Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this is going to be a pivotal offseason for the Carolina Hurricanes. Surprisingly, no one stopped me, so I guess I’ll keep going. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say that the moves and decisions Don Waddell and the Hurricanes’ braintrust make this summer will shape up to be a regime-defining offseason.
Coming off a five-game, second-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Hurricanes are looking to find a way to take that next step and get over the hump to Stanley Cup contention. They’re close, but must navigate an offseason filled with key decisions to get there.
While I’m not going to advocate for or against certain moves, propose contract extensions, etc (you can expect individual stories on these topics in the coming weeks), I thought it might be helpful to provide an overview of everything the Hurricanes need to accomplish in building what they hope will be a roster that can compete for the franchise’s second Stanley Cup next season.
Let’s take a look at everything the Hurricanes need to get done (this list is not intended as an importance ranking):
Re-sign Rod Brind’Amour
While it’s still considered pretty much a lock that Rod Brind’Amour will be back coaching the Hurricanes next season, he’s still not under contract, so this remains on the to-do list. The Hurricanes also need to re-up with Brind’Amour’s assistant coaches and support staff, which has reportedly been a sticking point in his negotiations.
Elliotte Friedman has reported that Dean Chynoweth has been given permission to interview with other teams, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything’s gone sideways with the Hurricanes (he could even be looking at head-coaching jobs).
Brind’Amour is one of the biggest, if not the biggest factors, in the Hurricanes’ three-year turnaround, and is up for the Jack Adams this year. It’s essential that the team bring him back. There’s no reason to believe they won’t do so, but every day that goes by that Brind’Amour *isn’t* signed does open the door for questions.
Re-sign Andrei Svechnikov
This one will also no doubt get done, it’s just a matter of when the signing happens and whether it’s a bridge or long-term deal. With Svechnikov a restricted free agent, and coming off a down year, the smart money is probably on a bridge deal.
Again, with Svechnikov being an RFA, this doesn’t have to get done right away and could go past the July 28 opening of the signing period. The Canes do have a couple incentives to get it done sooner, however, in keeping another team from hitting Svechnikov with an offer sheet, and knowing exactly what his cap hit will be for next year, so they know how much space they have for other moves.
The Canes will get their young star signed, but that doesn’t make it any less important of an item on this list.
Re-sign or replace Dougie Hamilton
This is the big one. Hamilton has also played a key role in the Canes’ transformation. He’s one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, and has added an element the Hurricanes didn’t have before to the blue line.
Dougie Hamilton, given permission to speak to other teams by CAR, is a top-end offensive defenceman who shoots and scores a lot and pushes play in the right direction defensively. #LetsGoCanes pic.twitter.com/rcgkG9s2T4— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) June 14, 2021
As reported by Friedman this morning, the Canes have given Hamilton permission to speak to other teams. This doesn’t mean he’s out the door, but it makes sense to explore the possibility of recouping an asset in a sign and trade if the team and Hamilton can’t reach an agreement.
A sign the off-season is really revving up as the final four chase the Stanley Cup: Carolina has given Dougie Hamilton permission to talk to other NHL teams. Opens potential for a sign-and-trade.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 14, 2021
This is an incredibly complex and nuanced situation that you can expect to read much, much more on in the coming weeks on Canes Country. As stated, Hamilton is an elite defenseman, and one not easily replaced.
While it’s easy to see a long-term, big-money deal for Hamilton becoming an anchor down the road, letting him walk almost certainly means taking a step back in the short term. The Canes will likely hope they can meet Hamilton in the middle on a deal and try to bring him back.
If they can’t, they’ll have to replace him. It’ll be nearly impossible to go out and bring in another player of Hamilton’s caliber, but the Canes will need to find another top-four, right-shot defenseman who can run their power play if No. 19 isn’t back in the fold.
Sort out the expansion draft
As I mentioned in my offseason road map last week, protection lists are due to the Seattle Kraken by July 17, and the league’s newest team will make its picks on July 21. Most of the Canes’ protection slots are locks, but they have a couple key decisions to make, such as which of Brady Skjei or Jake Bean to protect if they don’t re-sign Hamilton before the expansion draft (and it may be prudent not to do so).
While the Canes could cut a deal with Ron Francis, they need to be prepared for the likelihood of losing a good player.
Re-sign Alex Nedeljkovic
As Matt broke down in his story on the Canes’ rookies this morning, the Hurricanes appear to have their goalie of the future in Nedeljkovic, who broke out in a big way and was one of the top goalies in the league in 2021.
He’s also a restricted free agent. Given that the sample size on Nedeljkovic is still relatively small, a one-two year bridge deal makes sense here.
Re-sign or bring in a second goalie
The members of the Hurricanes’ crease are actually all up at the same time, with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer both set to hit unrestricted free agency. Given the aforementioned small sample size on Nedeljkovic, it would be prudent for the Canes to make sure they have a second goalie they’re comfortable giving 30-35 starts to.
Their first choice should be Mrazek, who was excellent when healthy (with that being a major caveat) in 2021. Mrazek, however, may want to pursue a clear-cut No. 1 role. If that’s the case, Reimer has shown he’s more than capable of playing well in a pure backup role.
If the Canes can’t bring either of those two netminders back, they’ll need to add a new partner for Nedeljkovic via trade or free agency.
Figure out the rest of the internal free agents
Hamilton, Svechnikov and the goalies aren’t the only members of the 2021 Hurricanes up for new deals. Bean (assuming he isn’t claimed by Seattle), Morgan Geekie and Warren Foegele are RFAs, while Jordan Martinook, Brock McGinn and Cedric Paquette are UFAs.
It’s likely Bean, Geekie and Foegele will be back, though the Canes could look to save some money on Foegele, who’s once again arbitration eligible.
Jordan Martinook, Brock McGinn, Cedric Paquette and Jani Hakanpaa will all be unrestricted free agents. The Canes can’t, and shouldn’t bring back all of those UFAs. It may only be feasible to bring back one of the forwards, with priority likely going to McGinn.
It should also be noted that, if Bean goes to Seattle and Hakanpaa, who came over in a trade for Haydn Fleury at the trade deadline, isn’t re-signed the Canes will need to rebuild their third defensive pairing for next season.
Look into additions
Especially if they re-sign Hamilton, it’s possible the Canes won’t have much space to make any additions in this flat cap world. But, if they do have any space left over after taking care of all of their internal business, a team looking to take the next step should be looking to add, with another middle-six forward to add more depth up front being a smart option to look at.
This will certainly not be a restful offseason for Waddell and the rest of the Hurricanes’ front office. This is a team with a wide-open Stanley Cup window, but the decisions made this offseason will shape the Canes’ direction for years to come.