RALIEGH — The Carolina Hurricanes made their young defense even better Tuesday night — and more crowded.
The team announced it signed free agent defenseman Calvin de Haan to a four-year, $18.2 million contract, adding a needed left-handed defenseman to its roster while also increasing the possibility it will trade a right-handed blueliner during the offseason.
De Haan, 27, was the 12th overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 2009 NHL Draft and played his entire professional career with the team, scoring 81 points in 304 regular season games since making his debut in 2011.
“To be honest, it was a pretty simple one,” de Haan said of the Hurricanes’ sales pitch to him. “I get to play with one of the best young bluelines in the NHL. That to me is very important.
The Carp, Ontario, native has been a reliable defender throughout his career, playing more than 17 minutes a night and more than two minutes a game on the penalty kill. Barring an unlikely addition to the Carolina defense, de Haan will be the oldest player in the group.
The next closest player in age could be the one on the way out.
Justin Faulk’s future with the team was already in question after the acquisition of Dougie Hamilton on day two of the NHL Draft. While general manager Don Waddell previously hinted the team could move right-handed defenseman Brett Pesce to the left side next season, the addition of de Haan gives the team three lefties — de Haan joining Jaccob Slavin and Haydn Fleury — and four righties — Hamilton, Faulk, Pesce and Trevor van Riemsdyk, a restricted free agent the team is still negotiating with on a new contract.
“It may give us an option to look at some other either need for need or restocking the shelves with young players and draft picks,” Waddell said. “But we’ve got some time on our side … so I don’t feel an urgency to do something, but certainly we’ll look at all our options.”
The only red flag on De Haan is he is coming off a season in which he was limited to just 33 games when a shoulder injury led to surgery.
“My shoulder feels great, to be honest,” he said Tuesday night. “It’s public knowledge now: I had surgery in January. I’ve been skating for two months, playing golf, doing all the normal human being things, and I feel really good and I’m confident in the procedure I had and confident in myself as well.”
The Islanders allowed a league-high 296 goals last season and missed de Haan’s veteran presence during his injury, and losing him to a fellow Metropolitan Division team adds insult to injury to a team already reeling after failing to re-sign captain and franchise cornerstone John Tavares. Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Maple Leafs instead, and de Haan did say it played some role in him leaving the Islanders.
“That’s a tough one,” de Haan said when asked if Tavares’ decision influenced his. “I don’t really know. Yes and no. When you have a guy in your lineup like that, you’re going to win more games often than not. But at the end of the day, it’s JT’s decision. You can’t really fault a guy for making a decision to want to play for his hometown team.
De Haan’s arrival also puts the Hurricanes in a position to trade Faulk — who will cost $4.833 million against the salary cap the next two seasons — without having to worry about not reaching the cap floor of $58.8 million.
With the team also shopping Jeff Skinner — a $5.725 million cap hit in 2018-19, the final year of his deal — Carolina could attempt to use Faulk in a trade to replace Skinner’s goal scoring and then deal the former Calder Trophy winner for picks and prospects. Or the Hurricanes could simply hold on to Skinner to start the year and look to move Faulk for young assets.
Most important, however, is the team trying to end its playoff drought, a cause de Haan said he wants to be a part of.
“Not making playoffs for nine years, it sucks,” de Haan said. “But like I said as well, I want to be part of that solution to help make the team better, to help the fans in Raleigh appreciate the Hurricanes, and we want people in those seats.”