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Breaking down the Canes’ internal free agents: Defensemen

The Canes ended the season with eight NHL defensemen on their active roster (not including Brett Pesce). That number is very likely to shrink through free agency.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2019-20 season officially over and the start of the 2020-21 season quickly approaching, the Carolina Hurricanes have some decisions to make and some contracts to negotiate with internal players hitting free agency.

You might have heard a thing or two about this, but, during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canes had quite a few NHL defensemen on their roster. That number is likely to shrink considerably to a more manageable group going into next season.

Let’s take a look at the Hurricanes’ internal free agents on the blue line, what it might cost to keep them and who might be brought back.

Haydn Fleury, Restricted Free Agent

2019-20 Stats: 45 GP, 4 G, 10 A, 14 Pts, 13:40 ATOI

Career Stats: 132 GP, 4 G, 19 A, 23 Pts, 15:05 ATOI

Career Playoff Stats: 17 GP, 2 G, 0 A, 2 Pts, 11:44 ATOI

This season started with frustration and ended with a breakout for Fleury. I wrote a good bit about his winding road to this point during the playoffs, and the former top-10 pick’s free agency comes with interesting timing.

After working his way to the NHL following the Canes selecting him with the seventh overall pick of the 2014 draft, Fleury was in and out of the lineup in his third NHL season. A victim of the Canes’ continual numbers crunch on the blue line, Fleury played in just 45 games during the shortened regular season.

Down the stretch, however, he seized his opportunity following injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce, and was playing some of the best hockey of his career going into the pause.

And in the playoffs, Fleury earned a roster spot with a good camp and played well against the Rangers. The Canes’ five-game series loss to the Boston Bruins was his true coming out party, however.

Fleury was exceptional against Boston, and easily the Canes’ best player. He scored the first two playoff goals of his career, and stepped up big time from a physical standpoint with nine hits over the five games.

Now comes an interesting moment for Fleury in the team. Fleury’s play against Boston extrapolated over a larger sample size would easily result in a big pay day.

But, with him, fair or not, not playing a ton in the regular season, the Canes will probably want to see more. And, with all of the UFA defensemen (more on that in a bit) likely to leave, Fleury should have a clear path to consistent playing time this series.

A one-year, bridge deal in the $1.5-2 million range could make sense for both sides. The Canes get to see more from Fleury before making a longer commitment to him. And Fleury gets to bet on himself, and take the playing time he’s earned next season as an opportunity to make his case for a bigger deal.

Expect this to be a short-term, prove-it-over-a-full-season kind of deal.

Joel Edmundson

2019-20 Stats: 68 GP, 7 G, 13 A, 20 Pts, 18:27 ATOI

Career Stats: 337 GP, 20 G, 52 A, 72 Pts, 18:15 ATOI

Career Playoff Stats: 53 GP, 6 G, 9 A, 15 Pts, 16:20 ATOI

Edmundson was a pleasant surprise, and exactly what the Hurricanes needed, after coming over from the St. Louis Blues in the Justin Faulk trade.

He added a necessary element of grit and snarl to the Hurricanes’ blue line, finishing second on the team in both hits (118) and blocked shots (91). Edmundson also played 2:48 per game on a penalty kill that finished fourth in the NHL, and his absence was clearly felt for most of the Boston series.

Edmundson even brought a surprising scoring touch, with seven goals and a career-high 20 points in the regular season.

Under normal circumstances, a respected, solid veteran like Edmundson is someone you’d like to bring back.

But the Hurricanes’ blue line isn’t normal. Assuming Fleury is back in the fold, the Canes already have six NHL defensemen under contract with Fleury, Jaccob Slavin, Pesce, Hamilton, Jake Gardiner and Brady Skjei.

With those six in the fold, it’s simply not feasible to give Edmundson the multi-year deal at $3-4 million he’s likely seeking.

As much as I’d like to see Edmundson back in Raleigh next year, the only way I can see that happening is if another defenseman such as Gardiner gets moved before free agency.

Sami Vatanen

2019-20 Stats: Did not play for Hurricanes in regular season

Career Stats: 434 GP, 45 G, 149 A, 194 Pts, 21:08 ATOI

Career Playoff Stats: 51 GP, 6 G, 20 A, 26 PTs, 21:01 ATOI

Well, he exists. After coming over from the New Jersey Devils at the trade deadline, a reaggravated injury kept Vatanen from playing for the Hurricanes during the regular season.

He was good to go for the abbreviated postseason, and played well against the Rangers, filling in for Hamilton on the top pairing with Slavin, chipping in three assists.

Against Boston, Vatanen didn’t really do much, and wasn’t able to help the Canes’ hapless power play despite his career prowess in that area.

Even if Vatanen had a great postseason for the Hurricanes, I think this was always going to be a short-term relationship. Vatanen was brought in pre-COVID in order to bridge the gap to possibly getting Hamilton back for the first round, and always seemed to be a pure rental.

His uninspiring playoff performance and the Canes’ incumbent blue liners make that an even easier decision.

Vatanen is coming off a four-year, $4.875-million contract he signed with Anaheim. Given his offensive prowess and playoff experience, he can probably get upwards of $4 million for multiple years on his next deal, it just won’t be in Carolina.

Trevor van Rimesdyk

2019-20 Stats: 49 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 8 Pts, 14:52 ATOI

Career Stats: 364 GP, 15 G, 54 A, 69 Pts, 17:02 ATOI

Career Playoff Stats: 26 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 16:04 ATOI

This one’s a fairly easy decision. TVR has been a solid player over three seasons for the Canes, but there really isn’t a spot for him anymore. Partly due to injuries, he only played 49 games in the regular season.

While injuries hampered him this season, van Riemsdyk is still a serviceable bottom-four defenseman with championship experience. He can probably fetch around $2 million on the open market, and it makes sense for both the team and player for that to be elsewhere, where he has a much clearer path to playing time.