MONTREAL — It was a quiet first night of the NHL Draft for the Carolina Hurricanes in Montreal.
While chaos the draft floor was chaos as expected first overall pick Shane Wright slid down to fourth to the Seattle Kraken and Montreal selected two Slovaks while also trading for Kirby Dach, the Hurricanes watched on knowing their first selection wouldn’t come until Saturday. That’s because Carolina gave its first- and third-rounders to the Canadiens as part of the payment for their successful offer sheet to Jesperi Kotkaniemi last offseason.
“To get back in the first round, you have to give up a lot,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said Thursday before the start of the first round. “So we didn’t think it was worth it at this point to do that.”
That doesn’t mean Waddell and the rest of the Hurricanes’ front office were sitting on their hands in the lead-up to Thursday’s first round.
Waddell said he expects the team’s unrestricted free agents — most notably Vincent Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter — to hit the open market when free agency begins next Wednesday, and the team still has contracts to figure out with key RFAs Tony DeAngelo, Ethan Bear and Martin Necas.
With nearly $20 million to spend, Waddell expects to be busy filling out his roster. The question is whether that comes this week in Montreal via trade, next week in free agency or later in the summer with some combination of trades and/or signings.
“We’re gonna spend our money one way or another,” Waddell said. “We’re not a team that’s trying to be a budget team. We’re a cap team.
“So we will spend it wisely, of course, but still we want to be in the mix and just help strengthen our team.”
On top of figuring out who to bring on board for the 2022-23 season, the Hurricanes and Waddell also need to know which of their players will be back.
Defenseman Jake Gardiner, who sat out last season after undergoing back and hip surgeries, has been cleared to play again and has one year left on his contract that holds a $4.05 million cap hit.
“He’s cleared to play,” Waddell said of Gardiner. “So at this point, barring anything unforeseen, he’ll come to camp and we’ll go from there.”
And then there’s Andrei Svechnikov. The winger is entering his fifth NHL season, but there are growing concerns that Russian players may have difficulty leaving the country after Flyers goalie prospect Ivan Fedotov was detained in Moscow and Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was rumored to be at risk for something similar.
Carolina also has Russian prospects Pyotr Kochetkov and Vasily Ponomarev who played in North America last season after starting the year in the KHL.
Waddell said to this point he doesn’t believe the players will have a problem returning to North America.
“We’re encouraging them they should get back as soon as they can,” Waddell said. “But they have a better feel of what’s going on here than I do, that’s for sure.”
Carolina is still trying to get a feeling for how things will go with the team’s restricted free agents.
Necas, who has little leverage because he doesn’t have arbitration rights, took a step back in 2021-22 but could still be looking for a bigger contract given that he essentially played four years on his three-year entry-level contract.
While Necas has been the subject of trade rumors, Waddell said the Hurricanes plan to keep the speedy 23-year-old and didn’t seem concerned about getting him signed.
“It’ll get done at some point,” Waddell said. “There’s not an urgency like these other guys.”
The urgency with Bear and DeAngelo comes because both have arbitration rights. While Bear wouldn’t have much of a case after a disappointing season in which Carolina seemed to lose faith in him, DeAngelo is a unique scenario.
The polarizing defenseman had 51 points in his first year in Raleigh on a $1 million deal.
For most players with arb rights, that would mean a monster pay day. But DeAngelo was sent home and bought out by the Rangers the season before — his latest transgression in a list of stains on his character — and could have trouble convincing an arbitrator that he’s worth a high number.
But other teams might be willing to give him a multiyear, big money deal, so Carolina is waiting and seeing on DeAngelo — and the 26-year-old is also exploring his options.
“Tony is representative by (CAA mega-agent) Pat Brisson, and Pat does a good job with Tony. I’ll leave it at that,” Waddell said.
Waddell added that the team has discussed a contract that would be “a few years” with Brisson and DeAngelo.
“We’re just trying to come up with what the value is, which is a difference in opinion right now,” Waddell said.
Waddell added that DeAngelo “had a good year for us” but “he’s not a UFA, he’s an RFA.”
Even though the Hurricanes didn’t make any picks Thursday or complete any deals before Round 1 ended Thursday, Waddell said he’s already had two meetings with agents of players with whom he is negotiating since arriving in Montreal.
And there’s still plenty of time for Carolina to get to work on its roster — and plenty of names that could be in play.