State of the Carolina Hurricanes: NHL Trade Deadline Edition

This post was co-written by Mark Jones (Twitter: @CanesReport), an NHL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and Joe Gustainis (Twitter: @jgusta21).

Months ago, the Carolina Hurricanes appeared poised for a February fire-sale of epic proportions. The ‘Canes stood in last place in the Eastern Conference, Eric Staal couldn’t break out of his disastrous slump, and Jeff Skinner was on injured reserve; essentially, the season was dead. But GM Jim Rutherford did have a number of upcoming free agents under his belt, including hot commodities like Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu, and the frenzy of trade offers was just beginning.

Nowadays, though, Carolina’s outlook on the trade deadline is quite a bit cloudier.

The aggressive forecheck and precise set plays that head coach Kirk Muller began to implement back in December have caught fire, allowing the Hurricanes to earn points in 11 of their last 13 games and crawl within seven points of the playoff line.

Moreover, Gleason was re-signed by Rutherford earlier this month to a new four-year, $16 million contract including a no-trade clause, taking the stay-at-home defenseman fully off the market. Ruutu soon followed suit, as well, receiving a four-year $19 million extension just Wednesday.

A couple of enticing names, such as veteran blueliners Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek, still remain probable trade items, however.

The Boston Bruins have reportedly shown interest in both as they look to break out a slow start to the 2012 calendar year and challenge for their second consecutive Stanley Cup title. The Chicago Blackhawks, in the midst of a turbulent, inconsistent second half, and the Ottawa Senators, clinging to a playoff spot despite the league’s 26th-ranked defense, have also been linked to one or the other.

In exchange, Rutherford and the ‘Canes would likely demand a promising young forward or high draft pick. With eight official defensemen on the NHL roster and other prospects like Bobby Sanguinetti, Ryan Murphy and Brian Dumoulin working up through the system, defensemen-for-forward deals will be plentiful this week for Carolina.

Under those conditions, the Bruins may be able to offer up youngsters like Jordan Caron or Jared Knight; meanwhile, the Senators could dangle someone like Jim O’Brien or Stephane Da Costa and the Blackhawks could deal prospects such as Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri or Andrew Shaw.

On a different note, rumors have floated around the blogosphere that the Vancouver Canucks could have interest in Chad LaRose. A possible return in that case could be Mason Raymond, as the Canucks are desperate for energy and grit and may be willing to move the talented but under-productive winger. Conversely, it remains to be seen if Rutherford could bring himself to trade feisty LaRose, a long-time front office favorite.

All in all, a relatively active week for Jim Rutherford and the Hurricanes roster could be anticipated with the postseason still seeming unlikely. However, do not expect a full fire-sale in the slightest. Jim Rutherford is known for making “hockey” moves, and will likely have one foot in the door and one foot out when it comes to selling off assets.

One thing’s for sure, though; the ‘Canes have not given up on the playoffs yet, and will not sell off any chance they have of winning the right to challenge for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Moves will be made, but expect primarily NHL players or NHL-ready prospects in return. For now, at least, any complete rebuilding project in Carolina has been put on hold.

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