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DeCock: Morrow should be Canes’ free-agent target

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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RALEIGH As the next generation of would-be Carolina Hurricanes goes through the July ritual of development camp, the current generation still needs some help. While the Hurricanes continue to sniff around free-agent defenseman Ron Hainsey, there’s another player who may fill a bigger need.

There is one free agent still out there who was a teammate of Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller with the Dallas Stars, a 34-year-old left wing who scored 12 goals in 44 games last season, although his contributions here would go far beyond production.

Brenden Morrow is still out there.

Morrow’s agent, Brad Devine, confirmed via email Wednesday that he talked with the Hurricanes earlier this summer and expected to talk with them again. Meanwhile, doors appear to be closing at other more likely destinations, like Montreal and Detroit.

Whether the Hurricanes could even afford him remains uncertain. The Hurricanes have almost $5 million in cap space, but they’re up against their internal budget with a payroll of $59.3 million. They could maybe add another million and change, but they would likely have to move a contract to add Morrow, just as they would to add Hainsey, a rumored target.

Hainsey would be a fantastic addition to the Hurricanes’ defense, but unless they’re moving Joni Pitkanen to make room, it doesn’t make as much sense at this point. Trading someone like Tim Gleason to clear salary space for Hainsey offers only marginal improvement. The Hurricanes may have been unhappy with Gleason’s fitness and tepid physical play last season, but he’s certainly shown himself to be capable of more.

With the addition of Andrej Sekera and Mike Komisarek, the blue line has been stabilized. (Signing Hainsey would have made more sense than giving up a second-round pick to swap Jamie McBain for Sekera, but on draft night, there was no guarantee Hainsey would even be interested.) So has the backup goalie position with the equal-parts-thrifty-and-crafty signing of Anton Khudobin.

In the game of offseason triage, the forwards need the most help now.

The top line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty is a given. Beyond that, there are serious depth and talent issues. Muller wants to use Jordan Staal against the opposition’s top lines, presumably along with Tuomo Ruutu, and find softer spots for Jeff Skinner.

It’s worrisome enough that the Hurricanes appear ready to start the season with an inexperienced third line of Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Zac Dalpe, but who’s the left wing with Jordan Staal and Ruutu? Who kills penalties? Who’s going to provide the veteran leadership that was so lacking last spring, on and off the ice?

Surely there will be a depth forward or two plucked from the bargain bin as camp approaches to add a little fourth-line tenacity and special-teams help, but Morrow would stabilize everything else. Even if the Hurricanes had to overpay to get him, relatively speaking, they’d get value for their money.

Morrow would be the ideal complement to Jordan Staal and Ruutu, a savvy veteran who can still chip in with a few goals. He can take some of the leadership burden off Eric Staal and the other young players who have been asked, somewhat unfairly, to shoulder it. And in a rough-and-tumble new division, Morrow’s grit can help the Hurricanes compete.

Morrow can play the same mentoring role for the Hurricanes that Muller played for the Stars back when they were teammates more than a decade ago. Just as no free agent is a better fit for the Hurricanes than Morrow, it’s hard to imagine a recruiting pitch that would appeal more to Morrow’s character.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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