Carolinahurricanes.com is reporting that Glen Wesley will be out 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL. Tough loss of steady defensive play and blueline leadership at a time when the boys might otherwise be poised to bury Tampa and fend off a resurgent Atlanta squad the 'Canes will face three times in January.
The loss of Wes probably means more ice time for Mike Commodore. Mike is around 14th or 15th in the league right now in penalty minutes. The Hurricanes have taken the 5th most penalties in the league as of today (UPDATE-Wrong CBlog-they have taken the the 6th least total penalties.Thanks to Zachary and the folks at Letsgocanes.com for pointing out my aggregious error). But, once Lavvy's boys take those penalties, they have the 5th worst penalty kill in the league.
I concur with David of Red and Black that Oleg Tverdovsky has been a disappointment this year-not much point production or leadership, and a lousy +/-. Andrew Hutchinson and Frankie Kaberle have nice hands and can run a PP, but both play a malice-free game. Bret Hedican has been steady but unspectacular in a new NHL that was supposed to free up guys like him to fly and carry the puck. CasonBlog hero, AWard, is a blast to watch every night. He's making solid plays and cracking some skulls.
Overall, I fear Wes's leadership and consistency will be missed at a critical juncture in the season. The boys are in the top ten in both PP and team +/-, so the real issue for the boys right now is stepping up on the PK. The prospect of facing Kovalchuk, Kozlov, Savard and Hossa on the PK without Wes's smart and physical play on D is scary.
Is now time to make a move in the marketplace? Which teams might be willing to move a solid blueliner to gain a prospect or a forward? Who might the 'Canes offer at the risk of crushing team chemistry? JR couldn't move Radim Vrbata for a bag of pucks. The same would probably go for Mike Zigomanis, and Joe Vasicek is damaged goods right now.
The most marketable guy on the squad right now and not among the list of presumed untouchables (Staal, Stillman, Roddy, Ladd, the goalies) would probably be Erik Cole. JR only gave Cole a 1 yr deal. At the time, Cole was bitter about being low-balled. If Cole stays healthy and shines the rest of the year (including the upcoming Olympics) The 'Canes could well lose him to free agency with nothing in return. I don't think JR would make a move with an Eastern Conference team. Moving Cole to a conference rival could come back to haunt the club over and over in a season.
Where could JR get instant help on D without taking on a ton of salary (< $2 mil)? Unless JR could find a club looking to unload and/or share salary on a top defender, Cole is the most sellable player, and his market value should demand more than just a steady defenseman. So among the possibles noted below, I would think a trading partner would have to throw in a prospect at a minimum to close a deal:
- Phoenix-The 'Yotes are looking for scoring and character and have a stock of solid young blueliners in Paul Mara, Keith Ballard, Zybnek Michalek and Matt Jones.
- Anaheim-Ruslan Salei ranks among the league leaders in +/- on a team with solid PK stats but lousy PP production. Vitaly Vishnevski also blocks shots and hits like a man possessed and takes half the penalties of a Mike Commodore.
- Chicago-Jassen Cullimore's name keeps popping up in trade rumors on a squad with solid PK numbers (despite a lousy record) and intriguing youngsters on D including Brent Seabrook and Anton Babchuk.
Is it heresy to talk about moving a top performer and fan favorite at a time when the boys sit well atop the Southeast? Possibly, but I think JR is quite possibly looking at a squad right now that has discipline and heart issues on D. He would also be remiss if he wasn't contingency planning for a future that might well include the loss of Erik Cole through free agency, the retirement of Glen Wesley, and the possible mental/physical collapse (again) of Oleg Tverdovsky. The time to leverage capital is not when you are desperate, but when you appear to be in control.