Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said the trade for defenseman Aaron Ward does, indeed, mean that defenseman Dennis Seidenberg it out.
Ward, a member of the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup team, will be paired with the Hurricanes’ highest-paid defenseman, Joni Pitkanen. Ward and Pitkanen both play big minutes, one reason they’re a good fit, Rutherford said.
“I have a lot of respect for him as a player,” said Rutherford. “He’s a big strong player that can play a lot of minutes. There’s no adjustment for him. He knows the city. He knows the team. He knows the system.”
The trade shipped forward Patrick Eaves, who was due to make $1.4 million this year, and a fourth round pick to the Boston Bruins for Ward, who is due $2.5 million this year. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, and Rutherford said he won’t try to lock in Ward before then.
“We’ll wait,” said Rutherford. “There’s a lot of players’ contracts that are up at the end of the year. It doesn’t mean we won’t re-sign some of the players or most of them or Aaron.”
Asked about how Hurricanes forward Scott Walker, who punched Ward in the face during the Eastern Conference Semifinals, would get along, Rutherford didn’t think it would be a problem.
“As a team, we were competing against Aaron,” said Rutherford. “We’ll support him now. Everything is fine.”
Ward, who continued to live in Cary through joining the New York Rangers as a free agent and a subsequent trade to the Bruins, was still quite popular here, though his image took a hit here during the Walker incident, when accusations flew back and forth.
“It only took a hit because the fans are like the players,” said Rutherford. “They’re emotionally attached and they want to win. Aaron Ward has a lot of fans here and he’s well respected. That [incident] will be long in the past by the time opening night comes.”
Rutherford, asked if could have kept Seidenberg for the $2.5 million Ward will make, said losing Eaves’ contract neutralizes the salary cap.
“You can’t do it that way,” said Rutherford. “It’s offset by moving the other contract out. We’d have to get Seidenberg for $1.1 [million] then.”
Statistically, Ward and Seidenberg have similar numbers. Neither player had much of an offensive flair (Ward had three goals and seven assists; Seidenberg had five goals and 25 assists). Ward had 151 hits (55th in the league) while Seidenberg had 146 (62nd). Besides, Rutherford said, a defenseman can’t be judged by points.
Rutherford didn’t shy away from saying Ward was the better, more experienced player. Ward has 14 years of NHL experience and has been a part of three Stanley Cup teams (two with the Detroit Red Wings). Seidenberg has six years of NHL experience.
“We feel he’s a better all-around player. It’s not just the financial part of it,” said Rutherford. “Ward is bigger and stronger. … Aaron Ward has won Stanley Cups. It’s not just about points. ... It’s just the whole package. It’s his overall experience. He’s got several more years of consistent play.”
Rutherford said that defenseman Anton Babchuk, who wanted more than the $1 million the Canes offered him this year (he is a restricted free agent with no arbitration rights), will not be back with the team.
“We’ve moved on from him,” said Rutherford. “He’s either going to get traded or I guess his other option is to play in Russia.”
Rutherford also said defenseman Frank Kaberle’s contract will be bought out next week. He’s owed $2.2 million this year, but the Hurricanes can buy him out for two-thirds of that salary and split the payments over the next two seasons.
Asides from that, Rutherford said all that’s left is to look out for some good deals.
“There’s still some very useful players out there that will probably come at a reduced price,” he said.