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By The Numbers: Exploring Carolina’s Future Cap Situation

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The Hurricanes have over $10 million in cap space after making their moves this season. While that seems like a lot, it’s less than you might think.

Jamie Kellner

After years of an anemic offense, the Hurricanes finally stumbled upon their long awaited top line center and franchise cornerstone in Sebastian Aho. Then, the Montreal Canadiens tried to take him away.

In case you missed it (really??), the Canadiens submitted a long anticipated offer sheet on July 1st to the tune of $42.27 million over five years. The Hurricanes wanted to lock up Aho with more term than five years, and Marc Bergevin was aware of that. Narratives across the league about Tom Dundon would indicate that the front-loaded, signing bonus-heavy nature of the proposed deal would bankrupt the billionaire and force him to part with his franchise’s most valuable asset.

Those narratives were both lazy and wrong.

The positive takeaway from this kabuki dance is that the Hurricanes will match the proposed deal and have Aho locked up at a relatively team friendly cap hit of $8.45 million for the foreseeable future. The negative aspect will be felt five years down the road, when Aho’s contract expires and potentially sends him to free agency at the prime age of 26. This is the risk you take when you allow for a premium RFA to go unsigned into the off-season.

But one of the unintended consequences of the deal tailored by Montreal is the amount of financial flexibility the contract affords the Hurricanes over the next few years.

Because of the front-loaded nature of the offer, the Hurricanes will be paying Aho significantly less money in the latter half of the contract, which affords them more flexibility in terms of cash flow to lock up critical contracts. While it opens up a lot of money down the road, it won’t change how much cap space he’s occupying. $8.45 million is a pretty team friendly cap hit for a player of the caliber of Sebastian Aho, but there are plenty of other members of the core group that need deals soon.

Don Waddell and the Hurricanes are sitting on just over $11 million in cap space for the upcoming season. That sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn’t. He’s still in talks with Justin Williams, as covered during yesterday’s press conference.

Assuming he returns to the Hurricanes roster next season, Williams will likely carry a larger cap hit based on his performance over the past two years in Carolina. For reference, Evolving Hockey projected his cap hit at $5.96 million — a significant increase over his $4.5 million dollar cap hit from last season. I could see Williams taking less than his market value based on the relationship between him and the team, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Another RFA forward that we haven’t talked much about is Brock McGinn, who filed for arbitration on Monday. That deal will get done, it’s just a matter of when. Evolving Hockey’s projections have McGinn making just north of $2 million next season. That’s not a major contract, but it still adds up when considering the players Carolina needs to sign over the next few years.

The Hurricanes are still looking to wrap up a number of minor deals with some of their fringe NHL players in Haydn Fleury, Clark Bishop, Gustav Forsling, and Saku Maenalanen. There are more in need of contracts down in Charlotte, but these four are the most likely to see NHL time this season.

After all of the aforementioned deals presumably get done, Waddell will be sneaking up on the cap, but they’ll still have some wiggle room.

Next offseason is when things get a little dicey. The largest cloud hanging over the 2019-20 campaign is Justin Faulk, whose team-friendly contract ($4.83 million AAV) will expire next summer and send him to unrestricted free agency. There has been much speculation about Faulk as the centerpiece in an eventual trade, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him dealt at some point during the upcoming season. He does carry a modified no trade clause, which reportedly allows for him to submit a 15-team trade list, making things a little more difficult for Waddell.

Assuming that Faulk posts a similar season next year in terms of productivity and minutes per night, we can expect for him to be asking for big time money and term. The Hurricanes probably won’t be willing or able to shell out enough to compete for Faulk in UFA, meaning that the upcoming season could well be his last in a Hurricanes uniform. My only hesitation with that statement arises from the fact that Brind’Amour and the front office seem fond of Faulk based on his long tenure in the organization and his skills as a member of the leadership group. I wouldn’t be shocked if they were trying to get him re-signed.

Other contracts expiring next summer are Trevor van Riemsdyk, Warren Foegele, and Lucas Wallmark. Foegele and Wallmark will both be looking for reasonable, although not outrageous, deals coming off of their entry level contracts, and this season will go a long way in determining what kind of money and term those guys get. I wouldn’t be surprised to see shorter bridge contracts for both of them.

As things currently stand in terms of organization depth on defense, I can’t imagine van Riemsdyk resigning in Carolina when he hits UFA next summer. That could, of course, change — time will tell.

The next offseason is when it really hits the fan. Dougie Hamilton, Petr Mrazek, and Jordan Martinook will all hit UFA. But the biggest contract will likely be shelled out to Andrei Svechnikov, who will be entering restricted free agency and will command top dollar. There’s a decent chance that Hamilton picks up a significant raise as well, either from the Hurricanes or elsewhere.

Other current AHL players that may be looking at a decent payday are guys like Jake Bean, Julien Gauthier, Morgan Geekie, and Alex Nedeljkovic — all have the potential to be making an impact at the NHL level two years from now. The front office was definitely aware of this when they let Martin Necas spend a year developing in the AHL and subsequently spared a year on his entry level deal (three more games played in the NHL this season would have burned a year of his contract).

The 2021 offseason will be a stressful in Raleigh in the sense that we will likely see the Hurricanes in a situation in which they’re right up against the cap. This brings a lot of Waddell’s recent moves into focus.