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Making the Carolina Hurricanes Good in One Offseason: Part 1

Avoiding a decade-long playoff drought won’t be an easy task, but it won’t be impossible.

The Hurricanes are about to usher in a new era of hockey, one that will be led by Sebastian Aho.
Jamie Kellner

With all the rumors, speculation, and uncertainty surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes in May, the 2018-19 season may look like a lost cause.

But it isn’t.

Nine consecutive years of missing the playoffs is something that the Hurricanes have to make good on this upcoming season, and that’s what new owner Tom Dundon and his band of merry men (general manager Don Waddell, assistant GMs Mike Vellucci, Rick Dudley and Paul Krepelka, and others) is set on doing - accelerating the rebuild.

The thing is, they don’t really have to accelerate (or do) anything. With losing comes high draft picks and with high draft picks come good, young, controllable hockey players. That’s what the Hurricanes have right now, and as we saw from the Colorado Avalanche this season, that is good enough to get you into the postseason and even have some success into late April and beyond.

With the second-overall pick in their pocket, the Canes really just have one thing that they absolutely have to do between now and October - get a goalie. Though, in part two of this, we will also look at some other areas that they could/should upgrade on via trade and free agency.

This is part one of my step-by-step 2018 offseason game plan for the Carolina Hurricanes, wherein I try to turn this team into one of the top-eight in the Eastern Conference. I’d also recommend checking out Scott Cullen’s (TSN) version.

RFA Noah Hanifin is in need of a new contract, but what will look like?
Jamie Kellner

In-House Free Agents

This is Carolina’s easiest area to decide how their team will look next season and for the foreseeable future. They can rid themselves of pending free agents who don’t fit and try to retain the ones they want. Pretty simple.

Here’s the UFA list this summer:

2018 NHL UFAs

Player Position Age 17-18 Cap Hit
Player Position Age 17-18 Cap Hit
Cam Ward G 34 $3.3 Million
Lee Stempniak RW 35 $2.5 Million
Derek Ryan C 31 $1.425 Million

Lee Stempniak is a guy you can let go of and feel okay about it. Injuries ruined his season and he didn’t show enough upon returning to make me feel very passionately about keeping him. He’ll likely be looking for another organization to take a flyer on him this summer.

Cam Ward was, far and away, the better of Carolina’s two goalies last season, but that isn’t saying much. Given Scott Darling’s contract status, I’d suggest parting ways, once and for all, with Ward and getting a new, established NHL starter/fringe starter to pair with a new and (hopefully) improved Darling next season.

Derek Ryan is actually the toughest player on the list for me. Was he over slotted and put in roles he shouldn’t have been in under Bill Peters? Absolutely. Is he a bad player who doesn’t deserve an NHL job? Absolutely not.

He would be a solid fourth-line center, and I’d be on board with bringing him back and giving him 10-11 minutes a night. With Ryan, you get a little bit of everything - offense, defense, faceoffs, puck possession, and consistent effort. In this mock offseason run through, I’m giving Ryan a two-year deal worth $1.5-2 million AAV (an unpopular decision, I know). If a young guy comes in and outplays him, it’s a contract you can move. He has earned more than a one-year “show-me” contract (like the one he got last year), though.

Worst case scenario, he’s a really good 13th forward.

That was relatively painless. Now, onto the restricted free agents.

2018 NHL RFAs

Player Position 17-18 Cap Hit
Player Position 17-18 Cap Hit
Elias Lindholm C $2.7 Million
Joakim Nordstrom LW $1.275 Million
Noah Hanifin LD $925,000 (ELC)
Trevor van Riemsdyk RD $825,000
Phil Di Giuseppe RW $725,000
Valentin Zykov RW $705,000 (ELC)
Lucas Wallmark C $683,333 (ELC)

One name that is missing here is Klas Dahlbeck, who is reportedly heading to the KHL this summer.

Starting at the top, Elias Lindholm has more than earned a contract extension with his 2017-18 season. He transitioned back to his natural center position and played very well. He has really matured as player and, while he isn’t the first-line center that some hoped he would be in 2013, he has carved out his own game and is far from a “bust”. He is coming off of a two-year bridge deal, so he may be in line for a bigger deal - maybe four years at around $4.5 million. I think the fact that Victor Rask is making $4 million will give Lindy some leverage and should get him some extra money.

Joakim Nordstrom had a miserable season, but his RFA status doesn’t make him a lock to be walking out the door. I’d like to see his time with the organization end, be it by way of not being tendered a qualifying offer or having his rights traded away. I could also see him playing in Europe like Dahlbeck.

Noah Hanifin is the big fish here. He was an all-star last season, thanks mostly to circumstance, but he had a great first half. His second half, however, was not great, but he still did finish with 32 points. How much of his struggles were his fault and how much of the blame lied on now ex-head coach Bill Peters? I can’t answer that, but I still fully believe in Hanifin’s upside. It wasn’t even three years ago when many people were absolutely stunned that he dropped to number five for Carolina, in similar fashion to how Seth Jones dropped to Nashville in 2013.

Like Jones, Hanifin’s first three years haven’t been overwhelmingly great, but Seth Jones was one of the very best defensemen in the league this year, and the Hurricanes shouldn’t get impatient with Hanifin as he could, very easily, become that kind of player.

I could see these negotiations being difficult. Hanifin will likely want a longterm deal, but the Canes might not comply. He doesn’t have arbitration rights yet, so I think he does ultimately get a bridge deal in the two-year, $3.5 million ballpark.

Trevor van Riemsdyk does have arbitration rights. He had a great year, quite frankly. He was the only d-man who didn’t see his game fluctuate dramatically from game one to game 82. Is he a top-four guy? No, but he is about as solid as they come on the third pairing. He is also a right shot, which holds some value. I’d like to see the team lock him up and eat up some UFA years, perhaps three at $2 million per season.

In the final month of the season, Phil Di Giuseppe channeled an aspect of his game that he hasn’t showed at the NHL level in quite some time. He’ll be back in some capacity next season, likely on a two-way deal for the 2018-19 season. He will compete for a bottom-six job next season, but he is in danger of being passed up by a number of prospects between now and opening night. His physicality and relatively consistent two-way play should help him a bit.

Valentin Zykov and Lucas Wallmark are a bit more interesting. Both players played some NHL games last season and, to varying degrees, impressed. Zykov’s AHL goal title, coupled with a great stint in the NHL down the stretch, could earn him a one-way deal. Similar to Brock McGinn, maybe a one-way, two-year, low money deal is in his future. Let’s say two years at a $1.25 million AAV.

Wallmark had a great AHL season. He has gained everything there is to gain from playing in the American league, so it’s time for him to either make the NHL club or maybe get dealt to a team that can utilize him. I can’t see him getting anything other than a one-year, two-way deal. Since I have Ryan coming back, I think he stays with Charlotte at the start of the year and turns into a trade candidate, assuming he lasts with the organization that long.

There are other AHL RFAs, so I’ll just fly through the list.

Andrew Poturalski and Trevor Carrick are likely to be back with the organization next year; Sergey Tolchinsky will play in Russia next season; Greg McKegg has arbitration rights, but he’s probably a toss up to whether he will be brought back; and defensemen Tyler Ganley and Keegan Kanzig would only be brought back to fill out depth AHL/ECHL roles.

Morgan Geekie should receive an entry-level contract in the near future as he will be eligible to play in the AHL next year. Though, he could go back for an overage season in Tri-City. Stelio Mattheos will be back in the WHL next season, but he could get an entry-level deal after his great season. Also keep an eye on Eetu Luostarinen, who had a good year in the Liiga. If they want him to get some time on North American ice, they could sign him this summer, but, like Geekie and Mattheos, they won’t lose his rights if they opt to wait.

Update: Geekie signed his ELC yesterday.

That’s how I see the in-house free agent situations working out. In part two, we will move onto the first big event of the offseason - the NHL Draft.