Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2022 summer series, exploring the best and worst free agent signings for each NHL team of the post-lockout, salary cap era. With this past offseason seeing some big splashes (and potential gambles) like Johnny Gaudreau, Claude Giroux, John Klingberg, and others, it’s time to take a look at how teams have boosted and stunted their progress in recent history. Today, we take a look at the Carolina Hurricanes free agents history.
Carolina Hurricanes Free Agent Hits and Misses
There have been some really good years in Carolina. The team went in to hoist its first Stanley Cup in 2006 and was a contending team in 2009. The team has brought in good players in that time, while others did not work out so much. Let’s take a look at the Hurricanes best and worst free agent signings in the salary cap era.
The Best Free Agent Signings
If Frederik Andersen continues his level of play, he could be on this list. Injuries have hurt him and his did not see playoff action this season. However, there is still time. This turned out to be the best Carolina Hurricanes free agent signing. They call him the wizard. Ray Whitney possessed the skill and the finishing ability to wow you when he stepped onto the ice. On Aug. 6, 2005, Whitney signed a two-year contract worth $1.5 million per year. Coming off a 43-point campaign with the Detroit Red Wings the season before, he was a good piece for the contending team.
Whitney fit in nicely with Carolina. In fact, he helped the team win it’s first ever Stanley Cup. His first season was filled with injuries, but he would then follow it up with an 83-point campaign the next season. He would go on to play five seasons total with the Hurricanes and display point totals of 61, 77, and 58 before heading to the Arizona Coyotes.
Whitney was a solid leader for the Hurricanes. As a matter of fact, when they won the cup, he put up 15 points and would be a playoff performer the rest of his tenure. In total, he played 342 games and scored 119 goals, 215 assists, and 334 points. He would skate in 42 playoff games and have 26 points. He always flew under the radar and was a very good hockey player for all the clubs he played for.
Honourable Mention: Cory Stillman
You could say bringing back Justin Williams was the next best Hurricanes free agent signing. A leader for a young team on cusp of doing great things. But the next best signing in the salary cap era goes to Cory Stillman. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team opted not to sign him. In the summer of 2005, he would sign a three-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Stillman had a great first season with the Hurricanes. He skated in 72 games and scored 21 goals and 55 assists for 76 points. Stillman went on to skate with Eric Staal and Erik Cole. Stillman followed that up with 27 and 46 point seasons. Unfortunately, his remaining tenure did not result in playoff hockey.
Stillman helped deliver a Stanley Cup to Carolina. He became the first player since Claude Lemieux to win back-to-back championships with two different clubs. He was wonderful in that championship run. In fact, he scored nine goals, 17 assists, and 26 points in 25 games. He was a great signing, and it made an impact when he was with the club. Not all heroes wear capes, and in this case, he wore a Hurricanes jersey and carried a hockey stick.
Worst Free Agent Signings
Scott Darling does not fit the criteria here, but he is without a doubt the worst signing. No debate on that. You could also say Alex Semin, but his initial deal was good. The problem with him was his extension, as he did not live up to it after performing well to earn it.
It is hard to knock on Tomas Kaberle. The guy was a good player with the Toronto Maple Leafs and he played a role in the Boston Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. But he was not very good in Carolina and his play showed that. The team made a big splash in 2011 and brought in a defender. After winning the Stanley Cup, he signed a three-year deal worth $12.75 million dollars.
He was stellar in Toronto, but that level of play never translated to Carolina. Initially brought in for being a stellar puck mover, he was anything but that in Carolina. In 29 games played, he never scored a goal and only mustered up nine assists. He finished with a -12 and to make matters worse he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for Jaroslav Spacek. A gutsy move that just never panned out for the club.
Honourable Mention: Joni Pitkanen
But sticking to the back end, the team made a brutal signing bringing in Joni Pitkanen. The Hurricanes would sign him in the summer of 2008 to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million dollars.
Pitkanen was once a standout defenceman with the Philadelphia Flyers, but that did not translate to the Hurricanes. After a down year with the Edmonton Oilers, that level of play followed him down south. He managed to hit the 40-point mark just once, nevertheless becoming an overpaid, unreliable player for the team. They ended up making the playoffs once with him in the fold
Final Thoughts On The Signings
Over the course of the salary cap era, these were the Carolina Hurricanes free agent signings. Two high-profile players helped deliver a Stanley Cup. To be leaders in the room and on the ice helped bring success to the franchise and have embedded those memories in the fan bases brains. You always tend to miss, and even though the Hurricanes have mashed to dodge bad free agency contracts, you do miss from time to time. You cannot fault anyone for trying to get better, it just did not work out in those cases.
But hey, there is a lot to be happy about in Carolina as they are back to being cup contenders.