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Hurricanes Free Agent Targets: Defensemen

The Hurricanes will likely be in the UFA defenseman market this week, but who is out there and who makes sense?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

NHL free agency opens up 24 hours from the time of this posting, and the Carolina Hurricanes will almost certainly be hunting for blue line help, regardless of whether Dougie Hamilton is re-signed or not.

Jake Bean is gone, Jake Gardiner’s future with the club remains in question, and Don Waddell has already stated that he wants an entirely different look for the club’s third defensive pairing.

So, who is available and who fits the way the Hurricanes like to play? Let’s talk about it.

Mike Reilly

If there’s one guy hitting the open market this offseason that feels like a stereotypical Hurricanes target, it’s Reilly.

Over the last few seasons, Reilly has gone from a fringe NHLer to a guy with a legitimate UFA case. He had outstanding relative numbers on a putrid Ottawa team for two seasons before getting dealt to the Bruins at last season’s trade deadline.

In Boston, he continued that upward trend and quickly became a high-usage guy on their blue line through the end of the regular season and into the postseason. He led all Bruins skaters in 5-on-5 ice time in the playoffs and performed very well.

He’s always been a useful puck-mover, but the 2021 season saw his defense take huge steps forward while building his offensive production. His 27 assists and points in a shortened season marked career-highs for him in the NHL.

Mike Reilly’s three-year WAR timeline and relative metrics.

With Bean out of the fold and Gardiner’s future up in the air, Reilly is a very sensible option as the team’s third left-handed defenseman. Ideally, he slots in as a number four or five defenseman and plays a lot of 5-on-5 minutes like he has in recent years. He has shown a strong ability to drive play over the last couple of seasons.

He’s not a big special teams performer, but the team has a knack for getting good penalty-killing production from guys you wouldn’t necessarily expect it from.

Don Waddell alluded to needing a new second-unit power-play quarterback (or first unit, depending on if Hamilton re-signs), which is a role the next option fits perfectly.

Keith Yandle

While Reilly is perhaps the best 5-on-5 defenseman available, I’d mark Yandle as the best power play option.

Over the last three seasons, Yandle has 78 power-play points, which makes up more than half of his total point production over that period of time. He is also an effective offensive defenseman at 5-on-5, even if his defense has all but vanished in recent seasons.

Yandle is a veteran power-play quarterback coming off a buyout, so his price shouldn’t be unreasonable. He is a great shot producer off of the forecheck and cycle, too, which makes him a very good fit for Carolina’s heavy forechecking system.

He’d be a perfect fit for a newly-imagined third pairing next to a strong defensive partner who could take on some penalty-killing minutes.

Ryan Murray

If you were a top pick in the 2012 draft, your stock has fallen dramatically over the last decade. That sure has been the vase for Murray.

Like Reilly, Murray will be 28 years old when the season starts and is one of the younger free agent defensemen in this year’s class. While he has never been the top-pairing guy he was once hoped to be, he is still a decent defense-first guy who can break the puck out of the defensive zone with tape-to-tape passes.

He had a dreadful year in New Jersey last season, but so did everyone. He’d probably play better on a good team, but I wouldn’t bet on him as anything more than a bottom-pairing defender if you’re trying to win.

Jake McCabe

McCabe is interesting in that he does bring solid 5-on-5 defense and some penalty-killing ability. Despite seeing an uptick in his generation of offensive chances in a small, injury-derailed sample size last season, he hasn’t been a source of much offense in the past.

Jake McCabe’s three-year WAR timeline and relative metrics.

If you’re confident that you can get good minutes out of him on the third pairing, he should be a relatively inexpensive guy who keeps chances against low and plays a physical game. He also helps your penalty kill.

Ryan Suter

Minnesota bought out both of their 2012 mega free agent signings, and Suter could be a tempting veteran defensive option.

This isn’t the guy who played 28 minutes every night from 2012 to 2019, though. His defense has gone down quite a bit, and he’s actually a more effective offensive defenseman now than anything else. For that reason, he’s not at the top of the list for me. His calling card is offense now, and he isn’t as good as Yandle in that regard.

He is marginally better defensively, though, so there’s that.

It looks like plenty of teams are interested in him. He’s 36 years old, and this isn’t a guy you want to get in a bidding war for on a deal with term - four years is the number being reported.


Tyson Barrie falls in the Yandle category as a quality power play option. Pierre LeBrun recently reiterated him as a possibility for Carolina if Hamilton leaves. I’ll say again that giving him any sort of big money or term would likely be a colossal mistake as he is a train wreck defensively.

If Barrie’s market crashes and you can get him for a year at a highly-discounted dollar amount, then sure, he would be a good power-play quarterback.

Alex Goligoski’s first few years in Arizona were good, but he has regressed with age over the last two seasons. He still produces some points, but he’s not the play driver or the semi-reliable defensive option he was in his 20’s and early-30’s. He can still eat up some minutes, though, and maybe he can give you a year or two of quality play with a better cast around him.

David Savard got traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline and was a semi-important piece in their run. I have a feeling that his market value will be a little too high for the Canes, especially since he is coming off of winning a Stanley Cup and is probably being deemed as the “the kind of guy you need to go all the way” even though his ice time took a nose-dive as the playoffs went on.

He’s a shutdown defenseman whose offense has disappeared over the last few seasons. He would probably be a good second or third-pairing guy and could help anchor a guy like Gardiner or someone else who takes risks offensively.

Alex Edler is another veteran and would be a third-pairing guy. Like a few of the names on this list, he has regressed and might be fine on a one-year deal. He isn’t a needle-mover, though, outside of maybe being a veteran presence who can eat up some minutes.

I’m pretty sure Jani Hakanpää also still exists. I wouldn’t describe his performance after the trade as “world-beating” but maybe they bring him back.