The situation that the Hurricanes have with their current free agents has been scrutinized to death over the past few weeks and we all got a little relief a couple of days ago when Tuomo Ruutu was re-signed to a new deal. There is still one important player whose future with the team is uncertain and that, of course, is defenseman Bryan Allen.
With names like Nicklas Grossman, Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina being traded away for 2nd round picks and more, it would make sense for Carolina to trade away Allen because his return will likely be high. He is better than all three of those defensemen and is younger than all of them except Grossman. If they are going for second round picks, Rutherford should be able to get that and more in return for Allen.
Although, is it possible that Rutherford sees Allen as an important part of the team going forward and doesn't want to trade him? Absolutely. Allen has been phenomenal in a shutdown role this year and has been one of the team's best defensemen. Carolina's playoff chances are bleak, which means the general rule of thumb is for the Canes to sell off pending free agents and other assets for draft picks and "future considerations." Jim Rutherford has done the opposite of that, signing both Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason to new contracts. After the jump, I'll explain why Allen could be the next guy who is inked to a new deal.
A few weeks ago, I compared Allen to his defense partner, Gleason and determined that both players are very similar but Allen's numbers look slightly better because he spent a good amount of time on the third pairing in December. When these two are paired together, they make a very effective shutdown tandem that can keep up with opposing team's top lines. Keeping these two together might be a wise move on Rutherford's part because they have been nothing but effective all season. If Allen leaves, whether it be by free agency or trade, Carolina would need to find another defenseman to anchor the shutdown pair with Gleason for next season. Which player who is currently on the roster can do that? Joni Pitkanen is a possibility. We all know he can log 20+ minutes a game but can he play a shutdown role? He's played with Gleason a lot before, which means that he draws tough competition but Gleason's workload now is a lot bigger than it has been in years. Justin Faulk is another name but he and Jay Harrison struggled big time in their audition as the top pairing and it suggests that neither are quite ready for the role yet. Jamie McBain has been playing a lot better ever since Muller starting using him on the third pairing and I think it's best if he stays there.
So, there aren't too many options within the organization to replace Allen but what about free agency? Back in December, I talked about what the price is for a shutdown defenseman and I estimated that the amount was around $3-3.5 mil. if you want a really solid one. Are there any of those guys on the market? Yes, but Allen is better than a good chunk of them.
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There's a few other guys out there but this is the list I came up with for available unrestricted free agent defensemen who the Canes might target this summer. Allen plays against tougher opponents, starts much more shfits in his own zone and is performing slightly better than anyone here when you take his situation into context. One comparable player to him would be Greg Zanon of the Minnesota Wild. He takes around the same amount of defensive zone draws and does a solid job at preventing shots and chances despite the big workload. He's also signed to a cheap contract and seems like the perfect kind of player to replace Allen with. However, he also plays less minutes and is used against weaker competition.
How much Allen will demand in free agency is a good question because he's 31 years old, has already gotten his payday from Florida with a five-year contract, but he might be looking to cash in on a good season. Allen seems like the kind of guy the Hurricanes would want to lock-up for another year or two to allow Ryan Murphy, Brian Dumoulin and Danny Biega to develop their games more at the lower levels. He isn't the guy we want to overpay for and give a long-term contract to because we have other defensemen in our pipeline that are going to need to get a shot in Raleigh within the next couple years. Looking at the Canes defense corps next year shows that there is plenty of room for Allen and keeping him on a one-year deal shouldn't be too much trouble.
Defensemen under contract for next season:
McBain will probably be re-signed so that gives Carolina six defensemen but I have to think that they don't want Joslin playing every night so that leaves room for Allen to return. Bobby Sanguinetti could challenge Joslin for a roster spot, too.
Looking at the Canes defense corps next year, they have a great all-around player in Pitkanen, an offensive minded guy in McBain, Faulk should be fine on the second pair and they have a versatile player in Jay Harrison, too. They just need another defensive d-man to pair with Gleason, which is where I'd like to see Allen play for another year. This gives the Hurricanes at least five solid defensemen on their roster going into next year and will make them a better team assuming they can stay healthy.
How much money Allen wants or what other offers teams will throw his way is another issue but I think Rutherford should look into keeping Allen around for another year given how well he's played. If Harrison or one of the younger players can improve and make the team, then the Canes should have an improved defense corps next year. Now, if a GM in desperate need of a defenseman throws Rutherford a huge offer for Allen (which is possible given some other trades) then this is a completely different story.