Hurricanes Cap Crunch

Over the last few days, the Hurricanes did well with the limited cap space they had remaining by filling two roster spots for a combined $1.5 mil. Jim Rutherford did great work by making this happen, but there are still a couple of roster spots to be filled and the Hurricanes have some cap space to work with. The question is who should the Hurricanes use this remaining cap space on. Looking at their depth chart, they still have to fill at least two bottom-six spots and the position doesn't really matter since they have plenty of guys within the organization who can play both center and wing. With a little under $6 mil. in cap space remaining, the Canes should be able to fill those two spots without much trouble if they can find a good bargain. However, things get a little dicey if they decide to splurge, which is very possible.

There were some rumblings about the Hurricanes looking to bring in a "big" free agent on a one year deal for about $3-3.5 mil. and that opens the door for some bigger names possibly coming to Carolina. There aren't any spots currently open in the top-six, but I don't see that being too much of an issue because there are plenty of suitable third-liners still available. Secondary scoring was something the Canes lacked last season, so paying a little extra for a skilled third liner is a gamble that they might be willing to take. Acquiring someone who can play in the top-six in the event of an injury also makes a lot of sense.

However, there are a lot of other factors to consider here, as well. The Hurricanes still have a few RFAs to sign as well as their first round draft pick, Elias Lindholm. The RFA's shouldn't take up that much space, but Lindholm's deal could be anywhere from $1.5-3 mil. per season after bonuses, so that is going to play a big role in how much money the Canes have to spend this summer. Whether or not Lindholm makes the team is unknown, but he will probably get the 7-10 game tryout at the very least, so the team will need to make room for his cap hit.

This might hamper some of the team's plans in free agency and prevent them from bringing in a player with a relatively high salary. However, there are some ways that they can get around this and have some cap flexibility without moving too many important pieces. We'll explore those options after the jump. 

Thanks to Capgeek's cap calculator, we can easily look at the Hurricanes cap situation and see what moves are available to them. They currently have 10 forwards, 6 defensemen in 2 goaltenders under contract and $58,875,000 of their cap space taken, which leaves them with $5,435,000 to sign two players. Going by the players they have under contract now, their depth chart looks something like this. 

So that's leaves a little under $5.5 mil. to sign a third line center and a depth forward. The "easy" thing for Carolina to do here is to sign Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash and Zach Boychuk to their RFA deals and hope they can fill out those bottom two spots. However, this may not be the best way to go because the Canes tried a similar method last year and it didn't work out. They hoped Drayson Bowman, Jeremy Welsh, Zac Dalpe & Zach Boychuk could stick in the NHL full-time and Bowman was the only one who was able to do so. You eventually want your prospects to make the NHL, but something tells me the Hurricanes might want to add a more "proven" player to their bottom-six.

Howver, adding Lindholm to the fold could make things difficult depending on how much his ELC pays him. Seeing how Jonathan Droun's cap hit is $3.2 mil. and Valeri Nichushkin's is $2.175 mil., I would expect Lindholm's to be somewhere in the middle. Let's say that his ELC has a cap hit of $2.7 mil., how much room would that give Carolina to work with?

Note: the lines & defense pairings are a bit out of whack here so ignore them.

Factor in Lindholm and you are left with $2,735,000 to fill one depth forward spot. The Hurricanes aren't in a bind in this situation, but they don't have a ton of flexibility either, so that's going to make it tough to bring in another free agent. In theory, they should be able to land a decent third liner for about $1-2 mil., but in a summer where players like Eric Nystrom are getting four-year, $10 mil. deals, finding bargains might be difficult. Still, it isn't impossible and the Canes might be able to sign someone like Mason Raymond, Nik Antropov or Dustin Penner without breaking the bank. Bigger names like Mikhail Grabovski is probably out of their price range, though.

Whoever makes the Hurricanes out of camp is also going to play a role in how much cap flexibility the team has. Even though Bowman and Welsh are under one-way contracts, I don't think their spots are fully guaranteed and someone like Nash or Dalpe could make the team over them in training camp. Should this happen, it could save the Hurricaens a couple thousand dollars in cap space depending on how much their new contracts are. It isn't a lot, but it's something to consider. Bowman being traded actually would not surprise me at all if someone else is brought in because the Canes really need to upgrade their third line. At least $600k-$1.4 mil. will need to make room for Ryan Murphy or Brett Bellemore regardless, so the Canes may have to cut corners somewhere.

All in all, the Canes have some options available to them but they can't really go after any of the bigger names remaining unless someone from the top-six is on the way out, which is just going to create another hole for them to fill next season. In the end, I see Carolina signing someone for the third or fourth line while relying on at least two forwards from Charlotte to round out the bottom-six. If this approach doesn't work, then I think a trade could be in the works to help bolster this team's depth.