The Carolina Hurricanes found out the past two seasons they weren’t quite at the top of the NHL. So it’s no surprise changes were coming this offseason.
After trading away homegrown talents Alex Nedeljkovic and Jake Bean ahead of the NHL Draft, the Hurricanes made a flurry of moves as the league’s free agent period opened Wednesday.
In: goalies Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, defensemen Ethan Bear, Ian Cole and Tony DeAngelo, and forward Josh Leivo
Out: goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and forwards Warren Foegele, Brock McGinn and Cedric Paquette
Staying: forward Jordan Martinook
Still out there: defenseman Jani Hakanpaa
The biggest news of the day was how Carolina reshaped the top of its defense. Hamilton hit the open market and signed a seven-year, $63 million deal with New Jersey — a blow to the Hurricanes’ blue line, specifically its ability to produce points.
In his place comes DeAngelo on a one-year, $1 million deal (more on that here).
“Character” was a theme throughout the day, even beyond the fervor surrounding DeAngelo. Re-signed was Martinook, the team’s heartbeat in the locker room.
No place I would rather be. Carolina is home and the Caniacs are family. #imback
— Jordan Martinook (@Martyman17) July 28, 2021
The 29-year-old signed a three-year deal worth $1.8 million annually to return to Carolina, where he had 21 goals over the last three seasons.
But the Hurricanes also parted ways with McGinn, a 2012 Carolina draft pick who embodied everything coach Rod Brind’Amour wants in his players.
But McGinn’s deal — four years with an average salary of $2.75 million with Pittsburgh — was likely too expensive and too lengthy for the Hurricanes to match.
Also gone from Carolina’s complementary wingers is restricted free agent Warren Foegele, another drafted-and-developed player who carved a role on the team by impressing the coach with his all-out effort.
But Foegele’s stalled development — his expected 20-goal potential has yet to materialize — led the Hurricanes to trade him to Edmonton in exchange for Bear, a right-handed defenseman.
The 24-year-old blueliner, who will make $2 million in 2021-22 before being a restricted free agent, has 33 points in 132 games and adds another puck-mover to Carolina’s defense.
“That trade was, you know, you give up the player that we all liked in Warren Foegele, but we thought the need for a right-shot defenseman outweighed what we needed from Warren at this time,” Waddell said. “So I think it’s one of those trades that’s good for both hockey clubs.”
The Hurricanes also added a well-liked veteran to its blue line, signing Michigan native Ian Cole to a one-year contract worth $2.9 million. It will be the sixth NHL team for the 32-year-old lefty who won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins.
In net, Carolina moved on from its three-headed goaltender of Nedeljkovic, Mrazek and Reimer and signed unrestricted free agents Andersen from Toronto and Raanta from Arizona.
The Hurricanes — at least historically — are familiar with Andersen. The 31-year-old Danish goalie was a seventh-round pick of Carolina in 2010. But with Cam Ward entrenched as the Hurricanes’ No. 1 goalie at the time, Andersen decided to reenter the draft in 2012 and was selected by the Ducks in the third round.
Andersen became a legitimate No. 1 goalie, compiling a 77-26-12 record with a .918 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average in three years in Anaheim. He was then dealt to Toronto, where he had at least 33 wins in his first three seasons before stumbling the last two years, losing the starting job to journeyman Jack Campbell this past season.
Eleven years later he finally comes to Raleigh on a two-year contract with a $4.5 million annual average salary.
As for Raanta, there’s no denying the 32-year-old Finn has proven he’s one of the top goaltending talents in the world, but he’s also been one of the most brittle. His list of injuries? It’s long.
If he’s healthy, though, Raanta can be great. For proof, see the only two seasons he had more than 30 starts: 21-17-6 with a .930 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average in 47 appearances with the Coyotes in 2017-18; and 15-14-3/.921/2.63 in 33 games in 2019-20. But he played just a dozen games in two of the past three seasons — the reason Carolina got him for just $4 million over two years.
“We think that combo of those two guys give us the best opportunity to win hockey games and take us to where we want to get to,” Waddell said.
Mrazek, meanwhile, landed in Toronto on a three-year deal that pays him $3.8 million per season. On TSN’s “Free Agent Frenzy” broadcast, Mrazek lamented his departure from Carolina.
“To be honest, I was a little disappointed,” he said. “It’s been a great three seasons I spent there, great coaches, great teammates. … In the end, it’s business and it’s over and I’m looking for a new chapter.”
While Nedeljkovic signed with Detroit immediately after being traded there last week, Reimer returned to San Jose — where he played a total of nine games in 2016 as a trade deadline acquisition — on a two-year deal that will pay him a total of $4.5 million.
Finally, the Hurricanes added a depth forward in Leivo, a 28-year-old who has played for three Canadian teams — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — and has 37 goals and 37 assists in 207 career games to a one-year, $750,000 contract. Paquette signed a one-year deal in Montreal worth $950,000.
The Hurricanes might not be done — the team still has more than $15 million in cap space with only a new deal for Andrei Svechnikov on its current to-do list.
“We do feel like we might be short a forward or two,” Waddell said, “but, you know, not everything happens on day one. … There’s a lot of trade talk that’s starting to heat up too because some teams have a cap situation. We obviously have some cap now to work with. So we’ll continue to work to make our roster the best we can between now and opening night.”