Despite how crowded the trainer’s room was at the end of the season, it was a remarkably healthy season overall for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Over the course of the season, only two forwards - Jordan Martinook and the since-departed Erik Haula - missed more than four games. Combined with the addition of Brian Gibbons to serve as the 13th forward limited the number of callups during the year, the Canes don’t have many skaters who make the list of extras this season.
Even more bizarrely, there are zero defensemen on the list. Until March, Dougie Hamilton was the only blueliner to miss time with an injury, and even when Brett Pesce joined him on the shelf, the acquisition of Brady Skjei meant that the Canes were never forced into calling up a player like Jake Bean or Roland McKeown.
The list is also short in part because of trades; Eetu Luostarinen and Julien Gauthier aren’t included because they finished the season on other rosters.
So, who does that leave? Let’s take a look.
Morgan Geekie: 2 GP, 3g, 1a, 4p; finishing second year of ELC
Look, when you’ve scored more goals per game than Wayne Gretzky, you are the greatest goal-scoring forward in NHL history. I’m sorry, those are the rules.
To say Geekie made the most of his chance is to understate the obvious. Called up when Ryan Dzingel was sidelined with an upper-body injury, Geekie burst on the scene with a three-point night against the Penguins, then followed that up with another goal against the Red Wings the night before everything went to hell.
There was no guarantee Geekie was going to hang around all that long, even given his torrid goal-scoring pace, with Dzingel likely to return to games that were never played. But after posting 42 points in 55 games in Charlotte, he proved that was no fluke with his memorable NHL debut. It seems likely that Geekie, who is still waiver exempt, will be the first callup next season, and could earn a spot on the NHL roster with an outstanding camp in the same way Warren Foegele played his way onto the roster two years ago.
Clark Bishop: 5 GP, 0g, 1a, 1p; RFA with arbitration rights this offseason
What do the Hurricanes have in Clark Bishop? Will he amount to more than a replacement-level, plug-in fourth line center, which is how he’s been used almost exclusively in his 25 career NHL games? Is he, as seems increasingly likely, one of those quad-A players who can play nearly anywhere in the AHL but lacks the high-end skill set required to lock down a regular NHL roster spot?
Coming off his entry-level deal last summer, Bishop signed a minimum-wage one-year, two-way contract. It seems unlikely he’d get anything more than that this offseason. If the Hurricanes decide they need the roster spot, they could non-tender Bishop, but that seems unlikely.
What does seem likely, though, is another one-year deal with perhaps a modest raise given Bishop’s arbitration eligibility. It’s probable that Bishop remains a depth option for the rest of his time in the Hurricanes organization, and he could end up as one of those AHL lifers that makes a living in the second tier, but the chances of him making a true long-term impact in the NHL are decreasing with every passing season.
Anton Forsberg: 3 GP, 1-1-0, 3.35 GAA, .897 sv%; UFA this summer
There’s probably not much to say here. Forsberg was picked up in the Calvin de Haan deal before the Hurricanes knew they would be able to re-sign Petr Mrazek, and he became entirely surplus to requirements once they swapped Scott Darling for a bona fide NHL goaltender in James Reimer.
The Hurricanes, though, were stuck with the RFA Forsberg, and as salt in the wound they were obligated to pay him an NHL salary after he won a one-way deal in arbitration. Although Forsberg slightly outplayed Reimer in the preseason, it was the Swede who went to the minors - and there he stayed until February 22, when he was summoned to suddenly become the starter in the absence of both Mrazek and Reimer.
It didn’t go great, and with Forsberg an unrestricted free agent and the Canes crease pretty much spoken for next season, it seems likely that he will move on to a new team.
Alex Nedeljkovic: 4 GP, 1-2-1, 3.05 GAA, .887 sv%; finishing first year of two year deal, $737,500 one way in 2020-21
Now things get interesting. With Reimer and Mrazek both under contract next season, Nedeljkovic seems likely to begin next year in the AHL again - but this time, his contract will guarantee him an NHL salary no matter where he plays. Do the Canes trust Nedeljkovic enough to move on from one of the other two goalies in order to give him the backup job - and, even if they do, could they make that move? Or are they ready to decide that Nedeljkovic isn’t the goalie of the future and move him along?
Neither option seems especially likely. Callum Booth is the only other goalie of note behind Nedeljkovic in the system, and as we learned this season your number-three can become your number-one in a hurry. Booth is nowhere near ready for that role, so the most likely outcome is for the Hurricanes to swallow the medicine and pay Nedeljkovic an NHL near-minimum wage to be the AHL starter and the first in line for a callup. The big decision on his long-term future, whether to commit or cut ties, is still a year away.
David Ayres: 1 GP, 1-0-0, 4.18 GAA, .800 sv%
We’ll always remember February 22, 2020, and not just because of the epic Canes Country watch party that night.
Destined to be remembered as the greatest number 90 in franchise history, Ayres more than earned his paycheck this season. At age 42, however, he will likely be looking for one final payday, and the Hurricanes are unlikely to meet his contract demands. If no other team does, Ayres’ future could include giving Jorge Alves a breather when the Hurricanes practice in Toronto in years to come.
Also, he will forever be honored with an entry in the Hurricanes media guide, so even if this is it for the world’s most famous Zamboni driver, what a way to go out on top.