Rare is the general manager who meets the media on July 1 and immediately proclaims they have more work to do. The line of the day is usually “we like our team,” “we feel good with the guys we have,” or something similar.
True to form, Don Waddell followed that script Sunday afternoon as he met with the media following the Carolina Hurricanes’ relatively quiet entry into the free agent market.
“I think, when you look at every place we are right now, we feel like we’re in pretty good shape. It doesn’t mean we stop working or talking to people. Making your hockey club better doesn’t have to happen on July 1; it could happen on August 1.”
On a day where John Tavares’ childhood dream came true - although, to be fair, getting $11 million per annum to play hockey anywhere would qualify for most as a “childhood dream” - the Canes did what had largely been preordained over the past week. A one-year deal with Petr Mrazek was the only new addition. Derek Ryan (Flames) and Joakim Nordstrom (Bruins) found new homes, as did Cam Ward, who will have a new team for the first time in 13 years by signing with the Blackhawks.
Mrazek might not be the most inspiring signing in the world, but Waddell said that the opportunity to add a young goaltender - somewhat incredibly, he’s more than three years younger than his new platoon-mate, Scott Darling - appealed to the Hurricanes, and it meshed well with Mrazek’s desire to start anew after a miserable 2017-18 season split between the Red Wings and Flyers.
“He said ‘I want to go someplace on a one-year deal and prove that I’m a number-one guy’,” Waddell said. “He’s energized and excited about coming here and proving to everyone that he can be a number-one guy.”
The bigger questions concern the contingency plan. After years of being burned by poor goaltending going all the way back to the likes of Jamie Storr and John Grahame, it’s understandable that Canes fans will look at a signing of any non-superstar level goalie with wary eyes. Waddell did his best to allay those concerns, to the extent he could, on Sunday.
“The free agent market was what it was. There was nobody who had been a starter in the league, except for Petr. At 26 there’s still upside ahead of him. He still has a lot to prove, and he’s determined to prove it.
“Mike Bales spent a lot of time watching a lot of video of all the different guys and talking to goalie coaches,” Waddell continued. “Mike came away with a great understanding of how he’s played, how the last couple years have gone for him. He’s not a guy who has a style that needs to be changed. Mike felt very comfortable with the skills that Petr shows, that Mike would be able to make him better.”
The Hurricanes have added goals, in the form of Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. They’ve shored up their defending with the addition of Dougie Hamilton, although that came at the cost of Noah Hanifin, who was largely better than the eye test would have you believe. They still have trade cards to play, if they want, in Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner, although Waddell said that neither would be traded for the sake of making a move.
The Canes do have a couple of players they’re keeping tabs on, perhaps looking to make an under-the-radar signing in the next day or two. Waddell said they’re moving closer to reaching a deal on a new contract for restricted free agent Trevor van Riemsdyk. But the heavy lifting is done, at least in the free agent market, and while a trade could change the balance of things it would be an instance of moving assets to acquire other assets. That might not be the worst thing in the world, but the franchise-changing move for this summer came in Dallas last Friday and wore number 37 at prospect camp last week. Expecting anything beyond that is likely unrealistic.
To that end, Waddell was preaching the youth-movement gospel on Sunday. “We’re going to add two players, Necas and Svechnikov, to our roster next year. There’s no other team adding two young players of that caliber at the same time.”
Perhaps Mrazek will find his game again. Perhaps Darling will do so. (And maybe both will, which would be a stroke of good goaltending fortune years in the making for the Hurricanes.) With the market being what it is, this was probably the best Waddell could do.
Now we have three months until we find out if the best will be enough.