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Hurricanes 2019 RFA and UFA preview and predictions

With 32 games left in the 2018-19 season, we take a look at the Hurricanes’ pending free agents.

Jamie Kellner

In the spirit of the bye week, let’s take a look at some players that the Carolina Hurricanes could be saying “bye” to this offseason.

Between now and July 1, the Hurricanes have to decide what the future holds for 18 players - nine restricted free agents and nine unrestricted free agents. In that group of 18 are some big names, some names that have been thrown into the rumor mill, and some names that you might not even know due to their minor role in the organization.

Which players are worth keeping? Who do you move on from? Who do you trade before the trade deadline? Let’s talk about it.

Jamie Kellner

Restricted Free Agents

Saku Maenalanen

Maenalanen’s journey to the NHL has been relatively long and winding, but he made it, and he has give the Hurricanes no reason to get rid of him.

Since getting recalled for his current NHL stint, he has played in 12 games and has scored four goals while averaging 10:32 of ice time per game. In a bottom-six role, this big Finnish forward has pretty much everything you look for - size, skating, responsible two-way play, and good-enough hands that allow him to take advantage of the offensive chances that he gets.

In a vacuum, Maenalanen reminds me of Viktor Stalberg, and that’s a compliment to the 24-year-old rookie. He’s extremely versatile, and his game translates very well to the NHL, especially on the penalty kill. For me, it’s a no-brainer that he should be back with the team next season, probably on a one-way contract.

He’s currently getting $925,000 at the NHL level, which is fair. It wouldn’t surprise me if the money stays similar, but the contract becomes one-way with guaranteed money next season.

Verdict: re-sign; one year, $950,000 (one-way)

Sebastian Aho

Fresh off of his first NHL All-Star nod, the 21-year-old franchise cornerstone has a big second-half ahead of him as he looks to carry his team back into playoff contention and cash in on a huge pay day.

Aho will be signed. It’s not “If”, it’s “when” and “how much”.

It’s going to be among the biggest contracts in the history of this franchise. He currently sits at 14th in the NHL in points and has only gotten better and better as a center in the NHL. For all of those reasons and many more, the annual value of Aho’s contract may flirt with the $9 million mark, which would eclipse Eric Staal’s contract signed back in 2008.

The longer Aho’s camp waits to sign the extension, the more money they’re likely going to get, so expect this to be an offseason deal.

Verdict: re-sign; eight years, $8.75 million AAV

Jordan Martinook

This one’s easy for me. Martinook has been great on the ice and in the locker room. His personality is a big deal for this team and his brotherly mentorship of Andrei Svechnikov has been a real treat to watch.

He has netted ten goals this season, and while he might not reach double digits every season, he isn’t a bad offensive player. Factoring in his defense, aggressiveness, skating ability and penalty killing, I think he’s an easy guy to justify keeping around.

Verdict: re-sign; two years, $2 million AAV

Brock McGinn

Love him or hate him, McGinn has become an important cog in Rod Brind’Amour’s machine. The feisty forward has chipped in four goals and 14 points on top of his regularly scheduled big hits and aggressive play.

After a bad start, offensively, McGinn has logged seven points over his last 12 games. I don’t think he is a long-term 40-point guy like his play as of late and his breakout campaign a season ago might suggest, but can he be a gritty middle-six guy who can score 10 or 15 goals every year? I think he can. If he ever stops hitting the post eight times a game, he might even score 80 goals in a season.

McGinn is a player who has grown on me this season, even despite his terrible puck luck. I think he gets an extension and will be around for the long haul.

Verdict: re-sign; three years, $1.85 million AAV

Clark Bishop

Bishop has been another pleasant surprise. From the day that Carolina drafted him, they knew that his skill wouldn’t be what got him to the NHL; it would be his effort and strong north-south game.

In 20 NHL games this season, he has recorded three points. Unfortunately, right when it looked like he was starting to get comfortable with the NHL game, he suffered a lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks.

He’s just 22-years-old and can, conceivably, be a valuable and cheap fourth-line center option. He’ll be back.

Verdict: re-sign; one year, $800,000 (two-way)

Haydn Fleury

It’s been a very weird season for Fleury, to this point. He has skated in 25 total games between the NHL and AHL and has looked good. The problem has been injuries. A concussion knocked him out for a lengthy period of time and he hasn’t been a mainstay in Carolina’s lineup ever since. Recently, he has served as a seventh defenseman for the Canes when they’ve been forced to only dress 11 forwards.

I think there’s more in Fleury’s game. Will he be a stellar top-four defenseman? Likely not, but I think he can still be a quality number four or five on the blue line. Of course, the defensive log jam is only going to get more crowded with Jake Bean and Adam Fox fixing to enter the picture as soon as this upcoming March. I think it’s well within the realm of possibility that Fleury could be a casualty from that.

If he’s still in the organization next season, it’ll likely be on a one-year deal that gives him a chance to show that he is still developing and has a future at the NHL level.

Verdict: re-sign; one year, 900,000 (two-way)

The Others

There are four players in Charlotte that are scheduled to be RFA’s this summer: Roland McKeown, Trevor Carrick, Josh Wesley and Alex Nedeljkovic.

McKeown and Carrick are both valuable blue line pieces for the Checkers and they still have some semblance of NHL upside. Another two-way deal should be in order for both of them, but I’m curious as to what they and their representation make of the defensive log jam and whether or not they think that their futures should be with Carolina. Carrick does have arbitration rights this summer.

Wesley has bounced between the AHL and ECHL over the past few years, but he has shown some noticeable progression this season. I think he’s good enough to be an AHL regular at this point, so he’d be an easy guy to give a two-way deal to.

Nedeljkovic picked up a win in his first NHL start before the bye week and looked pretty good in the process. I still question his upside, but he could be in the running for an NHL job (likely as a back-up) as soon as this season, depending on how the goalie situation shakes out at the trade deadline. He’ll be back and could be given a real opportunity to show what he can do at the NHL level next season.

Jamie Kellner

Unrestricted Free Agents

Justin Williams

I’ll be the first one to admit that I thought Williams was on his last legs. Through the first few months of the season, he just looked bad. He was slow, he was making constant mistakes, and it looked like he just couldn’t keep up.

That changed pretty quickly. He has netted five goals in his last ten games and nine in his last 23 games. He has looked worlds better and, at age 37, there’s reason to think that he could give it another go next season.

He’s the captain. He’s the guy leading this young team into a new era. If he wants to come back, he’ll be back.

Verdict: re-sign; one year, $3.5 million

Micheal Ferland

This is the big name. Ferland’s impact on the Hurricanes has been huge. He’s been the physical goal scorer that the Canes have needed for a long time. He stands up for his teammates, he can fit in anywhere in the lineup, and he gives his linemates more confidence on the ice.

Unfortunately, those positives can’t outweigh the negatives. He is going to get a big pay day this summer, and it looks like he is committed to hitting the open market (which is a right that he has earned). It just doesn’t make sense to give him the huge money that he has, reportedly, been asking for. His health is a huge concern, as well. He’s a great player, a great person, and an easy guy to root for. He has earned everything that he has gotten and will get as a pro hockey player. It just seems unlikely that he’ll get it from Carolina.

Verdict: trade

Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney

I’m going to just put the two goalies in the same section here. Both have been good, if not great, this season. McElhinney ended up in Raleigh as a last-second injury replacement and has since proven that he can still play at a high level in the NHL. Mrazek signed a one-year “show me” contract and has shown a lot. His .894 save percentage does not do him justice. He has been really good for this team.

The reality with McElhinney is that he is 35 and has had several lower-body flare-ups this season. So, while he’s been a calming presence in net for a team that desperately needed it, I think he’ll hit the open market this offseason and, barring an unforeseen circumstance, sign with another team.

I think Mrazek will be back on a similar cap hit as he has now, except maybe on a two-year deal that gives him a little more job security. Granted, he did say that he plays better on one-year deals, so maybe he won’t get a multi-year contract.

So, I think Mrazek should be brought back, but if they want to chase a big goalie fish in free agency or via trade, that could very easily change things here.

Verdict: re-sign Mrazek; two years, $1.5 million

The Others

Greg McKegg, Andrew Poturalski, Patrick Brown and Dan Renouf are the remaining UFA’s, and there are good arguments for all of these players to be back.

McKegg has been a spark plug for the Canes since getting recalled, but I don’t think he’s an NHL player for the long term. There’s a reason why he hasn’t stuck in the NHL, and while his hot streak was big for the Canes and fun to watch, I think he’ll only be back if it’s on a two-way deal. It’ll likely be up to him if he wants to take that deal or look elsewhere on July 1.

Poturalski is a guy who I think deserves a real look in the NHL. He’s a hard-working forward who has a knack for creating offense. He was an undrafted free agent signing after playing four years at the University of New Hampshire and has since become a dominant AHL player (and AHL All-Star) and a fan favorite in Charlotte. Obviously, this is a guy that you’d love to have back in the organization.

Brown is the captain of the Checkers and a guy that Mike Vellucci raves about for his leadership and hard work. He has never emerged as an NHL-quality player, but his leadership in Charlotte has been a big deal for the organization. There’s no reason not to bring him back. Renouf is still just 24, but his career path suggests that he’s a long-term AHL defensemen with a gritty side that will keep opponents in check. He was given a one-year deal over the summer and he’s having a career year, so if the Canes want him back as a depth AHL d-man, I see no problem with that.