The Carolina Hurricanes need Brett Bellemore.
That might be a strange thing to write about a guy who’s spent the majority of the year at no higher than number four on the depth chart, and has watched nearly 20 games from the press box — some due to time missed from a concussion — but it’s no less true.
The ‘Canes need Bellemore.
Friday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues underscored what a reliable defenseman Bellemore can be when given a chance. He threw his body around with reckless abandon, adding a degree of physicality that’s been largely absent from the blue line this year. But beyond the mostly useless stat that is “hits”, Bellemore’s had context.
His first on TJ Oshie broke up what might have turned into an outnumbered chance against, and drew the ire of the entire Blues’ team. It set the tone for the rest of the night.
Over the course of the game, Bellemore goaded them into three penalties while taking none himself. He jumped into the rush with confidence, and posted the best shot-attempt differential among Hurricanes’ defensemen — against one of the best possession teams in the NHL, no less. It’s something he’s done all season long.
Despite having the highest defensive zone start ratio on the ‘Canes defense, Bellemore has consistently turned the play back the other way. He hasn’t gotten the same tough matchups that the Justin Faulk-Andrej Sekera pairing have, but when paired with Ron Hainsey, he gives Kirk Muller a solid second option.
And even then, he hasn’t been protected. He’s spent just 59 fewer seconds on the ice against Alexander Ovechkin than Faulk has.
But it’s on the penalty kill that he really shines, and arguably becomes Carolina’s best defenseman. While Bellemore is off the ice, the Hurricanes yield nearly 2 goals more per 60 minutes than when he is on. Compare that to Faulk and Sekera where their team actually gives up fewer when they are sitting. And given that a PK shift is much shorter than a PP shift, they all face against roughly the same competition.
So, he’s been good and has flown mostly under the radar. But why do the ‘Canes need the 25-year-old rookie?
Consider the contract situation of their blue line. Faulk is due a new deal. Hainsey is due a new deal. Sekera will be due a new deal next summer. Even Mike Komisarek is due a new deal. Well, maybe.
By some CBA loophole, Bellemore has played his way back into restricted free agent status, and is unlikely to command much of a raise. Everyone else, on the other hand, will get pretty pricey, pretty quickly.
And that’s not even including the host of forwards who need new contracts. Or Anton Khudobin.
Teams that are perpetually stuck against their own internal salary cap thrive on cheap players like Bellemore that can actually play hockey. The next generation of defensemen in Charlotte don’t appear to be ready, and those that are close — like Ryan Murphy — fill completely different roles.
If Hainsey is lost to free agency, Bellemore could be in line for a significant minutes increase.
Bellemore is far from polished. He still has trouble with the puck on his stick, and exiting the zone with control can be a rare sight. But for a guy that took the long way to get to the NHL — 300 AHL games on the dot — he’s become a key cog in the mostly-nameless Hurricanes defense.