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He Said It: Waddell discusses DeAngelo signing, first day of free agency

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Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell spoke with members of the media via Zoom Wednesday to discuss the first day of free agency and the team’s controversial signing of defenseman Tony DeAngelo.

Kaydee Gawlik

NHL free agency kicked off Wednesday afternoon, and the Carolina Hurricanes were very active on the open market.

The Canes added a pair of goalies in Antti Raanta and Frederik Andersen, forwards Josh Leivo and C.J. Smith and a pair of defensemen in Ian Cole and Tony DeAngelo.

The latter comes with a wave of controversy, as DeAngelo has a long history of suspensions and problematic incidents. He was bought by the Rangers just this year after playing just six games following a postgame physical altercation with goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, and was also suspended in the OHL in 2014 for a slur directed at a teammate.

Carolina general manager Don Waddell met with media via Zoom Wednesday afternoon to discuss the signing of DeAngelo, as well as the team’s other free agent moves.

Here is everything Waddell had to say:

On the decision to sign Tony DeAngelo and what went into that decision: We did our research into who this person is beyond the perception of him. There’s no doubt that he has made mistakes. We acknowledge that, and more importantly he recognizes that he has made mistakes and he knows he’s got to continue to work and grow as a person. We talked to his teammates, coaches, support staff. We have guys that played with him. Everybody that has worked with him, the message was that they support this player. We felt comfortable after doing all the research of bringing him here on a short-term deal, and we’ll continue to work with him.

On if he ran into any red flags when talking to people about DeAngelo: Absolutely not, actually. We’ve talked to a lot of people involved. The thing about it is that Tony recognizes that he’s made mistakes. Every time he has made mistakes he has improved on it. It’s something that he’s fully aware of, we’re fully aware. That is why, again, we did a short-term contract with a very low number. We’ll get him here, get him in our environment and we believe it will all go well for us.

On what DeAngelo has specifically done to improve himself as a person or make amends for the things that he has done: I don’t have all the particulars. We’ve read and researched everything. He’s recognized it. He’s lived up to his mistakes. He continues to try to be a better person. I know he’s worked with a group out of New York, working on himself. That’s all you can do. You believe in what people are telling you, and we’ve talked to Tony a numerous amount of times. We all got comfortable making this decision.

On what group out of New York DeAngelo worked with: I’ll leave that to him. You’re going to talk to him later.

On the goalie situation, signing Antti Raanta and on if the Canes have signed someone else: Antti Raanta, his track record, if you look at his numbers he’s been unbelievable. He’s run into some injuries the last couple of years. We went through the whole process, as we do with every player that we sign. We really feel that the right training, which he’s doing now, and working with our team here, that he can stay healthy. If you go back and look at him for the five or six years, his numbers are outstanding. We felt very comfortable with making that decision. And then I don’t know if we have announced it yet, but we have agreed to terms with Frederik Andersen. We think that combo of those two guys gives us the best opportunity to win hockey games and takes us to where we want to get to.

On if Raanta and Andersen were always targets: We did. Our goaltending coaches along with our pro scouting, everybody that’s involved. When we make decisions here we are not on an island. Tom [Dundon] really believes in bringing in everybody that’s involved. So, we get everybody’s opinion. We may not always agree, but at the end of the day once we talk through it and we make a decision to go, everybody supports it. Certainly these guys have been on our list to go after. When the time game the decision was easy to go make deals.

On what he would say to Canes fans who may want to cancel season tickets because of the DeAngelo signing: We’re an organization that’s been a very big part of this community. We’ve been here for 23 years and this community is our home. We want to make sure we do the right things in this community. As I said before, it’s something that we are fully aware of. Putting Tony into our locker room with our culture, with Rod [Brind’Amour] and talking to all the people he’s been involved with, we all got comfortable that he’s a different person. His reaction and his reflection is going to be what we are basing it on moving forward.

On the Canes being active in the community and on what he would say to fans to convince them that he did his research and that DeAngelo deserves yet another chance: This is in the past. I know the past is never forgiven. But we are also in a spot where if we didn’t feel that he had made the progress, first of all recognizing the situations he has been in and trying to improve on them. Working with people to try and help him understand what his actions meant to people. If we weren’t comfortable with all those decisions and all those conversations then we wouldn’t be at this point. But we got to a point where we felt comfortable and obviously had a lot of talks with Tony himself about the past and the future. As an organization, we decided to move forward.

On what makes him believe that DeAngelo will fit in with the Canes: We have a few players that have played with him, most recently in New York. We’ve talked to some other players that have played with him not with our organization. From a teammate standpoint, he gets very high marks being a team guy in the locker room. He’s very well liked in the locker room. Again, we think that with the type of locker room that we have and the type of leaders we have that this is one we really felt good about taking a run at.

On how much more activity in free agency may be ahead for the Canes and if that activity will be specifically at forward: Certainly we do feel like we might be short a forward or two. But not everything happens in day one. There’s been a lot of contracts that have been done today, but as is the case every year there’s a lot of players out there. The other thing is we’ve got some guys that we really feel good about moving forward with and giving them a chance. We signed Jack Drury. He had a tremendous year last year over in Sweden. Maybe this is a year where we have an opportunity for a couple of our young guys to make our hockey club. Just because today is the first day of free agency doesn’t mean today is the last day of free agency. The other thing is that there’s a lot of trade talk that is starting to heat up, too. There’s a lot of teams that are in a cap situation. We obviously have cap now to work with. We’ll continue to work to make our roster the best we can between now and opening night.

On how much input Brind’Amour had in the decision to sign DeAngelo: Rod spoke to him multiple times. Rod’s got to coach the hockey team, so Rod was on board. As we all were. First of all, there’s no decision that is made on players without Rod being involved. Rod is a very smart hockey guy along with being a great coach. We’re not going to be signing players without Rod’s input on it. Again, this was a group decision from top to bottom. We’re going to continue to move forward.

On the timeline of talks with Dougie Hamilton and on when it looked like he wasn’t going to re-sign with the Canes: As I said during the year, we had lots of talks with his representation and just couldn’t get to where they felt they needed to be and where we were. In a salary cap world, you want to make sure that you spend your money wisely. Dougie was a big part of our hockey team here. We got [Andrei] Svechnikov coming up on his contract. We’ve got Martin Necas next year. We want to be a good team for a long time, and we made our offer. It was an eight-year offer that was right where we thought the market would be for us and for him. He earned the right to be a free agent. These guys play and get this opportunity to be a UFA. He wanted to see what the market was and obviously he’s going to get his contract here very soon.

On the risk of bringing DeAngelo in after the work the organization has done to build an inclusive environment: We’re trying to continue our growth as a hockey club. We’re not taking that risk without knowing what’s involved. I can tell you again, this decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. It wasn’t made in a short period of time. It was made over a long period of time. Sometimes you look at situations and you find that people learn from their mistakes and get better. Yes, there’s a risk when you sign any player, and I know there was a higher risk here. The value of this player is a lot more than $1 million. We all know that. He can be a top player. The value is in the millions. But we weren’t going to take that. But he’s taken a low contract to prove himself, also. When you put it all together this decision was made and we really feel like moving forward that the proof is in the pudding, of course, but we believe that it’s going to work out.

On if there was anything specific that DeAngelo did or said that made him realize he had changed as a person: I didn’t know Tony in the previous days, a longer time. You can just tell that he’s realized and recognized that he’s made mistakes. You hear from people. He knows where he’s at in his life and what has happened to him. He’s genuine. Rod and I both didn’t think there was any pretense of what he was trying to tell us, that it wasn’t made up. He was serious about knowing what his actions have been and how he’s going to live his life going forward.

On if they’ve spoken to DeAngelo about social media and podcasts: We’ve talked about social media, but I think it’s been six to eight months now that he’s been pretty much off social media, for the most part. We’re not going to tell our players what they can and can’t do. He knows what he can and can’t do. If he doesn’t realize that now, we’ll be dealing with it. But I don’t see that being an issue. Directly, I can’t say we told him to stay off of it, that’s for sure. We’ll continue to talk with him as we move forward.

On DeAngelo’s last incident occurring six months ago and if this was strictly a business move: No, because I think that would be looking at it through a pretty narrow eyeglass. Did we think there were going to be some people not happy about this? 100 percent. Did we make sure that we checked all our boxes from an organizational standpoint that we felt comfortable moving forward? 100 percent. Time will tell, but we really feel that this is headed in a good direction.

On the Hurricanes acquiring Ethan Bear, who’s been vocal about Hockey is For Everyone, and if there’s a concern about him and DeAngelo having opposite views: The views from being the opposite end, we’re hoping that’s behind us from Tony’s standpoint. We certainly believe that they are. We’re excited about adding Ethan Bear to our hockey club. We’re obviously a little short on the right side. He’s a young defenseman.