37
J. Skinner 70 18 13 -21 31
V. Rask 73 11 20 -12 31
R. Nash 68 8 17 -10 25
N. Gerbe 71 8 17 -13 25
J. McClement 75 7 13 -3 20
A. Nestrasil 47 7 13 4 20
J. Staal 39 4 16 -7 20
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 20 21 5 .911 2.40
A. Khudobin 8 15 6 .904 2.60