Hectic July should put Hurricanes in focus

A flurry of key dates — from the expansion and entry drafts to the opening of free agency — will determine the team’s direction for 2021-22

Defenseman Jake Bean, the Hurricanes' top pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, could be a target of the expansion Seattle Kraken and the general manager who drafted him, former Hurricanes player and GM Ron Francis. (Mark Humphrey / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — It’s mid-July, so naturally there’s some downtime for NHL players and executives after a long season and frantic start to the offseason.

Not so fast.

With the start of the 2020-21 season delayed due to the coronavirus and the Stanley Cup awarded nearly a month later than usual, the condensed schedule that challenged the league’s teams during the season has carried over into the offseason. With the NHL planning to get back to normal with an October start for 2021-22, there will be a flurry of activity in the coming weeks as the league does some catching up after two years of upheaval.

Toss in the addition of the league’s 32nd team and daily planners are overflowing with dates of importance. Here’s a look at the crazy two weeks ahead and how it will shape the Carolina Hurricanes going forward.

July 17

Thirty NHL teams must submit their lists of protected players for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft Thursday, and the lists will be made public the next day. Vegas, the NHL’s 31st team, is exempt.

Here’s a refresher on the rules, which are the same as when the Golden Knights joined the league for the 2017-18 season.

Teams can choose between two configurations for their protected list: either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie; or eight skaters and a goalie. Furthermore, each team must expose two forwards and a defenseman that are both under contract for at least next season and have played 27 or more games in 2020-21 or at least 54 games over the past two seasons. One goalie who is either under contract for next season or a restricted free agent with an expiring contract must also be left unprotected.

Players with more than two years of professional experience in North America are eligible for the expansion draft, and players with a no-movement clause must be protected by their current team. Players with a no-trade clause in their contract can be exposed. The Kraken will select one player from each team and choose at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

So how does all this affect the Hurricanes?

For starters, captain Jordan Staal must be protected because of the no-move clause in his contract. On the flip side, a loophole that allowed the Hurricanes to loan Martin Necas to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers in 2018-19 means he officially only has two years of experience and will not need to be protected.

If Carolina chooses the 7-3-1 configuration, they will be forced to expose a defenseman they would like to keep — either Brady Skjei or Jake Bean — unless they make a deal ahead of Thursday’s deadline. The 8-1 configuration would allow the Hurricanes to protect four defensemen but would leave someone like Vincent Trocheck unprotected.

We’ll know more once the protected lists are revealed Friday.

July 21

Seattle will make its expansion draft picks next Wednesday. There could be a flurry of trades around the league as teams try to best position themselves to protect their best assets. Whether that means trades with Kraken to entice them to take an agreed-upon player or deals amongst the 31 other teams will be determined in the coming week.

July 23-24

I hope you didn’t take a breath — it’s NHL Draft time. The league will hold a virtual draft for the second straight year due to the coronavirus, with the first round in prime time on new rightsholder ESPN next Friday followed by Rounds 2-7 on the afternoon of July 24. Carolina currently holds eight picks in the draft — one each in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth rounds, and three in the seventh round. The Hurricanes will pick 26th in the first round.

July 28

By now, the league’s teams will have spent the last week wheeling and dealing assets while welcoming new draft picks into the fold. Next up is the spending frenzy.

With a flat salary cap of $81.5 million, many believe teams will be more frugal with their spending when the market opens. That may be true on some level, but the A-list free agents will still get their money.

At the top of that list is Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who is in a position to cash in as a first-time free agent after scoring double-digit goals in each of the last seven seasons. Carolina would love to have Hamilton back, but not for the price and term that many believe the 28-year-old will get on the open market.

The other notable unrestricted free agents for the Hurricanes are goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, defenseman Jani Hakanpaa, and bottom-six forwards Jordan Martinook, Brock McGinn and Cedric Paquette.