The Carolina Hurricanes reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season this year, the first time the team has done that since relocating to North Carolina. The accomplishment, of course, isn’t much of a consolation for a team that was eliminated in five games by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
“That’s one thing that we have to do, kind of remember how you know how bad it feels to lose and use that for everyone’s offseason,” center Sebastian Aho said last week at his season-ending availability. “You’ve got to do the work (so) that you are confident and ready to go whenever the next season starts. … We want to use that motivation to build a good offseason and be ready for the next training camp and season.”
What the roster — and even coaching staff — will look like is the biggest question mark as Carolina heads into a pivotal offseason.
The biggest name looming in unrestricted free agency is Dougie Hamilton. The Hurricanes defenseman had 42 goals and 79 assists for 121 points in 184 regular season games with Carolina the past three seasons. He cost $5.75 million against the salary cap and is in line to probably make around 50% more than that on a long-term deal in the open market.
The Hurricanes have already reportedly granted Hamilton and his agent permission to talk to other teams about a contract before the free agent market opens July 28. That would indicate the two sides are far apart in negotiations.
“I think everyone knows I really enjoy it here,” Hamilton said at his season-ending availability.
Jaccob Slavin also hopes his defense partner will return for a fourth season in Carolina and beyond.
“He’s a huge part of this team and he was part of our success and I want him back,” Slavin said. “I enjoy playing with him and I think we work well together.”
The Hurricanes also have several depth players in need of new deals. Brock McGinn and Jordan Martinook have been key role players — on the ice and in the locker room — who both said they wanted to return to Raleigh.
“I want to see it through,” Martinook said of re-signing with the Hurricanes. “I think we’re right there. We’re so close, and if I were to go somewhere else, it’d be tough to see if they were to win here because I feel like I was a big part of it.”
Carolina will also need to weigh whether to re-sign midseason acquisitions Cedric Paquette and Jani Hakanpaa — two players brought in to provide more grit to the lineup — along with goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer.
Andrei Svechnikov and Alex Nedeljkovic are both restricted free agents. Svechnikov seems poised for a bridge contract of two or three seasons, and Nedeljkovic — a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie — has arbitration rights but a limited track record that should give Carolina the upper hand in negotiations with the young goalie.
Svechnikov said he’s “love to stay here forever,” while Nedeljkovic said he was excited about the prospects of making his way around the league with the Hurricanes in 2021-22.
Warren Foegele, Jake Bean and Morgan Geekie are also RFAs.
It’s been reported for some time that Rod Brind’Amour has already agreed in principle to a contract extension but was holding out for deals for his staff. It sounds like those deals are close to done, though assistant coach Dean Chynoweth has reportedly been permitted to speak to other teams.
One source said morale was low among the staff at how dealings with the front office have gone despite the success of the past three seasons, and Tom Dundon has earned a reputation as an owner who will squeeze whatever he can out of every negotiation — whether it’s players, team brass, broadcasters or even arena staff.
Winning solves everything, they say, but Dundon continues to test the limits of hockey’s culture of unquestioned loyalty. He also doesn’t care if his name dragged through the mud in what is becoming an annual offseason occurrence.
Carolina also needs to plan for two drafts — the normal entry draft and the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.
Hamilton’s fate could go a long way in determining the direction the team goes with its protected list for expansion. Both Foegele and Bean — selected by Seattle GM Ron Francis when he was with the Hurricanes — could be considerations for Seattle, while Brady Skjei and Nino Niederreiter may also be left unprotected.
Carolina has eight picks in the entry draft and is without its fifth-round pick (sent to Vegas as part of the trade that brought Erik Haula to Raleigh two years ago) but holds two extra seventh-round selections from deals made with Los Angeles and St. Louis.