Hurricanes don’t have a lot of options this season. They will inevitably make some huge changes.
This becomes more clear when you look at the lineup without the suspended free agents (don’t come to me to make any line-up decisions; this is just a visual):
Andrei Svechnikov – Sebastian Aho – Teofu Teravanin
Seth Jarvis -??? -???
??? – Jordan Stahl – Jasper Fast
Jordan Martinock – Jesprey Katkaniemi -???
Jacob Slavin -???
Brady Skji – Brett Pesci
You are Ranta
The Canes would have roughly $20 million in cover room to fill these holes, per CapFri Friendly, and possibly an additional $4 million if they offload Jake Gardiner’s load. They will undoubtedly want to re-sign some of their free agents, but others will be close calls, and there are many factors that General Manager Don Waddell and his team must take into account.
In no particular order, here’s what we see as Carolina’s off-season priorities:
Get free restricted proxy deals out of the way
The Hurricanes have four NHL players who will be free agents: Martin Nicas, Tony D’Angelo, Ethan Bear and Stephen Lorentz.
Nikas was ready for the breakout season that never happened, partly because of what appeared to be his reluctance to release the puck and do plays, but also because the rise of Jarvis and management gave Jesperi Kotkanyemi, the $6.1 million man, every chance of success.
My feeling with Nikas is that a fresh start will benefit both sides. I still love his potential, but I wouldn’t blame him if his confidence was affected given what happened this season and the entry contract status that kept him in the AHL for an extra year prior to that. Hurricanes will likely look for a business deal or sign him over a short bridge deal (think a year or two).
I see a 50-50 case with Bear. He didn’t get a crack at the post-season lineup, so it kind of looks like the trial flopped, but I still love him. He’s not great in the lower pairing role, but maybe manage to give him another try in the middle pairing if others are on their way out. Let’s see how the dominoes fall.
Lorentz is 26 years old and coming off a season in which he scored 13 points in 67 games. Keeping him won’t come at a high price, which could be valuable to a team that makes bigger decisions elsewhere.
This leaves DeAngelo. There is no match for him in the league for obvious reasons. He’s coming off a million-dollar one-year contract that he’s clearly outgrown, but my hunch says he’s feeling some loyalty to the stick — and that combined with a quiet second run could bring his cost down to a football field the Canes can afford. I’d be curious to see what his trial would look like if it came to that.
Choose your free, unrestricted agents wisely
The Hurricanes have six NHL players destined for unrestricted free agency: Vincent Trochek, Nino Needretter, Max Domy, Ian Cole, Brendan Smith and Derek Stepan.
Trocheck and Niederreiter are the biggest fish to fry. Both are mainstays of cane sticks and have had great seasons. Troshik came fourth with 21 goals and 51 points in 81 matches. It also brought a feature that I probably didn’t realize just how badly needed hurricanes were. He didn’t have the best second round, but who did? Niederretter scored 24 goals and 44 points in 75 matches, and his presence up front was sorely needed.
They both feel complementary, but let’s think about our wallets rather than our hearts. The portfolio says Trocheck, a hub, is set to receive a raise from its $4.75 million average annual value. Meanwhile, Niederreiter’s $5.25 million seems to be correct, but maybe decent deserved raise. I’m not sure you could sign both if you were swinging for the “elite scorer” Rod Bringmore is talking about.
Then consider center depth: Aho and Staal aren’t going anywhere, Kotkaniemi is waiting for a bigger role, Jarvis is able to play the center, Necas is still around, and Jack Drury is tearing it up in the AHL.
That decision becomes highly dependent on whether Troschick or Niederretter are willing to take pay cuts to stay with Keynes’ core. But if it’s about the money, hurricanes have some options in the center and Trocheck might go well.
Wondering if the stick wand will kick my doll? Those two goals from Game 7 will live on in the franchise’s lore, but it might be a situation where everything interferes with the aforementioned elite scorer, and that means letting some marginal players walk in.
I can’t imagine a full return of the Cole Smith pairing, but when the pay cut is Cole a cheap leader they can keep up with a stronger partner. I think this applies to either of them.
Assuming Derek Stepan is healthy, and the Canes never played him against the Rangers, he probably would have finished here. It would be easier to re-sign Lorentz.
Take a look at the goalkeepers
There was a lot of speculation about Andersen’s left knee injury that kept him out of qualifying. Some question why similar things have happened to Andersen throughout his career and he seemed reluctant to return to the grid when his team needed him during the play-off.
To be clear, there is no doubt that Andersen was injured and was not 100 per cent ready to return during qualifying.
Waddell assured me before Game Seven that Andersen’s movement was “coming back” but “a slow process for a goalkeeper doing the butterfly”.
There is a sense that some in the Canes organization wish Andersen had pushed and played it, while others sympathized with the complexity of the goalkeeper’s injury on such a massive body. There is a difference between what a goalkeeper is expected to play and what a skater is expected to play, and the facts of playing through injuries as a goalkeeper are complicated by the type of injury and how it affects body confidence.
Regardless, the Canes need to make sure Andersen is in a position to succeed next season and that they have exhausted all resources in understanding what happened and how to help. They also have to come to terms with the fact that Andersen may not be playing through the injury. If they don’t feel confident in him as their number one at that point, they should cut their losses and move on.
We also can’t forget Raanta’s injury in match 7 where he sprawled over the net to change his position and seemed to be pulling something. Brind’Amour said Raanta will be checked on Tuesday but it wasn’t an option for at least a while had Canes come forward.
None of this feels good.
Explore the “Elite scorers” market
We were leaning back trying to figure out what was wrong with the power game during qualifying. Many suggest a new coach to play the power, and I’m sorry, but sometimes I pay attention to this. Although exploring some new charts and plays wouldn’t hurt – and why not bring in a new sound and see what happens? – I do not think that this is the panacea that some believe.
Strength issues surfaced at five for five as well, and the lack of high-end finishing talent was evident. When I look at the season and my coverage, I’ve inadvertently mentioned this a few times. “Why is no one talking about hurricanes?” I asked, and got a few stars appearing in trophy talks.
The Canes were one of the top teams, but none of them touched the top 20. Aho led the team with 81 points in 79 games, was well placed 30th in the league, and the only player to earn a point per game was Canes in a high-score NHL season. After that, no one else was on the top 50 list.
It’s a testament to Canes that they’ve come far with their defensive efforts, but the front office needs to reward them for that with a shiny new game.
The options are a story for a different day, but “we love our group” isn’t good enough to head into next season.
Rework the blue line
It’s a little strange to look back on the days just a couple of years ago when there were roughly 18 up-and-coming high-drag picks vying for a place on the loaded Blue Line in Canes, but that’s life in this line of business. And speaking of business, the Kans family has entered the realm of short-term deals.
So even if the UFAs for the Freeman only group are going, you’re looking at two holes to fill.
My intuition says the Slavin-DeAngelo pairing will continue, and so will Pesce and Slavin. I’d like to see Canes call Jalen Chatfield on his $764,000 AAV and possibly let Bear walk if they don’t use it. I love Cole for what he brings into the room, and still gets if he’s with a solid partner playing strategic minutes. If he’s willing to cut his AAV’s $2.9 million salary, it makes sense to bring him back.
Let Brind’Amour get some sleep
I have absolutely no time for “Is it time to question Brind’Amour?” Takes. I don’t get people saying he didn’t change the squad during qualifying when he did it over and over and it paid off. Switching the fourth streak in and out wouldn’t change the fact that the Hurricanes had one player in the top 50 in the regular season. But his in-game adjustments worked, such as Domi moving to the second line in Game 6 of the first round, resulting in a two-goal game for Domi in Game 7.
Brind’Amour is very good at his job and hits so hard on his players that it’s almost harmful. He squeezes everything he can out of these guys, and he’s very reluctant to criticize them. There’s a reason so many guys have career seasons under him, but he can’t turn anyone into Conor McDavid.
He also earns, like, four dollars compared to the rest of the league coaches. Good luck finding another Rod Brendamor. I hope this guy has a great summer full of comfort and T-ball games.
(Top image by Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck and Andrei Svechnikov: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)