As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look towards the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The second batch of Offseason Primers will feature Metropolitan Division squads. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Carolina Hurricanes offseason.
Carolina Hurricanes Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
As the Hurricanes continue their upward trajectory, general manager Don Waddell has most of his core pieces locked up longer-term. However, the Hurricanes do still have a few auxiliary players to deal with this offseason. Their unrestricted free agents feature a few defencemen, including Joel Edmundson, Sami Vatanen, and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Their other UFAs include Justin Williams, Anton Forsberg, Brian Gibbons, and Max McCormick.
Carolina’s arbitration-eligible RFAs include Haydn Fleury, Warren Foegele, Oliwer Kaski, Gustav Forsling, Jacob Pritchard, Spencer Smallman, Steven Lorentz, Clark Bishop, and Roland McKeown. Their sole non-arbitration-eligible RFA is goalie Callum Booth.
Salary Cap Outlook
While Carolina will likely have the necessary cap room to retain any pending free agents they want, it’s unlikely they’ll have the capital to make any monumental splashes in free agency this summer. The Hurricanes enter the 2020-21 offseason with $9.15 million in projected cap space, according to the team’s CapFriendly page.
After the Hurricanes made a splash at the deadline, acquiring Vatanen and Brady Skjei in separate deals, many had their heads turned. At the time, injuries to Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce had left the Hurricanes’ blue-line torn and bruised. However, with everyone back and healthy, they have a gaping excess of NHL-capable defencemen. Vatanen is one of them, and while any NHL team would like to have his safe combination of playmaking and defensive structure, Carolina simply doesn’t have any use for him. He never got into a regular-season game with the ‘Canes due to injury, so he may go down in the stats books as never actually playing a game for Carolina.
Edmundson falls into a similar predicament as Vatanen. Despite having the best offensive campaign of his career (20 points in 68 games), Edmundson will likely become a casualty of Carolina’s plethora of defencemen. The Hurricanes will likely be looking to make room for more opportunity for youngsters Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean, who could both fill Edmundson’s vacated spot. It doesn’t make sense from a hockey standpoint to retain him, financial considerations aside.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
It’s not common that a team has three pending UFAs in very similar positions, but Carolina’s got ’em! TVR suffered one of the worst seasons of his career this season, in part due to lower usage. He was only played in 49 games and only tallied eight points, but he can still be a valuable contributor on most teams’ bottom defence pairs at age 28. Carolina just doesn’t have the need for his play.
While Williams took the beginning of this season off to stay with his family and contemplate retirement, he may not be done with hockey just yet. General Manager Waddell has gone on record saying not to count him out just yet. And in Williams’ short stint this year, he’s shown he can still be a valuable contributor, posting 11 points in 20 games. If he wants back, the Hurricanes will have him. Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) predicts a one-year, $2.38 million deal. It leaves Carolina with $6.77 million in cap space.
The pending restricted free agent made himself known as an important offensive depth piece for the Canes this year. Posting 30 points in 68 games, the 24-year-old has shown he can play anywhere in the lineup and still produce. He provides young, cheap, reliable depth, the exact breed of player contending teams are always in search of. Evolving-Hockey projects the Hurricanes ink him to a two-year bridge deal worth $2.15 million a year, reducing Carolina’s cap space to $4.62 million.
Now Fleury is one of the few defencemen the Hurricanes would actually want to keep. A former seventh overall pick in 2014, Fleury was heading straight towards Bust City a couple of years ago. However, he breathed new life into his game this season, scoring his first four NHL goals and posting 14 points in 45 games. A late bloomer, perhaps, he’s shown the Hurricanes he might have more potential left in the tank, and Carolina will want him to stick around to prove it. EH projects a two-year deal worth $1.27 million a year, bringing Carolina down to $3.35 million in cap overhead.
Potential Free Agent Additions
Carolina is truly one or two pieces away from being viewed as a true contending team. While one area they’d likely want to improve in is goaltending, they have both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer locked up for next year. It’s unlikely they move either of them. The second area is depth scoring, and that’s something they have the room to improve.
With $3.35 million in space, they have a few different players they could look at. One name is Tyler Ennis, who’s career resurgence has made him a solid third-line option. His blazing speed and unique goal-scoring touch would certainly add a new dynamic to the Carolina offence and get them about 10-15 more goals. EH projects a three-year deal for him, valued at $3.11 million a season.
Check out the other Offseason Primers for the Metropolitan Division:
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