RALEIGH — In the first offseason under owner Tom Dundon and general manager Don Waddell, the Carolina Hurricanes already have a different look.
A defense that has been lauded as one of the best young groups in the NHL has two new faces — both in top-four roles — with one cornerstone, Noah Hanifin, already gone and another seemingly on the way out.
The Hurricanes also seem poised to plug their two most recent first-round picks, Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov, into their forward ranks while also adding some snarl with the additions of Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook.
And Cam Ward’s run as a fixture in the Carolina net ended when the team let him sign in Chicago and brought in Petr Mrazek to share the load with Scott Darling.
So where does this leave the team as the hockey world goes mostly quiet until September? There are definitely still moves to be made before the start of the 2018-19 season, specifically with the riches — both in talent and salary — on the right side of the defense and determining the future of Jeff Skinner.
Those possible moves aside, here’s a position-by-position look at where the Hurricanes stand after the draft and the first wave of free agency.
Goaltenders: Scott Darling, Petr Mrazek
Carolina is gambling in net — and doing so without Ward as part of the equation. It’s well-documented that Darling is working hard this offseason to ensure he’ll be in shape come October, and Mrazek’s one-year deal should provide motivation for the former Red Wings starter.
Like last season, it’s thought that average goaltending will be enough to end the Hurricanes’ nine-season playoff drought. The team is betting on the new tandem getting that done.
Defense: Calvin de Haan, Justin Faulk, Haydn Fleury, Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, Trevor van Riemsdyk
The addition of de Haan — a steady, veteran lefty — gives the team seven defensemen that will cost more than $28 million in salary this season. The likely odd-man out is also the most expensive: Faulk, slated to earn $6 million in cash this season and next (though just $4.833 million in cap hit), has been rumored to be on the trading block, and his departure makes the most sense.
Hamilton will slide into Faulk’s spot as the defense’s top offensive weapon — perhaps alongside Slavin — while de Haan should bring stability to the top four. Trevor Carrick could push Fleury for the sixth spot or be the team’s No. 7 guy, much like KHL-bound Klas Dahlbeck did the last two seasons.
Centers: Sebastian Aho, Necas, Victor Rask, Jordan Staal
There are plenty of variables here: Will Aho play center or left wing? Is Necas ready to be an every night contributor down the middle? Can Rask bounce back from a down season?
Carolina has talked about Aho playing center — as he has done with success internationally — once he’s ready, and one would think this is the year Aho makes the move to the middle. That said, the Hurricanes have a history of talking about a player being a future center without ever committing to doing so — see Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Teuvo Teravainen, etc.
Unless a trade lands Carolina another center, right now Aho is the favorite to center the top line. Necas could be nipping at his heels — more than one person employed by the team said Necas impressed enough at prospect camp to jump right in as the No. 1 pivot — and Staal and Rask have both been top-six centers during their career.
Left wings: Phil Di Giuseppe, Ferland, Brock McGinn, Martinook, Skinner
The wild card here is a potential Skinner trade. If Carolina moves the former Calder Trophy winner, they need to replace his scoring. One option is moving Aho back to the left wing and adding another center, even if it’s just a fourth-liner. The team could also use its assets — again, that seems to be Skinner and/or Faulk — to add a scoring left wing.
The trio of Ferland, McGinn and Martinook gives Carolina more physicality in the top nine, and Di Giuseppe is a versatile 13th forward.
Right wings: Teravainen, Svechnikov, Justin Williams, Valentin Zykov
There’s enough depth here that Svechnikov, the second overall pick in last month’s draft, can be eased into a top-nine role. Teravainen will be hitched to Aho, while Williams can bring stability and guile to any line he’s on. Zykov, now on a one-way deal, should be a power play asset.
Even with an 18-year-old penciled in as a contributor, this group is probably the most likely to stay the same throughout the season.