clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Hurricanes bring back own vets, make big splash on day one of free agency

Recapping a flurry of signings from the Hurricanes on day one of free agency, and looking at what might come next, with commentary from general manager Don Waddell.

NHL: Stadium Series-Practice James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell’s media availability at PNC Arena on Saturday struck a very different tune from past July 1 press conferences. Those would usually be filled with some variation of “we like our group” and “this is a dangerous day.”

This year, the Hurricanes had one of their busiest, most entertaining opening free agency days in recent memory. In addition to officially bringing back three of their own pending UFAs on team-friendly deals in forward Jesper Fast and goalies Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, the Hurricanes made the biggest splash of day one and signed one of the biggest fish on this year’s open market in inking defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a two-year deal with a $7.75-million AAV.

“It was an interesting day,” Waddell said. “My staff asked what time they should come in today, and I said, ‘I don’t even know if you need to come in. It’s going to be a quiet day.’ That proved to be a little different. Things have changed here. We used to chase players, and have to overpay players. We’ve become a destination place. We’re getting those calls first, and it’s nice to be in a position to have an opportunity to make your team better.”

They also brought in Michael Bunting, a winger who adds both goal-scoring and grit to the forward group. Of course, while Saturday’s moves have the Hurricanes in a good position, there’s still more to accomplish this offseason. Let’s take a look at where the Hurricanes are now and where they go from here, with Waddell’s answers to guide us.

Making a big splash, more moves on D to come?

The Hurricanes, to the surprise of many, made the biggest signing of day one when they inked arguably the top player on the market in Orlov.

The 32-year-old defenseman split last season between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins, and posted a career-high 36 points. He’ll be a great fit on a Hurricanes blue line already stacked with two-way talents.

“We think he’s a puck-moving defenseman that fits the style that (Canes head coach) Rod (Brind’Amour) likes to play. He can join the rush. He brings some offense and can play on the power play. We spend less time in our zone than any other team in the NHL. When you talk about adding pieces to your hockey club, we want to talk about can they make our team better? Certainly we feel that with his abilities back there, he does that for us.”

While $7.75 million is probably a bit of an overpay, even for a player of Orlov’s caliber, that was by design, with the Hurricanes going higher on the AAV to keep the term lower for the 32-year-old blueliner.

“That was our goal,” Waddell said. “If we get him here and everything goes well, there’s no reason we can’t extend him at that point, but you can’t take your cap space with you. If you don’t spend it, you lose it. And the cap’s only going to get tighter as you continue on, so we wanted to leave ourselves as much flexibility as we can. So what’s where we came up with this idea of going at him with a good number that we thought he could accept, and do it for a shorter term. It fits what we need, and he was excited about it.”

And the team is most likely not done re-shaping its blue line. Waddell said that the Hurricanes’ reported reacquisition of Tony DeAngelo, for which the league has asked the Hurricanes and Flyers to wait until July 8 to satisfy a stipulation in the CBA about retaining salary when reacquiring traded players within a year, is still on the table.

That would give the Canes seven NHL defensemen making at least $2.5 million, and could lead to a trade of either Brett Pesce or Brady Skjei, both of whom are entering the final year of their contracts. There’s a lot of offseason to go, however.

“Us and Philly have a deal in principle, it just can’t be executed until a certain date,” Waddell said. “As you add good pieces, you always say how are you going to make it fit? We’ve got a lot going on this year with contracts and maybe other opportunities for a trade still. So the good thing is it’s July 1. It’s not opening night. So we’ve got some time to figure this out.”

Scoring, toughness in one package

The Hurricanes had two obvious needs up front this summer: adding some additional goal scoring, and, ideally, a player who could bring some additional grit and toughness to the lineup.

They feel they’ve done both in one move in signing Michael Bunting to a three-year deal with a $4.5-milion AAV. Bunting is coming off back-to-back 23-goal seasons in Toronto.

The 27-year-old winger has also had 85 hits in each of the past two seasons, and should add some of the sandpaper up front the Hurricanes feel they’ve lacked in the postseason.

“We wanted to add to our forward group with a player that brings lots of intangibles,” Waddell said. “He can score. He hits. He’s a feisty guy.”

Running it back in net

The other big decision the Hurricanes had to make this summer was in net, with Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta both hitting unrestricted free agency and Pytor Kochetkov getting ready to start a four-year, one-way deal with a $2-million AAV.

Their answer? Run it back. The Hurricanes brought back Andersen (two years, $3.4-million AAV) and Raanta (one year, $1.5-million), with both netminders taking team-friendly deals.

Waddell said the low salaries allow the Hurricanes to potentially carry all three goalies on the NHL roster next year, and noted that, due to injuries, the team has needed all three in each of the past two years.

“We felt if we were going to go the route that we did last year, Kochetkov is really close and maybe ready right now,” Waddell said. “We’ll probably be able to play all three goalies throughout the season. … If we were going to bring them back, we felt like we were going to need the insurance to have all three of them back.”

Kochetkov is still waiver exempt, and, though the Hurricanes won’t have an AHL affiliate for next season, Waddell said the team has options in terms of places to loan him out to play some games.

“I have a couple options already,” he said. “Pyotr’s not going to play every game. If we get in a spot where the other two guys are playing well and healthy, and we need to find Pyotr some games for a while, it’s not going to be a problem. You never know how things are going to go. Very rarely this year were we all healthy at the same time.”

Bringing back Fast

The Hurricanes also officially brought back another one of their own in Fast on Saturday, signing the Swedish winger to a two-year deal with a $2.4-million AAV.

Given Fast’s two-way play, secondary scoring and penalty-killing ability, he’s a player who likely could have gotten more on the open market.

“He’s an important player for us,” Waddell said. “He’s played alongside Jordan (Staal) since he’s been here for the most part. He’s a true pro. He comes to the rink every day. You got the same effort in practice as you do in a game. That line of Fast, Staal and (Jordan) Martinook doesn’t get enough credit for how good they are.”

The Hurricanes have had luck with getting their own players back on team-friendly deals this offseason, with Waddell noting that Andersen and Raanta both agreed to take pay cuts, and Jordan Staal also took one on his four-year, $2.9-million AAV deal.

“We’ve gotten a few,” Waddell said. “...Certainly there’s been a few guys that have done that. Not every player looks at it the same way. Some guys, the mindset is a little different. And some guys’ careers are going in a little bit of a different direction.”

Aho extension to come?

Of course, putting together next year’s team isn’t the only thing on Waddell’s to-do list this offseason. The Hurricanes have several players entering the last season of their deals, chief among them Skjei, Pesce and Sebastian Aho.

Reports from several national reporters in recent weeks have been that the Hurricanes view locking their Finnish all-star center to a long-term deal one of their top priorities, and that contract talks are going well. Waddell echoed that viewpoint Saturday.

“We’re talking,” Waddell said. “We’ve had great discussions. I met with his agent, Gerry Johannson in Nashville for the draft. We said let’s go through the next few days. He had a lot of clients that are unrestricted free agents, and obviously we’re very busy. I think in the next few days we’ll pick that back up.”