Now that the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the NHL’s offseason is going to start fast and furious, with the 2020 Entry Draft set for next Tuesday and Wednesday, and free agency set to open next Friday at noon.
It figures to be a busy time for the Hurricanes, who have the 13th overall pick in Tuesday’s first round. With everything that’s coming up, general manager Don Waddell and Director of Player Personnel Darren Yorke met with the media via Zoom Thursday. The draft was the primary topic of conversation, but Waddell also offered updates on several other key topics of interest for the Hurricanes.
We’re going to break those down here, but stay tuned for a story on the draft itself from Ryan as well.
Internal Free Agents
The Canes have five key free agents ahead of next Friday: unrestricted defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk and Sami Vatanen, unrestricted forward Justin Williams, restricted defenseman Haydn Fleury and restricted forward Warren Foegele.
The deadline to extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents is next Wednesday, and is something the Hurricanes will surely do with both Fleury and Foegele. Waddell said the team has had daily discussions with both players’ representation, and that he fully believes the Canes will get deals done with both.
Given the Hurricanes’ lack of salary cap space and the fact that the team will have six NHL defensemen under contract once Fleury is signed, it seems unlikely we’ll see Vatanen, a trade deadline acquisition this season, or van Riemsdyk, a three-year Hurricane, back next season.
“With both our unrestricted guys, I think it’s fair to test the market,” Waddell said. “We’ve made it really clear that we like both guys. But we also understand that we’re under a little bit more of a scrutiny with our salary cap, so if they go out to the market and whatever the market will bear, it might be something that if they do come back to us that we can talk about, and if not, obviously Trevor’s been here several years for us and has been everything we could ask for, so we always thank him for that.”
At 38 years old, Williams could certainly be ready to hang them up. The “will he or won’t he” storyline with Williams was a predominant one throughout the first half of last season as he took a break to decide his future before eventually signing to come back and play in January.
Waddell said the team has yet to hear from Williams about his decision for next season.
“Like we did last year, we left it in Justin’s hands to take some time and make a decision on what he wanted to do,” Waddell said. “As we know, he waited a few months last year before he made a decision. As of right now, we haven’t heard either direction. I know Justin is coaching his kid’s team and is really involved with his children so I honestly don’t have an answer for you.”
Upgrades, cash and cap space
While the Hurricanes could certainly come back with basically the same team next season and feel very good about their chances, the team could really use an upgrade in net and another top-six forward to take the next step.
That’s going to be easier said than done. For one thing, once Fleury and Foegele are signed, the Hurricanes won’t have much space under the salary cap ceiling (Waddell projected $3 to 4 million). For another, with the lost revenue the past six months, the team will be mindful of its spending. Waddell didn’t say the Hurricanes would operate under an internal cap like other teams reportedly will, but it certainly sounds like cash will be a consideration.
“Everytime we look at trading for a player, you look at what the cap is but more importantly now, you’re looking at the cash,” Waddell said. “I think we get our restricted guys signed, we’re pretty much going to be within $3 or $4 million of the cap. We’ll see how it plays out. As much as we all want to upgrade at certain positions, we don’t have that much cap space. And then to coincide with how much cash you’re going to want to spend. We’ve said all along, if we can find a way to save some of that cash, I know my owner, Tom Dundon, would be very appreciative of that.”
That being said, Waddell made it clear that if there’s a way to upgrade the team, they’ll pursue it. He said that since leaving the bubble he’s had several calls on potential trades, and that has picked up in the last 10 days, something he expects to continue.
“I’ve always said, if there’s something that we can do that upgrades our hockey club and gives us a better chance of taking that next step, we’ve got to look at that,” Waddell said. “Regardless of positions, there’s certain needs that we feel we need more than others, but that’s my job to try and stay in touch. If a player becomes available that we think can help our hockey club, and we have the assets to get that player, then we’ve got to make that move.”
Possible extensions for Svechnikov, Hamilton
While the Hurricanes don’t have a lot of big decisions to make this sum… er, fall, that will change whenever the 2021 offseason rolls around. The Canes will have two big deals to get done, with Andrei Svechnikov a restricted free agent and Dougie Hamilton unrestricted.
The pair have earned big raises, and it will likely cost a pretty penny to retain both.
It certainly sounds as if Svechnikov will be a big priority, and a deal we could even see this offseason. Elliotte Friedman reported the Canes are willing to offer $7.5 million on an eight-year deal, but Svechnikov is willing to bet on himself by taking a bridge deal to earn a bigger payday down the line.
“Our goal is to keep Andrei here for a very long time,” Waddell said. “Saying that, with the economics the way they are around the league, it might make sense to do a bridge deal. You do a short term deal and then set yourself up for an eight year deal, which then locks in the player for 10 years. The player wants to be here. His representation has been very forthright about that and obviously we want Andrei here. We’re keeping it open-minded. There’s no timetable, whether this happens two weeks from now or two months, one way or another, there’s no doubt that we will sign Andrei at some point to some kind of extension.”
With Hamilton, it sounds less likely a deal will be done this offseason, as both sides wait and see how the market for defensemen shakes out.
“We haven’t had any talks yet,” Waddell said. “We are going to see what happens with the marketplace this summer. Free agency is only a week away and we’ll see how things play out. We know we are dealing with a flat cap for the next few years and that is going to be a challenge. I think that’s another relationship, in my belief, that Dougie wants to stay here and be here and it’s just a matter of finding what’s the value for a player now post-COVID with revenues and salary being the way they are.”
Next season’s schedule, fans, outdoor game
It sounds like the 2020-21 regular season will likely not start in early December as had been reported as the target when the league’s return to play was announced. Waddell said there’s an owners meeting Monday in which the team is hoping to learn more about the start date.
“Last time Gary Bettman and Bill Daly spoke, certainly we don’t have a definite time table, but I think everybody sees it happening, if and when it happens, towards the end of December vs. the first of December,” Waddell said. “Nobody’s got a crystal ball. It might even get pushed a little later than that.”
While nobody knows exactly what the start of next season will look like, it seems extremely unlikely it will be in a bubble similar to the 2020 postseason.
Waddell said that was the only way to award the 2020 Stanley Cup and the league and NHLPA deserve a lot of credit for pulling it off without a single positive test, but a bubble like that probably isn’t feasible going forward.
“We all know there wasn’t much revenue either with no fans in the building, so I hear the same things that everybody’s talking about,” Waddell said. “We haven’t gotten any directive from the league that we’re going to play in a bubble. I think if anything, I’ve heard that maybe you’d go to a city and play three or four games in a city and move onto the next city. So I guess that’s a semi bubble.”
Waddell said that while every US State and Canada will be different in terms of when and how fans can be allowed at games, that’s obviously something the Hurricanes want to do, and have been in constant contact with both the NHL and state of North Carolina about.
“I truly believe that at some point we are going to play in front of fans, we want to play in front of fans,” Waddell said. “But we want to make sure when we do that, we’re ready to provide a very safe and good experience for our customers and our fans.”
The Hurricanes are currently scheduled to host a Stadium Series outdoor game at Carter-Finley Stadium on Feb. 20, 2021. It sounds like that game likely won’t be played as scheduled, but there are options for moving it.
“The big question is once we know what the season will look like, do we try and put it in later in the season or do we push it to next year,” Waddell said. “Those discussions are going on, but playing it at the end of February, realistically, I don’t think is an option.”