On a normal opening day of NHL free agency, the Hurricanes losing Dougie Hamilton would be the earth-shaking move.
But while the defenseman’s new seven-year, $63 million contract with New Jersey certainly reverberated around the league, it was Carolina’s choice to replace him that made the biggest shockwaves on a busy Wednesday.
Tony DeAngelo, the New York Rangers castoff who has been a lightning rod of controversy, was signed to a one-year deal worth $1 million on Wednesday, adding undeniable talent and questionable character to a team with its eyes set on winning a Stanley Cup.
“I know the higher risk here, but I think … the value of this player is a lot more than $1 million,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said. “We all know that he can be a top player. The value’s in the millions.”
DeAngelo’s list of indiscretions is long and spans nearly a decade, from suspensions for using offensive slurs and abuse of officials to a locker room altercation last season in New York that led the Rangers to buy out the remainder of the 25-year-old’s two-year, $9.6 million contract that had just kicked in.
Carolina was willing to take the chance, knowing DeAngelo comes with baggage that both he and Waddell tried to shed on separate video calls with the media.
“The proof is in the pudding, of course, but we believe it’s going to all work out,” Waddell said.
The GM said the team did a thorough background check on DeAngelo and were confident enough to take a low-risk move financially while knowing it would be a higher-risk public relations move.
“There’s no doubt that he has made mistakes,” Waddell said of DeAngelo. “We acknowledge that and, more importantly, he recognizes that he’s made mistakes, and he knows he’s got to continue to work and grow as a person.”
Waddell said the decision to sign DeAngelo was a “group decision from top to bottom” in the organization, with the defenseman talking multiple times to coach Rod Brind’Amour and also owner Tom Dundon. When asked if the team ran into any red flags upon evaluating DeAngelo, Waddell said, “absolutely not.” He added that the team talked to DeAngelo’s former teammates, coaches and staff, including two Hurricanes who played with him on Broadway — Brady Skjei and Jesper Fast — and DeAngelo received “very high marks.”
DeAngelo said he was “very close” with Skjei and Fast and that “the teammates, to me, is not gonna be a problem. I’ve always had a great relationship with teammates.”
DeAngelo acknowledged that his claim “might sound funny” given that his exit from New York was due, in part, to a confrontation with a teammate, but he claimed the incidents from his past were caused by letting his “emotions get the best of me.”
“A lot of the stuff that’s happened in my career stemmed from emotions from being competitive,” he said. “There’s never been any off-ice problems or anything like that. It just comes from having a high-level compete for the game and passion for the game.
“And I think that I made some mistakes along the way, obviously, stuff that I regretted and I tried to improve upon, and now I just have to prove it to the Hurricanes.”
DeAngelo’s offensive talent is undeniable: 106 points in 206 career games, including a 53-point season in 2019-20 that catapulted him into the discussion of the top offensive defensemen in the league.
And there are also plenty who believe he is the most offensive — the other offensive — player in the league. He’s now with his fourth organization since being drafted in the first round by Tampa Bay in 2014, and his outspoken support of former President Donald Trump, coupled with his past, made him a frequent target of opposing fans both during games and on social media.
“I think there’s a perception of myself and I think there’s the reality as well,” DeAngelo said. “And that gets lost a little bit from what you read on social media and stuff. Everybody likes to make up their own thing.”
Word that Carolina planned to sign the 5-foot-11, 180-pound New Jersey native led to social media outrage on Tuesday, and when the deal became official Wednesday, the backlash was reignited.
“I think once the fans get to see me play and see me around the community, I think they’re going to take a liking to me, and I hope they do,” DeAngelo added. “So, that’s my plan.”
On a day when NHL teams closed in on spending $750 million on contracts this offseason, it was a $1 million contract that drew most of the attention.
“I told them I’m not going to let them down,” DeAngelo said of his pledge to the Hurricanes. “I’m a man of my word, so that’s what I plan on doing.”
As Waddell said, the proof will be in the pudding.
“Time will tell, but we really feel that this is headed in a good direction.”