It’s been a busy few days for the Carolina Hurricanes, and it’s about to get busier. Wrapping up a week that saw the Canes trade goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings and defenseman Jake Bean to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and also make blank picks after trading back numerous times, the team still has a laundry list of items to accomplish.
With Nedeljkovic gone, the Hurricanes currently have a grand total of zero NHL goalies under contract for next season. They need to replace Bean on the third defensive pairing and figure out the status of unrestricted free agent forwards like Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook. Oh, and they need to make a decision on defenseman Dougie Hamilton as well. And then, when NHL free agency opens Wednesday, the Canes will need to look at any external additions they want to make. So there’s plenty on general manager Don Waddell’s plate.
In a media availability during the draft Saturday, Waddell provided updates on the items on the Canes’ to-do list. Here’s a full update on where everything stands:
It’s probably a fair debate as to whether the elephant in the room here is the goaltending or Hamilton, but based on the past few days, we’ll call it the goalies. Despite Nedeljkovic enjoying an excellent 2021 season that saw him go 15-5-3 in 20 starts, lead the league in save percentage (.932) post the lowest goals-against average (1.90) and finish as a finalist for the Calder Trophy, the Hurricanes opted to trade the pending RFA’s rights rather than signing him after rumblings the team might not qualify him amid worries about what he could get in arbitration.
The decision wasn’t a popular one for Hurricanes faithful, as Nedeljkovic showed every sign he could be the team’s goalie of the future last season. However, based on what Waddell said, the Hurricanes weren’t sold on Nedeljkovic as their starter despite his stellar run, and want to move forward with a veteran goalie.
“Ned played good here,” Waddell said. “We got in a situation where he’s been in the organization for five years. We’ve watched him for five years. He played good here. He had 20-something good hockey games. We just felt that with the situation that we were in, he had [arbitration] rights, we couldn’t work out a deal, that maybe we need more experienced goalies in here. We made a decision as an organization, everybody was involved, goalie coaches, coaches, ownership. We didn’t sit down on an island and make this call. You watch a player and find out what he’s all about. He got on an unbelievable hot streak this year. We can’t deny that. He’s such a great kid. You’re happy for him and wish him nothing but success. But we also thought that going forward, maybe we wanted to go with a more veteran looking goaltending duo.”
The Canes now will need to sign, or trade for, two NHL goalies before the start of the next season. They have some internal options in terms of Petr Mrazek, Jonathan Beriner (whose rights were acquired for Nedeljkovic) and James Reimer. Pierre LeBrun reported Friday that the Canes were looking at signing Bernier and Mrazek, but Mrazek would likely test the open market.
Waddell said the Canes are “wide open” when it comes to goalies and have looked at everything from trades, to signing their internal options, to seeing which goalies hit the free agent market on Wednesday.
“We think we’re the opportunity for all these guys, because we don’t have a starting goalie,” Waddell said. “If you want to be a starting goalie in the NHL, this is a pretty good spot for you. We’ve got a pretty good defense. That’s something that goaltenders look at when they’re picking teams. … We’re approaching it with a very open mind. We have some ideas, of course. We didn’t do this unplanned. People, I know, get excited when we do something like this. We have a plan, and I’m very confident by the time this next week rolls around, that we’ll have two very quality starting goaltenders. And in this day, I think you need it. I think you need a 1A and 1B, because with the schedule the way it’s going to be, condensed, right now, with the Olympic break and all that, you’re going to need two goalies, as we have in the last few years.”
Decision time for Dougie
The other massive decision the Canes have to make is what to do with Hamilton, a pending UFA. The top-pairing blueliner is one of the best defenseman in the NHL, coming off a season that saw him finish fourth in Norris Trophy voting and make the NHL’s second All-Star Team. He’s a player the Hurricanes arguably can’t afford to lose.
Waddell reiterated that the Hurricanes’ goal is to get Hamilton signed. He also said that a decision needs to be made for both sides one way or the other, before free agency opens Wednesday, because the Hurricanes will need to move onto other options in terms of a possible replacement if Hamilton isn’t coming back.
There is good news for Hurricanes fans hoping to see No. 19 back on the ice next season, as Waddell said that while nothing is guaranteed, the Hurricanes and Hamilton’s agent, JP Barry,
have gotten closer in their negotiations and he feels good about getting a deal done.
“Decisions aren’t made until somebody’s forced to make a decision,” Waddell said. “We’re running across some deadlines coming up here. Deadlines are when things usually happen. I know Dougie’s very familiar with where we are. We still know what his thoughts are, and it’s up to his agent, JP and I to figure it out, how we make this work both of us. He’s a free agent; he can go any place. It’s got to be a two-way street. It’s got to fit for him and it’s got to fit for us. But I feel pretty good that we’ll be able to get this done.”
Other free agents up in the air, Canes may add
The Canes have a couple of other unrestricted free agents in Martinook and McGinn that they may or may not be able to re-sign. McGinn is the team’s second longest-tenured player and provides an invaluable gritty, hard-nosed style of play night in and night out. Martinook is a very valuable player in both the locker room and community.
It remains to be seen if the team will be able to bring both, or even one, back, but it’s certainly something the Canes want to do.
“One good thing is those guys, especially McGinn and Martinook,” they want to be Hurricanes. “You love to hear that. It’s not just what their value is but how we’re going to make this all work with the cap. We’re fortunate to have an owner that’s willing to spend to the cap. We know we’re going to be a cap team, but we’ve got to also make sure that we spend our money correctly. Both guys, we’re in a good place with both of them. We want them back, obviously [Rod Brind’Amour] wants them back. We’ve just got to find middle grounds that work for everybody. We’re hoping that we certainly can get them signed here and continue moving forward with those types of players. Because they make a difference for our hockey club.”
While the Canes may not have much cap space left over if they’re able to re-sign Hamilton, bring back some of their other internal UFAs and get two goalies under contract, the team could also look to add when free agency opens.
“It goes back a little bit, I don’t think we were ever much of a destination place for players, and now, I think we’re much more of a destination, because as a player gets older in his career, if they haven’t won a championship, even if they have, they want to win again. I know we have a lot more players that are probably interested in playing for the Hurricanes than probably years ago. We’re going to look at every free agent, whoever we can afford to sign and whoever is a good fit for us. But I think there’s going to be opportunity out there for us, and we’re hoping by the time the 28th comes, we have a couple of these things figured out, so we know exactly how much cap space we have to work with.”
Svechnikov will get signed, but it may take a bit
One thing the Canes may not have figured out by Wednesday is a new contract for RFA forward Andrei Svechnikov. Svechnikov is a critical piece of the Hurricanes’ core, and will get signed, it’s just a matter of what type of deal he gets. And, as a restricted free agent, his negotiation could take longer into the summer.
“Mark Gandler, who represents Andrei and I have had lots of talks over the last six weeks,” Waddell said. “We’ll get a deal done. I don’t think it’s going to happen before Wednesday. There’s no urgency from either side right now. We don’t start playing until September. These contracts for these type of players will get done, they just take a long time to get done. So we know where it’s headed. Our talks have been very good about what length of a contract and right around the amount, we have a little disagreement there, but we have a pretty good range of how things are going to fall. So we’re able to plan, regardless if we get him signed before now or next week, we can plan and know that he’s going to be part of our group moving forward.”
Bye bye Bean
After holding onto him through Wednesday’s expansion draft, the Hurricanes traded Bean to the Blue Jackets for a second-round pick in this draft.
Waddell said the Canes thought Bean may need a change of scenery to take the next step, and the team wanted to go with a different look on its third pairing next year.
“We’ve talked about it at great lengths, and just felt that the way we were situated right now with some of our younger kids coming and Jake’s been in the organization for a number of years that if we got what we thought was equal value, we’d move him on,” Waddell said. “Sometimes, we’ve all seen it, the second team, Jake’s very capable of taking that next step. And sometimes you need that second team to take it. But for us, it was more that where we were with our third pairing, Jake played in our third pairing, we wanted a different look in that group. So the decision was made, once we got something that we felt was fair value, to move him.”
Stay tuned to Canes Country for full coverage of free agency, including potential targets at each position for Carolina, and any moves the team makes going forward.