Ian White’s minus-10 is not an indication of his ability to play defense; it’s a reflection of the underachieving team he played on as much as anything.
At his best, he’s a useful two-way defenseman despite his size -- he’s listed at 5-foot-10 -- and he played two full seasons under Paul Maurice with the Toronto Maple Leafs, so both player and coach should know what they’re getting into.
It was obvious to everyone -- even me! -- that the Hurricanes’ defense was not any better than the most pessimistic of preseason projections and changes were needed. The questions was whether there were better options available, and if there were, whether the Hurricanes could squeeze them onto the payroll.
Today’s deal brings in a veteran defenseman capable of playing 20-plus minutes a night, joining Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason and Joe Corvo. That means less pressure on Jamie McBain, who people sometimes forget is still a rookie, and a more suitable role for Jay Harrison.
The level of upgrade from Anton Babchuk, who was shipped to Calgary with Tom Kostopoulos, is immeasurable; with the Flames, who have a surplus of veteran defensemen, Babchuk’s role will likely be limited to the power-play specialist he should have been here.
White is in the final year of a $3 million contract, so the Hurricanes added $650,000 in salary to make the deal. That has to be about as much the Hurricanes could take on, given owner Peter Karmanos’ payroll restrictions, but by sending Kostopoulos north of the border -- and he’ll flourish playing for the Sutter brothers -- they’re out from under the $1.1 million they would have paid him next year.
Kostopoulos’ three-year deal was designed to add veteran toughness to a contending team; that plan went out the window almost immediately last fall. The rebuilding Hurricanes can fill that role more cheaply with someone like waiver claim Troy Bodie.
The Hurricanes also pick up Brett Sutter, son of Calgary GM Darryl and cousin of Carolina center Brandon. While he’s a useful depth forward, the Hurricanes are doing the Sutter family a favor by giving him a fresh start; he was arrested last week in Arizona after allegedly punching a cabbie while intoxicated.
As Calgary Herald columnist George Johnson put it, “It's unfair to ask Brett Sutter to try to form himself as a person and develop as a player here. Always has been.” (Johnson also notes how Brandon has been allowed to develop without the Sutter baggage here.)
He’ll get that chance now, in an organization apparently intent on assembling as many sort-of-siblings as possible.
But that's really just an addendum to the main part of the deal, and the switch from Babchuk to White substantially improves the Hurricanes' chances of making the playoffs. I don't know what those chances are right now, but whatever they were, they're better than they were this morning.