Jim Rutherford has said it before, and he’s saying it again — Carolina is looking to get better on the blueline heading into free agency.
“Our focus will continue to be on improving our defense,” the ‘Canes GM told the Raleigh News and Observer. “We were working (Wednesday) and will continue to work, looking at different options – what our projections are and what the possibilities are.
“The options range from free agency to a trade to continuing on the path we’re on now.”
In April, Rutherford suggested the issues his club had in 2013 — 3.31 goals against per game, 29th in the NHL — were due in large part to a lacklustre blueline.
He also felt it contributed to the team’s downfall.
On Mar. 12, the ‘Canes beat the Caps to move to 15-9-1 on the year and first place in the Southeast Division.
By Apr. 28 — the final day of the regular season — Carolina was 19-25-4, and finished 13th in the East.
Rutherford said his defense didn’t take the body enough, and needed to improve its mobility and puck moving.
“Whether it be a physical defenseman, a puck-moving defenseman, two puck-moving defensemen, whatever it is, those are things the management team and the coaching staff will discuss at the end of the year,” he said. “That’s an area it’s clear we need to make stronger.”
The ‘Canes are locked into five defensemen next year — Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Andrej Sekera, Justin Faulk, Jay Harrison — with a sixth, Brett Bellemore, having recently signed a one-year, two-way deal.
It’s also expected Ryan Murphy, the 12th overall pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, will have a legit shot of making the roster.
As for who’s available in free agency?
Douglas Murray and Ryan O’Byrne both finished in the NHL’s top-3o for hits last season, and could provide a physical element.
Marek Zidlicky, Ryan Whitney or Ian White — who played for a spell in Carolina — could be decent acquisitions to help the puck-moving/offensive game.
Or, Rutherford could try and complete his collection of Staals by trying to get Marc out of New York.