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Exploring the Future of the Hurricanes’ Salary Structure

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2021 will be here sooner than we expect, so let’s look into the future.

Jamie Kellner

Last week, Andrew took a look at the Hurricanes’ roster for the next two offseasons, now that Sebastian Aho’s contract has been settled and the Canes’ top six forwards are pretty much set for the foreseeable future. Now that Aho’s deal is out of the way - and is paying him less than market value for the duration of the next five years - the Canes have a good idea of what their salary structure will look like heading into the next two years.

So let’s time travel ahead to the summer of 2021. Why then? For a few reasons:

  • There won’t be a work stoppage that summer. If there’s a work stoppage, it will happen in either 2020 or 2022 (when the CBA ends). We’ll know which it will be by the end of September, when the league or PA decides to either opt out of the CBA in 2020 or let it run to its end in 2022.
  • The Seattle Sockeyes Metropolitans Sasquatch expansion team will begin play in 2021-22, so there will be an expansion draft that summer with the same rules as the draft that stocked the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017.
  • We’ll have a pretty good idea of what players from Charlotte will be needed to fill slots on the roster, and who hasn’t made the cut. Put another way, the Canes will have either fished or cut bait on Julien Gauthier by then.
  • It’s still early enough that most of the players on long term deals - Aho, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin - are not coming up for a new contract.

So, with the help of the indispensable CapFriendly Armchair GM, we get the following roster. It’s at the bottom of the page, owing to space considerations, but we go through it line by line below.

This roster is based on a cap of $87 million, which would be a year-over-year increase of between 3.5% and 4% from the $81.5 million cap for next year. That feels about right, although if a new CBA is agreed upon before then, it might change things substantially.

Let’s dive in.

First Line: Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho - Teuvo Teravainen

Aho and Teravainen are locked in at their current rates through 2024 (side note: they’re both going to hit UFA at the same time, now that Aho has a five-year deal, so things could get dicey toward the end of those deals). The wild card is Svechnikov, whose ELC will end in the summer of 2021 and who will need a new deal. As a winger, he won’t get up to Aho in terms of a percentage of the cap (although in pure dollar terms he’ll be close), and the term is anyone’s guess.

Svechnikov will be eligible for UFA status at age 25 (!!), assuming a new CBA doesn’t change any of the qualification rules, so I could see the Hurricanes going one of two routes: either a three-year deal that gets him to his final RFA year, or the eight-year bank-buster that would easily top eight figures in AAV. I went with the shorter deal, a three-year contract worth $23.25 million, for an AAV of $7.75 million. An eight-year contract would be north of $80 million, into Mitch Marner territory, and you have to think that Svechnikov and his agent are watching what happens there very carefully.

Either way, the Hurricanes have more than enough room to handle even a Svechnikov mega-extension.

Second Line: Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Martin Necas

Incredibly, Necas is still going to be on his ELC in 2021, and by that point I’m projecting him to be a fixture in the top six. Niederreiter’s contract ends in the summer of 2022, so he’s spoken for already. Haula will be a UFA next summer, and is due a substantial raise on the $2.75 million contract he signed with Vegas after the expansion draft. I have him pencilled in for a four-year deal worth $17 million, but I’m worried that might be a little low.

Still, he’s four years older than Teravainen, and has 75 fewer points in nearly the same number of games. Someone might be willing to go north of $6 million AAV for Haula, but I doubt that would be the Hurricanes. That said, if the Canes do need to go shopping to replace Haula, they could probably replicate his production for about that amount of money through a trade. If it requires free agency, you can probably tack at least an extra million dollars onto that $4.25 million AAV.

Third Line: Warren Foegele - Morgan Geekie - Jordan Martinook

Martinook and Brock McGinn are basically a pick ‘em; I went with Martinook here (and have McGinn as the Seattle sacrifice) but you can go either way. If it isn’t Martinook, chances are that somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million AAV will be the going rate for a third line winger.

Foegele will get a modest raise after next season, when his ELC is up, and Geekie’s will come in 2020. I have them in as essentially identical two-year contracts, Foegele at a bit more just because of his more extensive NHL experience. Another option here is Stelio Mattheos, who will be on the final year of his ELC, but Geekie seems to be the organization’s heir apparent to Jordan Staal and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s cemented an NHL roster spot by 2021.

Fourth Line: Jordan Staal and two space-fillers

That’s an expensive fourth-line center, but we all kind of know that Staal won’t be going anywhere. On either wing, you can probably slot a pair of minimum-wage replacement players or some guys from Charlotte on ELCs.

First D Pairing: Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton

Nothing really needs to be said about the fantastic deal Slavin will still be on, so let’s talk about Hamilton, who is the most fascinating thought experiment of all. He will be a UFA in the 2021 offseason, and I have him pencilled in for a one-year deal at $7 million although I freely admit I have no idea what he may do. I don’t see the Hurricanes going for a super long-term deal, maybe three years, and by then I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamilton takes a bit under market value to stay in a place where he’s obviously comfortable.

Could they end up trading Hamilton? Absolutely, and if they do I would imagine they would replace him at about that salary level. If Jake Bean or someone else develops into a star, making Hamilton more expendable, $7 million sounds about right for the type of defenseman the Hurricanes would target for this slot. Of all the spaces on the board, this is the one with the most question marks.

Second D Pairing: Brett Pesce - Justin Faulk

Pesce is under contract, and Faulk is beloved by the Hurricanes. I have little doubt they will make a deal happen with Faulk next offseason, if not before. Market rate might be a little steep, but not totally unaffordable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Faulk signs long term. I have that deal sketched out at five years and $32.5 million.

Third D Pairing: Jake Bean - ???

Bean is an interesting case because there’s no guarantee he’ll be an NHL player this season, but either way his contract will be up in the summer of 2021 and he’s highly unlikely to really hit the contract jackpot coming off his ELC. I have him signing a two-year bridge deal with a $2.25 million AAV, but that might be generous. A third defensive pairing shouldn’t cost more than $4 million total, especially when the Hurricanes are loaded up in the top four, so whether it’s Bean or someone else, this pairing shouldn’t break the bank.

Goalie: Petr Mrazek - Alex Nedeljkovic

Don’t focus too much on Mrazek the name as much as the cap hit. Both he and Nedeljkovic will be needing new contracts, and whether it’s Mrazek or someone else, the Hurricanes seem committed to a goalie by committee, and spending roughly $6-7 million on the platoon feels about right, no matter who is part of it. Nedeljkovic will almost certainly be around, unless he falls off a cliff in the next two years, and what specific goalie partners with him is not as relevant to this exercise as how much that salary slot is worth. Perhaps it could be Jeremy Helvig, Pyotr Kochetkov or Callum Booth; any one of those would be on either a minimum salary or an ELC and could save the Canes some significant cash.

The Total

Adding up all the players listed above gives the Hurricanes a cap hit of about $74.5 million. It’s not chump change, by any measure, and there are a few holes that would need to be filled, but most of them would be fairly cheap to do so. Filling those holes gets the number closer to about $79 million - still under this year’s cap, and well within the $87 million figure we’re using for this projection.

In addition to McGinn, we bid farewell to the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk, Haydn Fleury (in a trade, maybe?), and two players I want to spend a few words on: Lucas Wallmark and Clark Bishop. Wallmark is due a decent-sized raise next offseason, when he will be eligible for arbitration, and with the likes of Geekie, Mattheos and maybe Gauthier knocking on the door, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wallmark moved. He and Geekie are very similar players, and there’s probably only room for one of them on the Canes’ roster going forward, barring something unlikely like Haula leaving and not being replaced or Staal being traded. This isn’t to cast aspersions on Wallmark, who has done everything the Hurricanes have asked him to do, but a cap system forces tough choices and I could see him being squeezed out.

Ditto Bishop, who might end up as one of those fringe guys who hangs around forever, Patrick Brown-style, on the I-85 shuttle to and from the AHL. As Staal ages, he’ll be competing with players like Bishop for roster spots, and that’s probably going to prevent him from permanently locking down a place on the Hurricanes roster. He appears to be a likely candidate to be traded, Nicolas Roy-style, to fill a hole elsewhere on the roster in the future, and one would think that if another organization is willing to give him a shot in the NHL in a way the Hurricanes might be unable to guarantee, they’d move him along to give him that chance.

This got way longer than I thought it would, so I’ll stop here. I’d love to see your thoughts on what the Canes’ roster could look like in the future - feel free to share in the comments.