The Carolina Hurricanes are at a crossroad. Currently in possession of the longest playoffs-less streak in the league, the Canes are also dealing with new ownership, a new GM, and a new coach. It stands to reason, then, that this locker room might look very different come opening night. Team management has already made a few notable comments about potential trades, but with almost half the team looking for new deals this summer, looking at these signings is just as important.
One important thing to keep in mind is that, while the Canes spend the least amount of money in the league and technically have a lot more room under the cap, it’s clear that – at least under Peter Karmanos, the now-minority owner – the Canes operated under their own personal cap. There’s no telling if Tom Dundon will stick to this, however.
Unrestricted Free Agents
At 35 years of age, Lee Stempniak’s career seems to be winding to an end. He’s played eighteen seasons in the NHL with ten teams, but it’s hard to see him continuing past the next season or two. This year, he sat out with hip and upper-body injuries until January, eventually playing 37 games but finishing with only nine points. It would be a different story if Stempniak played a major role in the locker room, but as it stands right now, the Hurricanes do not need him anymore. There are plenty of young players who can easily fill in that third-line grinder role.
Verdict: Let him go
The source of much debate in Canes fandom over the past season, center Derek Ryan isn’t a bad player himself. Many of the problems this year came from the way he was being deployed under former coach Bill Peters. Despite the plethora of forward talent on this team, Peters put Ryan on the second power play unit and placed Jeff Skinner on his wing. These moves hampered the skills of both players.
If Rod Brind’Amour plays Ryan differently, he could remain an asset. He’s certainly serviceable on the third line, winning around 56% of the faceoffs he takes. Furthermore, his performance at Worlds under a different coach shows that there is indeed much room for improvement. While the sample size was much smaller, Ryan produced 0.70 points a game, a huge improvement from the 0.47 PPG he posted this season.
Verdict: Keep him ($2.5 million per year for two years at the most)
The goalie situation is where the Canes really fell short this season. While much of that was, indeed, management’s misplaced hope in Scott Darling, the fact remains that Cam Ward hasn’t been a good goalie for the Canes for a very long time. While the Canes are still tied to Ward – who hasn’t posted a league average save percentage since 2011-2012 – in any way, it’s hard to move forward. The goalie market does look fairly slim this offseason, but there are a few looking for deals, like Jonathan Bernier, and a few more who could be on the trade market, like Robin Lehner.
Verdict: Let him go (but only if there’s a definite other option)
Restricted Free Agents
Phil di Giuseppe
Coming off a two-way, one-year deal at league minimum, forward Phillip di Giuseppe still has yet to find his footing in the NHL. The 2012 second-round pick hasn’t played 50 games in a season yet and has 37 NHL points through three years of professional hockey. He played most of this season on the fourth line, and honestly, if the Canes don’t trade his rights this offseason, it’s hard to see him getting much of a raise this summer.
Projected deal: $800k for one year
One of this team’s best non-Finnish forwards, Elias Lindholm will be a key Hurricanes player for years to come. The Canes have struggled with finding good centers in the past to play with their talented wingers. For the past few years, Lindholm, along with Jordan Staal, has reliably centered the second and third lines, and the Canes can’t afford to let him go. At the same time, Lindholm is also good for at least 40 points a season, and he’s just now coming into his prime. Since he’s arbitration eligible, I don’t anticipate that 5.5 million is the starting figure. However, at the end of the day, he deserves a considerable raise and the Canes need to lock him up.
Projected deal: $5.5 million per year for six years
Joakim Nordström peaked his first year in Carolina with 24 points and hasn’t been the same since. Through 75 games this season, he only scored seven points. He does, however, take faceoffs more often than most other Canes wingers, but even there his highest FO% is only 46.76%. While he was on the penalty kill for a decent chunk of minutes this season, the Canes’ PK was nothing to write home about, finishing 24th in the league by only killing 77.5% of penalties taken. Like di Giuseppe, Nordström could very well have his rights traded. His spot as a bottom-six forward might do better in the hands of a young player just entering the league. If not, Nordström’s last contract was signed right after that career-best, and his numbers now would say that he’s not going to get any sort of raise from that.
Projected deal: $1 million for one year
Trevor van Riemsdyk
The Canes seem to be one of the few teams (besides Vegas themselves, of course) who benefited from the expansion last year. Chosen from the Chicago Blackhawks in the expansion draft, Trevor van Riemsdyk was flipped over to Carolina for a second-round pick that had originally come over from Pittsburgh in the Ron Hainsey deal. He immediately found himself a solid spot on this team, spending most of his minutes on the second pairing with Noah Hanifin. Since coming to Carolina, he’s put up much the same numbers as he did as a Blackhawk, with the notable condition that the Blackhawks won three Cups in six years and the Canes are, well, the Canes. While van Riemsdyk isn’t as talented as some of the other defensemen in the Canes system, he’s reliable, hard-working, and somewhat of a veteran presence.
Projected deal: $2 million per year for three years
One of the linchpins in the Canes’ vaunted young defense corps, 21-year-old Noah Hanifin has expressed his long-term commitment to Carolina. While his numbers may not yet reflect the expectations the Canes had for him when they drafted him fifth overall, keep in mind that defensemen tend to mature later than forwards. Furthermore, Hanifin still led Canes defensemen in points this season despite receiving less than 19 minutes of ice time a game. His high ceiling would mean that the Canes want to keep him around for a long while. However, his current performance and the prospect of starting extensions for Teuvo Teräväinen and Sebastian Aho means that the Canes don’t have as much money to work with as they would appear to have. For these reasons, Hanifin is likely to be signed to a bridge deal first.
Projected deal: $2.5 million for three years
Defenseman Klas Dahlbeck has signed with CSKA Moscow in the KHL for this upcoming season. This isn’t a huge loss for the Canes, as Dahlbeck mostly played a seventh D role this season, appearing in only 33 games. Jake Bean and Roland McKeown could both easily replace him in the role unless the club would rather have them keep gaining experience with the Charlotte Checkers. Either way, bottom-pairing defensemen aren’t too hard to find on the open market.