The team that surprisingly reached the Eastern Conference finals expects to only tweak the roster and bolster its overall depth when the offseason player-shuffling picks up steam with the draft this weekend and the start of free agency next week.
The Hurricanes - who haven't picked this late since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006 - say they'll try to find the best player still available when they pick Friday night. They then plan to add bulkier players during Saturday's later rounds, general manager Jim Rutherford said Thursday.
"We would like to address our future with a little more size than we've had," Rutherford said in a phone interview from Montreal, where the two-day draft will be held. "This is a time where our depth, as far as prospects go, is really at an all-time high with real good prospects ... either to make the team out of training camp or play half a year in Albany before they get to Carolina. These are skill guys, and we'd like to see if we can add a little bit of size."
They have big plans for their last two first-round picks, both centers: Brandon Sutter, the No. 11 pick in 2007, skated in 50 games this season while providing a jolt of energy and speed, and Zach Boychuk, who played two early-season games with Carolina before returning to his junior team.
At the NHL level, though, the Hurricanes aren't out to make anything more than subtle changes to a lineup that pulled off consecutive Game 7 wins on the road to upset New Jersey and top-seeded Boston before being swept by eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh in the East finals.
Teams may begin signing other organizations' free agents July 1, but Rutherford admitted Carolina is "not even going to look at free agency if we re-sign the guys we want."
That list could include playoff hero Jussi Jokinen, breakout performer Chad LaRose, tough-guy forward Tuomo Ruutu and deadline re-acquisition Erik Cole. It probably won't include Dennis Seidenberg; the defenseman who made $1.2 million last year could receive much more on the open market, prompting the GM to say "we don't see him returning."
"On one hand, maybe we can say our team's on the smaller side. ... But this is the same team that eliminated New Jersey and Boston. It's not like we can't play in that (physical) style of game," he said. "It's not something that's of urgency to us. If something comes along to us, we'll look at it, but it's not something that we have to address immediately."
Rutherford said he would like to give a slight bump up to the team's payroll of $50 million last season.
"It's a difficult year projecting where the revenues might be with this economy," he said. "This is a year, on an operating basis, where the team was in the black, so that was good. But that just dealt with this (past) year, and now we have to project next year."