A couple days before the NHL free agency period began, the Hurricanes decided to buy out the final year of defenseman Derek Joslin’s contract and allowed him to become a UFA. It shouldn’t take a genius to figure out why Joslin was bought out when you look at the season he had. He didn’t contribute much offense, had the worst possession numbers on the team despite receiving some incredibly soft ice time and couldn’t be counted on to play more than 7-10 minutes a game. Joslin was on a one-way deal and was set to make $750,000 this season, which is too much for someone who was likely going to be playing in the AHL, so it’s easy to see why the Hurricanes decided to cut him loose.
Joslin had a terrible season and I can’t really defend any of the numbers he put up, but I can’t help but be confused as to why he played so poorly. Sure, he was unproven at the beginning of the season but he was a solid player at the AHL level while he was in the Sharks organization and played decently enough with Carolina after they acquired him in the Ian White trade. Take a look at his underlying numbers from the last few seasons and you’ll notice a huge drop-off that occurred last season.
“FenClose” is Joslin’s Fenwick percentage at even strength when the game is close. It measures the amount of shot attempts that Joslin was on ice for and what percentage the Hurricanes controlled during those times. In the 34 games he played in the 2010 season, Joslin was barely getting outplayed at even strength and appeared to be serviceable as a third-pairing defenseman or an AHL call-up. He turned into a complete liability at even strength the next year for whatever reason. The Hurricanes were stuck in their own end for the majority of the time he was on the ice and this was despite him starting nearly 60% of his even strength shifts in the offensive zone. Is Joslin really this bad or were there some other factors that caused things to go wrong for him?
In response to the last question, most people will likely point to the fact that he was playing as a forward for about half of the games he played. That obviously isn’t his natural position and if you look at his scoring chance timeline throughout the season, it’s easy to spot where things went horribly wrong for him as his sharp decline in play coincides with around the time he was switched to forward. Then again, Joslin wasn’t exactly playing well when he was being used as a defenseman either as the Canes were controlling less than 50% of the shots at even strength for pretty much the entire time he was on the ice. Considering that he was playing some of the most sheltered minutes on the team, that isn’t good.
So is Joslin really that bad of a player? Possibly, but I’m not completely sold on it yet. I mentioned earlier that he wasn’t a bad player with with San Jose’s AHL affiliate and he performed decently enough in the NHL the year before. Switching positions obviously had an effect on him, but if Joslin’s performance last season is representative of his true talent level then he shouldn’t have even been in the NHL.
Here’s a question for you, though. Why was Joslin in the NHL for almost all of last season when his performance was far below standards? To add to that, why did Joslin play only four games in the AHL last season? It would have been better for him to get ice time there instead of spending the first 13 games of the season in the press-box and play out of his natural position for half of the season. The answer can be traced back to the previous off-season when the Hurricanes inked Joslin to the two-year contract that they just bought him out of. Remember, this was a one-way deal, so the Canes would be paying Joslin $750k no matter where he played. If he had a two-way deal then this situation would be different but the 17 games Joslin played with the Hurricanes last season along with the 70 total NHL games Joslin has played in his career was apparently enough for Jim Rutherford to commit two years and $1.4 mil. to him no matter what.
That is a small mistake that the Hurricanes could have avoided, but something Rutherford had no control over was that Joslin was required to pass through waivers before going to the AHL, so he ended up being stuck in the press box for the first 13 games of the season (and many after that) because Carolina didn’t want to lose him for nothing. Waivers exist because they give every player in the league a chance at playing in the NHL and prevent teams from loading their AHL affiliate with talent that could be playing at the NHL level. When a player is waived, it isn’t a guarantee that they will get claimed by another team (most tend to pass through without much of a problem) but it’s still a risk that not many people like to take. Given how bad Joslin was last season, it’s possible that he could have passed through waivers without much of a problem, but the Hurricanes still didn’t want to take that chance. It also didn’t help that they would be on the hook for half of Joslin’s cap hit/salary if he was claimed.
The Hurricanes could find themselves in a similar situation when it comes time to make the final roster cuts for this upcoming season, but they have a little more flexibility this time around. They have six defensemen slated to make the NHL club (Pitkanen, Faulk, Gleason, McBain, Harrison, Corvo) and a few players like Murphy, Sanguinetti and Gragnani who are on the borderline when it comes to their chances of making the team out of camp. Both Sanguinetti and Gragnani need to pass through waivers to go to the AHL, so the Canes might run the risk of losing one or both of them at the beginning of the season.
Sanguinetti had to clear waivers after training camp last season, so there isn’t a lot to worry about with him unless another team is impressed by his strong AHL numbers and wants to take a chance on him. The same can be said for Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and Tim Wallace, who also need to pass through waivers to go to the Checkers if they can’t make the Hurricanes out of camp. The one area of flexibility that Carolina has with these players is that they do not need to pass through re-entry waivers to be called up to the AHL since they don’t make over $105k in the AHL, are signed to two-way deals and didn’t play enough games in the NHL in the last two seasons to qualify for re-entry waivers.
The one exception of the group is Marc-Andre Gragnani, who played 58 games between Vancouver and Buffalo last season and is signed to a two-way contract. He will have to pass through waivers no matter what and I am willing to bet that there are some teams interested in acquiring him for nothing. He spent all of last season in the AHL and has always put up good numbers in the AHL, too so he might be on the radar for some teams if the Hurricanes choose to send him down, which is why I think he could get the Joslin treatment next year.
The Hurricanes have only six defensemen currently on the NHL roster and I will eat my hat if all of them manage to stay healthy throughout the year. The team is going to need an extra guy they can count on when an injury inevitably occurs and that guy might have to be Gragnani. I don’t know if he is good enough to play on an NHL roster everyday but he appears to be good enough for another team to take a chance on him if he gets placed on waivers. Gragnani is serviceable as a bottom-pairing defenseman and is only being paid $800,000 in the NHL so the Canes are paying him roughly what his value is. The only thing I’m worried about is that Gragnani may suffer the same fate as Joslin where he had to spend the first month of the season in the press box because the Canes don’t have a place for him in the lineup and don’t want to put him on waivers becaue they are afraid of losing him for nothing.
You have to wonder how much of an effect sitting out for a prolonged period of time will have on Gragnani’s play if it happens since that may have been one of the reasons Joslin struggled so much last year. Gragnani could end up being better off because he’s a more “proven” option than Joslin but you never know. The waiver wire usually leads to some teams making some interesting roster decisions and we could see a few with Carolina in the upcoming season.