RALEIGH -- There hasn’t ever been a trade deadline that had the kind of implications for the future of the Carolina Hurricanes that today's had. Only one trade was made, but its reverberations and ramifications will be felt for a long time.
The deal to acquire Bryan Allen from the Florida Panthers meant that the Hurricanes lost Brett Carson on waivers for nothing. It means that the odds of losing Joni Pitkanen for nothing this summer substantially increased. But Allen’s arrival also significantly upgraded the Carolina blue line from a defensive standpoint, and since the Hurricanes decided not to cash in on Pitkanen and trade him now, their chances of making the playoffs weren’t harmed, either.
The Hurricanes are in better shape to make the playoffs today than they were yesterday, but not without some collateral damage.
It’s a complicated situation, with lots of moving parts, but the hardest part is this: The Hurricanes’ tight budget cost them a solid young player. To clear budget space to add a defenseman -- not salary-cap space, of which the Hurricanes have more than $9 million -- they had to send Carson down to the AHL. That meant sending him through waivers, and he was claimed by the Calgary Flames, to the Hurricanes’ surprise.
There were other reasons for sending him to Charlotte -- playing time and helping the Checkers -- but money was the main one. Sending Carson to Charlotte would have saved about $90,000. (Losing him on waivers will save about $170,000.)
“We did it to make room to make this move,” Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said. “If we hadn’t done that, if we hadn’t added a defenseman later in the day, I’d be devastated about losing him. As it is, I’m OK with it. I was surprised, because I wasn’t expecting to lose him, but he’ll be a free agent this summer so we may be able to bring him back.”
Still, losing Carson did serve the original purpose of the move, which was to clear space in the budget to add a player like Allen. The Hurricanes were able to get him, a big body and steady defensive presence, without giving up a young player or draft pick. (Veteran forward Sergei Samsonov, a free agent this summer, went the other way to balance out the salaries.)
Unlike many of the players traded today, Allen is not an impending free agent. He is under contract for next season at $3.15 million. Pitkanen, however, is a free agent on July 1. His price on the open market could well exceed the $4.5 million he’s making now. If that money was ever in the Hurricanes’ eternally tight budget, it isn’t anymore.
The other option with Pitkanen was to trade him, and Rutherford said there were teams kicking the tires. But trading a guy who leads the team in ice time at more than 25 minutes per game would have significantly damaged the Hurricanes’ playoff hopes -- particularly with Carson out of the mix as well -- even if it means the Hurricanes risk letting him walk away for nothing this summer, the same way Ray Whitney did a year ago.
There’s no guarantee Pitkanen departs this summer -- there may be a way to make the numbers work, particularly with if the proverbial “hometown discount” is in play -- but the arrival of Allen’s contract certainly makes it more likely.
So the Hurricanes got better today, but at what cost? Only six teams are giving up more goals, and Allen should be able to help in that department. Cory Stillman, who arrived from the Panthers last week, should be able to help with a power play that ranks 22nd in the NHL.
In the process, though, the Hurricanes lost a young defenseman and made it more difficult to keep Pitkanen, while at the same time passing on what may have been their last opportunity to get something of value for him.
If they’re able to hold onto their playoff position, and they may now be more likely to do just that, the ends without question justify these means -- and leave the future of the Carolina blue line, over the next month and the next year, very different than it was 24 hours ago.