The Hurricanes don’t have much of a choice this offseason. You will inevitably make some big changes.
This is most evident when you look at their lineup without the pending free agents (don’t come to me for lineup decisions; this is just an image):
Andrei Svechnikov – Sebastian Aho – Teuvo Teravainen
Seth Jarvis – ??? – ???
??? – Jordan Staal – Jesper Fast
Jordan Martinook – Jesperi Kotkaniemi – ???
Jacob Slavin – ???
Brady Skjei—Brett Pesce
??? – ???
The Canes will have nearly $20 million in cap space to fill those holes, per CapFriendly, and potentially $4 million more if they fire Jake Gardiner. They’ll no doubt want to re-sign some of their free agents, but others are in short supply, and there are many factors for general manager Don Waddell and his team to consider.
In no particular order, here are Carolina’s top off-season priorities:
Get the limited free agent offers out of the way
The Hurricanes have four NHL players who will be restricted free agents: Martin Necas, Tony DeAngelo, Ethan Bear and Steven Lorentz.
Necas was primed for a breakout season that never happened, partly due to what felt like his own reluctance to shoot the puck and make plays, but also due to the rise of Jarvis and management, the Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the $6.1 million man who gave every opportunity to succeed.
My feeling at Necas is that a fresh start would be good for both sides. I still love his potential, but I wouldn’t blame him if his confidence is tarnished given what’s happened this season and the entry-level contract situation that previously kept him an extra year in the AHL. The Hurricanes will likely look for a trade or commit him to a short bridge deal (think a year or two).
I see a 50-50 situation with Bear. He didn’t get the lineup after the season so it seems like the experiment failed, but I still like him. He’s not great in a floor pairing, a bold role, but maybe giving him another try in a middle pairing if others are on the way out will work. Let’s see the dominoes fall.
Lorentz is 26 and comes off a season in which he had 13 points in 67 games. Keeping him won’t come at a high price, which could be valuable for a team with bigger decisions to make elsewhere.
Stays DeAngelo. For obvious reasons, there is no one quite like him in the league. He’s signed a one-year, $1 million deal, which he’s obviously surpassed, but my feeling is he has some loyalty to the Canes — and that, coupled with a quiet second round, could bring his cost down to a ballpark, that the canes can afford. I’d be curious to see what his arbitration would be like if it comes to that.
Choose your unrestricted free agents wisely
The Hurricanes have six NHL players on their way to full free agency: Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, Max Domi, Ian Cole, Brendan Smith and Derek Stepan.
Trocheck and Niederreiter are the biggest fish to fry. They are both mainstays of Canes and have had great seasons. Trocheck was fourth in goalscoring with 21 goals and 51 points in 81 games. It also brought an advantage I may not have realized how badly the Hurricanes needed. He didn’t have the best second round, but who did? Niederreiter had 24 goals and 44 points in 75 games and his power play presence on the net front was much needed.
They both feel integrated, but let’s think with our wallets instead of our hearts. The wallet says Trocheck, a center, is expecting a pay rise from its median annual figure of $4.75 million. Meanwhile, Niederreiter’s $5.25 million seems about right, but maybe a modest increase due. I’m not sure you’ll be able to sign both if you go for the “elite top scorer” that head coach Rod Brind’Amour is talking about.
Then consider the center depth: Aho and Staal are going nowhere, Kotkaniemi awaits a bigger role, Jarvis is able to play center, Necas is still there, and Jack Drury is tearing it up in the AHL.
That decision hinges heavily on whether Trocheck or Niederreiter would be willing to take a pay cut to stay in the core of the canes. But when it comes to money, the Hurricanes have some options in the center and Trocheck could go.
I wonder if the canes will kick around on Domi? Those two Game 7 goals will live on in the franchise lore, but there could be a situation where they go all-in on one of the elite scorers mentioned above, and that means letting some of the fringe guys go.
I can’t see the Cole-Smith pairing returning fully, but with a pay cut, Cole is a cheap leader they could keep with a stronger partner. I think that applies to both.
Assuming Derek Stepan is healthy and the Canes haven’t played him at all against Rangers, he’s probably done here. It would be easier to re-sign Lorentz.
Get a mood check for the goalies
There was much speculation about Andersen’s left knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs. Some wonder why similar things have happened to Andersen throughout his career, and he seemed reluctant to return to the net when his team needed him during a playoff run.
To be clear, there’s no doubt that Andersen was injured and wasn’t 100 percent ready to return during the playoffs.
Waddell confirmed to me before Game 7 that Andersen’s movement is “coming back,” but “it’s a slow process for a goalie to do the butterfly.”
There is a feeling that some in the Canes organization wished Andersen had prevailed and played, while others sympathized with the complexity of a goalkeeper’s injury with such a large physique. There is a difference between what is expected of a goalkeeper and what is expected of an outfield player, and the reality of playing through injuries as a goalkeeper is complicated by the nature of the injury and how it affects confidence in the body.
Regardless, the Canes need to make sure Andersen is capable of succeeding next season and that they’ve exhausted all resources to understand what happened and how they can help. They also have to come to terms with the fact that Andersen may not play through injury. If they don’t have confidence in him as their number 1 at this point, they need to cut their losses and move on.
We also can’t forget the injury Raanta sustained in Game 7 when he reached over the net to reposition himself and apparently pulled something. Brind’Amour said Raanta would be investigated on Tuesday but wouldn’t have been an option, at least for a while, if the Canes had progressed.
None of this feels great.
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We leaned back and tried to figure out what was wrong with the power play during the playoffs. Many are proposing a new power play coach and I’m sorry but sometimes I roll my eyes at that attitude. Although it couldn’t hurt to explore some new schemes and pieces – and heck, why not bring in a fresh voice and see what happens? — I just don’t think this is the panacea some think it is.
The power play issues were also evident in five-a-side, and the lack of high-end finishing talent was clear. Looking back on the season and my coverage, I accidentally pointed that out a couple of times. “Why isn’t anyone talking about the hurricanes?” I asked and landed on the lack of stars showing up in the trophy talks.
The Canes were one of the best teams, but none of them even made the top 20 in points. Aho led the team with 81 points in 79 games, good for 30th in the league, and he was the only points-per-game player the Canes had in a high-scoring NHL season. After that, no one was in the top 50.
It’s a testament to the Canes that their defensive efforts have gotten them this far, but the front office must reward them with a shiny new toy.
The options are a story for another day, but “we like our group” isn’t good enough for next season.
Revise the blue line
It’s a little wild going back to the days just two years ago when about 18 up-and-coming high-draft picks were vying for a spot on the loaded blue line of canes, but such is life in this industry. Speaking of business, the Canes got into the short-term deal business.
So even if only the free-agent defender squad UFAs go, look at two gaps to fill.
My gut says the Slavin-DeAngelo pairing is here to stay, and so is Pesce and Slavin. I’d love to see the Canes call Jalen Chatfield with his $764,000 AAV and maybe let Bear go if they’re not going to use him. I love Cole for what he brings to the room and he still has it when playing strategic minutes with a strong partner. If he’s willing to take a pay cut from his $2.9 million AAV, it would make sense to bring him back.
Let Brind’Amour get some sleep
I don’t have time at all for the question “Is it time to poll Brind’Amour?” I don’t understand people who say he didn’t change the lineup during the playoffs, even though he has done so repeatedly and it has produced results. Substituting fourth-liners in and out won’t change the fact that the Hurricanes had a player in the top 50 in points during the regular season. But his in-game adjustments worked like Domi moved to the second line in Game 6 of Round 1 and Domi scored a two-goal game in Game 7.
Brind’Amour is so good at his job and hitting his players so hard it’s almost damaging. He squeezes everything out of these guys and is so reluctant to criticize them. There’s a reason so many players have a career season under him, but he can’t make anyone Connor McDavid.
He also makes about four dollars compared to the other coaches in the league. Good luck finding another Rod Brind’Amour. I hope this man has a great summer of rest and t-ball games.
(Top photo of Nino Niederreiter, Vincent Trocheck and Andrei Svechnikov: Fred Kfoury III / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)