Waiting out the free agent market has its share of perks and drawbacks. On one hand, this was a weak free agent class and the Hurricanes managed to avoid committing long-term money to a mediocre player, something a lot of teams ended up doing. On the other hand, they do still have some needs to address and with the free agent pickings being slim, they may have to end up signing a less than ideal candidate to round out their top-nine. This isn't the worst thing in the world because the most the Hurricanes are looking for in free agency now is depth and that can always be found. Which players left in the free agent class are the best fit for Carolina, though?
This is difficult to say because Carolina can really go either way with their bottom-six. They lacked depth scoring late year, so adding a player who can chip in 10-15 goals in a third-line role would make sense. However, if they want a more offensive player, they can also turn to someone like Zac Dalpe to play this kind of role instead. It would be the cheaper option and a nice way to help ease in some of the team's younger talent. Adding a proven goal-scorer wouldn't be a bad option, though.
The other route the Hurricanes can go here is adding a bottom-six player to kill penalties or play a checking role at even strength. If they want that, then there are always plenty of free agents available at a reasonable cost. That being said, they can also promote someone from within to fill this role for less money too. With the team being low on cap space, that may not be a bad way to go. There is always the desire to add a "proven" talent, though and it's easy to see the argument for it.
With the Hurricanes needing to upgrade from last, you generally want to add someone who you know can succeed in this role rather than place faith in unproven talent. Some fans might argue that taking a roster spot away from a younger player is a bad idea, but adding a proven player for $1-2 mil. a year isn't going to sink the Hurricanes right now. If they were to sign someone to take over Chad LaRose's role from the last few years, then making room for a couple younger players shouldn't be that difficult, especially if whoever they sign is an upgrade over him.
Who would be the best fit for Carolina, though? I've heard a few names thrown around and most of them are "veteran" players or those who bring a lot of qualities but not much when it comes to on-ice performance. Adding a "gritty" player or someone who provides leadership only means so much if he is at the end of his career or doesn't provide much outside of that. This is why I hate looking at intangibles when it comes to signing free agents or trading for a player. When it comes down to it, I want to add players who help make my team as best as possible, so "character" and "locker room presence" are two of the last things on my mind.
Carolina fans were faced with a similar situation last year when the team was considering signing Alexander Semin. He was easily the best free agent on the market, but there were a lot of people who were against signing him because of his "character issues." If you put those aside, he would be a player that most fans would want to sign in a heartbeat and to help illustrate that point, I compared him to a couple of other free agents without mentioning their names. It was clear that Semin was the best option out there and fit the Hurricanes needs the best. Thankfully, the Canes took a chance on him and they ended up getting the most for their money to say the very least.
Finding the best fit of this year's free agency class is a little tougher, though. There are a lot of good players still available, but how many of them would be what Carolina is looking for? Again, I've heard a few names thrown around and most of them are only talked about for their intangible qualities rather than what they can bring to the team. To see which players best fit the Hurricanes needs, we'll have to look at them anonymously just like we did with Semin last year.
The underlying problem with the free agent class this year is that there are a lot of intriguing names out there and everyone has a different idea of who the "best fit" for Carolina is. My opinion is that the Canes need someone who can play third-line minutes, provide secondary scoring and contribute on at least one of the special teams units. Some might argue that getting help for the penalty kill is more needed while others say that a possession driver is more needed.
Either way, the free agent market currently offers a few guys who can fill maybe one or two of these roles, but not many who have all what they are looking for. That's why finding an "ideal" signing is tough this year, because every player has their share of flaws and the Hurricanes will have to sacrifice one area to boost another. That's the predicament fans went through when they were reportedly interested in Jaromir Jagr a couple weeks ago. He would undoubtedly fill a need, but signing him would mean they still had to add someone else to boost the penalty kill. The same thing can be said about every free agent that's available right now.
One good thing about this situation is that the Hurricanes have a decent number of options and there are quite a few players who can help them next year. Who would make the most sense, though? To help answer this question, I've compiled a list of free agents & looked at their offensive production, territorial performance and usage over the last three seasons. This will give us a better idea of where each player stands and who provides the most potential value on a one-year deal. I'll go over some of their stats and open the floor to the readers on who they feel would be the best fit. The catch is that I'm not going to name any of these players to prevent biases from creeping in.
Remember, we're looking for who is the best fit based on their performance, not their character or what kind of guy they are off the ice.
If it wasn't obvious enough, there are still plenty of guys out there who can give you a decent amount of offense in a full-season. There are even a few players who have recently scored 20+ goals, drove possession and contributed on both special teams units. If that's what the Canes are looking for, then they might consider looking at Players H & I. Player D has also been a good goal-scorer but has a low shot rate and has had trouble keeping the puck in the offensive zone. His boxcar numbers look good, but he seems like the most prone to fall off as soon as next year.
Player B is also an interesting candidate because while he is 38 and hasn't been an ace at controlling possession in recent years, he has been able to produce at a high rate and play big minutes on the power play. His numbers are comparable to Jagr, with this player's only drawback being that he is a weaker territorial player. His age is also a concern, but that hasn't stopped him in previous years. Although, he has some of the same concerns as Player D, in that he is production is suspect to decline very soon. Player A could be a safer bet here, albeit one with less potential.
Another intriguing name out there might be Player K, who ha been a terrific goal-scorer & offensive player but has struggled in every other aspect. He hasn't been able to stay healthy (54 GP over 3 seasons), can't drive possession, doesn't kill penalties and his defensive play looks suspect. I think the Hurricanes can get something similar if they promote from within, but some other team might want to take a low-risk gamble on him. The same goes for Player G.
In terms of players who are the best "fits" for Carolina, Player E looks like a decent choice. Not the most effective offensive player, but he plays on both special teams units, can get the puck moving in the right direction at even strength and gets a high number of shots on goal per game. If the Canes want a replacement for LaRose, then this might be their guy. Players H & I also fit into this category, only they seem to be much better finishers than Player E. Player C also has solid numbers with a limited track record, so he might draw some interest to.
Really, most of the players on this list could help the Hurricanes in one way or another. Narrowing it down to which guys are the best fit and getting them to sign to a decent contract is going to be the difficult part. The only ones who would be bad signings are Players N-Q and possibly Player L. You don't have to be amazing to be a third liner or a bottom-six forward, so that really allows the Hurricanes some flexibility here. However, signing players who constantly get hemmed into their own zone & don't score at all isn't going to help them much, so those are the only guys who they should avoid.
Still, there aren't a lot of terrible options out there and that's why I'm opening the floor to you guys. If you were running the Hurricanes, which of these players would you sign and what type of a contract would you offer them? What role would you expect them to play and how do you think they'll help the team?
Stats courtesy of Hockey Analysis