Yesterday we took a high-level look at the Carolina Hurricanes and how they stack up against the salary cap. Today, we’ll dive into the numbers.

The Core

Player Name Cap Hit 2014-15 Dollars 2015-16 Dollars More Years
Eric Staal $8,250,000 $9,250,000 $9,500,000 0
Alex Semin $7,000,000 $7,000,000 $7,000,000 2
Cam Ward $6,300,000 $6,700,000 $6,800,000 0
Jordan Staal $6,000,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 7
Jeff Skinner $5,725,000 $6,000,000 $6,000,000 3
John-Michael Liles $3,875,000 $4,250,000 $2,750,000 0
Justin Faulk $4,833,333 $2,500,000 $3,500,000 4

Of the $50.375 million already on the hook for next year, 84 percent is tied up in just seven players. For better or worse, this is the nucleus of the team until it’s changed, and since Semin and Faulk are the only ones without a no trade clause, change won’t come easy.

It’s not a bad group by any means, especially up front. Skinner is already a two-time 30-goal scorer, while Eric Staal and Alex Semin formed two-thirds of one of the best lines in the NHL in 2012-13. Jordan Staal has yet to find the same offensive touch that he displayed in Pittsburgh, but he was weighed down for most of the year by over-slotted wingers. Going forward, it’s not unfair to consistently expect 100 goals out of those four, which would be roughly half of what the entire team scored in 2013-14.

Taken individually, you can make a case that any one of them are overpaid. But as a unit, it’s a top-tier group.

faulkOn the other hand, the back end is a different story. For the next two years, Faulk’s contract escalates at a reasonable pace, in line with his current development. At times he played like a first-liner and Olympian, and at others he was lost, out-muscled, and out-worked. He’s still tracking in the right direction, but the final four years of his deal come at a significant cost: $5.5 million and more. Before that time comes, he needs to prove that he’s worth the investment and the top pairing minutes he’s likely to get.

Liles was added midseason in a contract-for-contract swap in an effort to aid the powerplay. While that never panned out, he wasn’t the liability that Tim Gleason was. Still, his $4.25 million for next year is a tough pill to swallow. Though he mostly played middle minutes, that speaks more to the sheer lack of talent on the Hurricanes’ blue-line than Liles’ season. If paid properly, he’s not a bad option on the bottom pairing, but like so many on the team, he was forced into a role that he’s just not capable of filling.

In goal, the Hurricanes are one of the costliest teams in the NHL. Ward, who appeared in only 30 games, two more than when he was a rookie, had his second off year in a row, though he did play well down the stretch. When combined with Anton Khudobin’s $2 million, it becomes a luxury the team may not want to afford.

All seven have taken turns in being worth their deals and not. When at the top of their respective games, they’ve proven to be among the best in the NHL, and a group to build around. But some are too far removed from that, and it’s fair to question whether they can reach that level again, especially at the price they’re paid.

With such a top-heavy team, it affects the ability to fill the rest of the roster with adequate talent.

The Lack of Depth

The biggest decision this summer will be on the future of Jiri Tlusty. He’s excelled in just about any situation, and has a nose for the net and getting into scoring areas. He’s formed chemistry at times with everyone in the top six, and has finally lived up to his first round draft status. But what’s that worth in real dollars?

A fair comparison might be the Islanders’ Joshua Bailey, whose third contract was $16.5 million over five years, escalating from $2.2 million in year one to $4 million in year five. Tlusty is two years older and coming off a second contract worth $400,000 more than Bailey’s, but the numbers shouldn’t be too far off. Anything more, and it might be worth it to explore trade options. The Hurricanes simply can’t keep stacking their forwards at the expense of the defense.

(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Though he isn’t a free agent until 2015, and his salary drops to an astonishingly-low $1.75 million next year, the future of Andrej Sekera needs to be considered. If Andrew MacDonald’s 6-year, $30 million deal set the market, what’s Sekera going to cost? He’s miles better than MacDonald, but can the ‘Canes take on so much money without any significant money coming off the books that summer?

Assuming both Sekera and Tlusty were to accept those same deals, when added to the core of seven, that’s nearly $60 million on nine players in 2015-16.

The lifeblood of teams like Chicago, Detroit, and Boston — teams who consistently make the playoffs — are cheap, effective, homegrown talent. They’re comfortable making tough decisions and cutting ties when players get unaffordable, because they know they have someone to step in. Brett Bellemore and Drayson Bowman represent the current pinnacle for Carolina. They’re not are exactly going to replace Sekera and Tlusty.

One player who might, however, is former first round pick Zach Boychuk. Over the years, Boychuk has had his chances, but has never been able to get a firm grasp on a permanent roster spot. In 2013-14 he appeared in just 11 NHL games, scoring 4 points (1g, 3a) but looked a different player. Still, he was shuttled back and forth to Charlotte, where he ended the year with 36 goals, most in the AHL.

Boychuk is also a restricted free agent, but should come at the minimum: around $500,000. If the Hurricanes are going to continue to spend at the top, they need cheap talent at the bottom.

Outside the Organization

Days after Carolina acquired Jordan Staal from the Penguins, conversation turned to when they would complete their set of Staals. Marc is a free agent in 2015, but he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want that to be a distraction all year. If the ‘Canes want to collect ‘em all, it’ll likely have to come this offseason. And that means a trade.

While Marc would be a huge help to a defense that’s still very much a work in progress, he won’t come cheap. In dollars, or assets. Parting with another first round pick, a prospect, and an NHL player is a hefty price to pay. And fitting him under the cap with so much uncertainty would be a challenge.

Failing a deal for Marc, free agency provides plenty of options to bolster the blue-line. Matt Niskanen is likely to be the top name available, but for every point he scores in the playoffs, he’s adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to his bottom line. Anton Stralman, Nikita Nikitin, Kyle Quincey, and Mark Fayne are others that could be hitting the market, though they more along the lines of depth options who are likely to be overpaid. Such is the nature of free agency.

The Hurricanes aren’t far off, but with so much money loaded into so few players, it’ll be hard to upgrade the areas of clear need. Once again they’ll probably have to settle for bargains, and hope they can find another Nathan Gerbe. Or three.

About The Author

Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7

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