RALEIGH — Calvin de Haan arrived in Raleigh before the 2018-19 season on the first big contract of his career, a four-year deal worth $18.2 million.
The veteran defenseman then backed it up, logging 18½ minutes a night in a shutdown role as Carolina reached the Eastern Conference Final.
During that offseason, he was dealt to Chicago in a four-player trade.
“I was sour for a little bit,” de Haan said, “especially with what I played through in the playoffs. I thought I was a big part of that run.”
Eighteen days after the de Haan trade, Ryan Dzingel inked a two-year, $6.75 million deal with Carolina. The winger showed up for training camp talking about wanting to have a big season and make Raleigh his long-term home.
Less than 17 months later he was gone, traded back to Ottawa where he had started his career.
On top of everything else coach Rod Brind’Amour has on his plate, he also needs to manage the egos and feelings of his players. But he’s not worried about any old wounds with de Haan and Dzingel.
“You know, it’s a big boy league,” Brind’Amour said. “We understand how it works. So if there was a bridge to be built, I don’t think they’d be trying to get back here.”
Time, it seems, heals all wounds.
The 31-year-old de Haan thought he’d land a contract in the offseason. When he didn’t, he scoped out the Stanley Cup contenders, shook off any remaining resentment and returned to Raleigh on a professional tryout.
“At the end of the day, it’s a business,” he said, “and I really started to understand that because I’m getting older.”
With Jake Gardiner seemingly headed to long-term injured reserve, de Haan surely noticed a lack of left-handed defensemen — and an opportunity.
“I think I can fit into this top six here,” he said. “I want to help this team get to that next level, if they want me.”
Dzingel, 30, had scored 26 goals in the 2018-19 campaign before signing with Carolina but totaled just 21 goals over the last three seasons with four different teams.
“The last two to three years haven’t gone the way I wanted it to,” he said.
He attributed his struggles, in part, to a series of injuries, including what he thought for about five years was tendinitis in his wrist but proved to be two tears that required surgery.
“It’s the first time my wrist felt good in a long time,” he said. “I’m a shooter and I’m a goal scorer. It’s not an excuse. … I could have played a lot better.”
But then there was another setback — and far from a normal one.
While visiting his expecting wife’s family in Virginia, he was looking for a sign to help him decide on where the next stop in his career would be. Russia, Switzerland and PTOs with NHL teams were all on the table.
Then Hurricanes strength and conditioning coach Bill Burniston called Dzingel and urged him to come and battle for a roster spot in Carolina. Dzingel talked to the team and signed a one-year, two-way contract on July 25.
“I woke up four hours later with a huge spider bite and my elbow the size of a watermelon,” he said. “I was rushed to the ER.”
Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with his elbow — a spider bite or perhaps a piece or rust that got under his skin.
Dzingel, arm engorged and bent at the elbow, received weeks of treatment and waited for improvement, but he was limited to training on the bike. Then he woke up one morning and the swelling was down and he could bend his arm again.
“But I had no strength,” he said.
That led to about four weeks of feverish training to get ready for camp.
“I did all triceps, all forearms, and now I’m here.”
And now the real work begins for both players.
De Haan was on the ice Thursday with the group of players made up predominantly of the expected NHL roster and others battling for a roster spot.
Dzingel, meanwhile, found himself in group two surrounded by players who mostly haven’t played in an NHL game. It was a reminder of the path ahead.
“It’s just a good opportunity for me to try to go steal a job. And then if not, Chicago’s my hometown,” Dzingel said of possibly being assigned to the AHL’s Wolves. “So I can work on my craft and get back on the ice and play in the NHL.”
De Haan doesn’t have that luxury — it’s either earn a contract or try and find work elsewhere.
“I’m just trying my best to stay relevant, I guess. … I hope there’s a spot for me here,” he said. “I’d love to play here again.”