RALEIGH — The offseason will be much shorter than the Carolina Hurricanes have become accustomed to this summer, thanks to their run to the Eastern Conference Final. There’s also less work to be done than in the past decade, seeing that Carolina has found a winning formula under coach Rod Brind’Amour.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing on deck for the Hurricanes’ front office this offseason. On top of a wealth of draft picks (including four in the first 59 picks), Carolina has cap space and plenty of assets to try and improve its lineup.
Probably the only sure thing is Micheal Ferland. The pending unrestricted free agent’s representatives ruffled the feathers of Hurricanes management during contract extension talks by asking for a contract similar to that received by Kyle Okposo and Milan Lucic a few years ago.
Those deals didn’t age well, and after talks broke down between Ferland and the team, so did the 27-year-old. Ferland’s nagging injuries limited him the second half of the year and in the postseason, and his one goal after Feb. 19 likely sealed his departure.
Beyond that, the Hurricanes will at least entertain bringing back their other free agents. Captain Justin Williams would be welcomed back — likely on a one-year deal — if he decides to play another season, and GM Don Waddell has said the team will discuss new contracts with goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney.
The team’s other goalie, Scott Darling, seems like a prime candidate for a buyout. Waddell said the Hurricanes have not yet made a decision on what to do with the remaining two years and $7.1 million owed Darling.
Restricted free agents Sebastian Aho and Brock McGinn, favorites of the organization, should both get new deals — Aho’s will make him the team’s highest-paid player — and UFA Greg McKegg proved he’s an NHL regular and could be back unless a better deal comes from elsewhere. Saku Maenalanen has arbitration rights as an RFA, but it makes sense for both sides to get a deal done.
The team could also use its wealth of defensemen to bolster the forward corps. Justin Faulk, with one year left on his deal before unrestricted free agency, could bring back a big return.
Martin Necas’ full-time arrival in the NHL was delayed a year, but the Czech phenom should be in Raleigh next season. The question is whether it’s as a center or winger. If he stays in the middle, that could jeopardize McKegg’s spot. If he starts out on the wing, he could take Ferland’s spot (or Williams’ if he retires).
With Calvin de Haan and Trevor van Riemsdyk both rehabbing from shoulder surgeries this summer, Haydn Fleury will be relied on. Jake Bean is also knocking on the door and could make a dealing a defenseman a little easier.
Julien Gauthier, Janne Kuokkanen, Nicolas Roy or Aleksi Saarela are all reaching a point where they need to push for NHL spots. Morgan Geekie is a long shot, but the rookie center has had an impressive 2018-19 and even better postseason with the Checkers.
It’s tough to envision Carolina going hard after any of the big-ticket unrestricted free agents. The RFA class, however, is deep, and the Hurricanes’ stockpile of resources and cap space could make them a player in trade talks.
Cap-strapped teams with several RFAs like Toronto (Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johansson) and Winnipeg (Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Jacob Trouba) could be targeted, while upper-limit franchises like Nashville, Vegas and Tampa Bay could all be looking to shed salary for relief.
The Hurricanes coaching staff will be back, but Mike Vellucci, the Hurricanes’ assistant GM and Charlotte Checkers coach, is due a new contract. The Checkers’ run to the Calder Cup Finals (series begins against the Chicago Wolves Saturday in Charlotte) might have ironically hurt Vellucci’s chances at a vacancy this offseason, with Anaheim yet to name a head coach for the 2019-20 season. He would certainly be coveted as an NHL assistant, but it’s hard to see how that would benefit Vellucci’s resume.
The other pressing matter is the broadcast team of John Forslund, Tripp Tracy and Mike Maniscalco, all up for new deals. Forslund is one of hockey’s best play-by-play men and a logical replacement for Doc Emrick at NBC when the legendary broadcaster calls it quits. Forslund already works for NBC, jetting to games on Hurricanes’ off days and doing the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Tracy has been with the franchise since 1998 and couples quirky chemistry with Forslund and the knowledge of being a former minor league goalie. Maniscalco has been with the Hurricanes for three seasons after nearly a decade in Triangle sports radio.