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The Carolina Hurricanes Offseason Plans with Big Contract Decisions Down the Road

With the 2022-23 Stanley Cup Playoffs coming to an end for the Carolina Hurricanes earlier than they wished, the offseason presents a big moment for the Hurricanes. This is especially true considering the high expectations for the team combined with a 2024 offseason that will see the Hurricanes figuring out a number of notable free-agent contracts. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the Carolina Hurricanes offseason may have in store.

A Big Carolina Hurricanes Offseason

The Hurricanes had a good regular season and continued their winning ways through the identity they developed since Rod Brind’Amour took over as coach. They finished second in the league in points and won the Metropolitan Division. They dominated in offensive shot generation, expected goals, possession and defensive shot suppression and for the most part that translated to seasonal success. However, compared to those stats, their ability to convert those chances into goals was near the bottom of the league.

This was nothing entirely new for Carolina. It is one of the key areas they looked to address in the offseason, many thought they would address at the trade deadline, and will look to address again this offseason. Other key considerations are at play this offseason too. Owner Tom Dundon stated he wants to give this core another shot with some fine-tuning, but a lot of that core is up for new contracts after next season. Additionally, there are some contract renewal decisions Carolina will need to make this offseason including captain Jordan Staal and both goalies.

Finding a Sniper

Before the season, the Hurricanes were actively searching for a top six, goal scoring winger. They made a shrewd move to take on Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights for future considerations. A consistent 40 goal scorer, Pacioretty fit the bill as a goal scoring winger for Carolina. Unfortunately for Carolina and Pacioretty, he injured his Achilles tendon before the season leaving him unable to play until a few months in. Then, after only five games, Pacioretty would reinjure himself and miss the rest of the season. One of the questions remained the same for Carolina, where would they find goal scoring? The reality is not that they were not scoring goals, but the rate of conversion was not where it ideally should have been.

Their goal scoring was also spread largely throughout their lineup, which is not bad, except that they did not have someone they could truly lean on to consistently put the puck in the net. No player on the Hurricanes reached the 40-goal mark. At the trade deadline, those questions remained the same. Even though they were in on Timo Meier, they ultimately just acquired Shayne Gostisbehere and Jesse Puljujarvi. Then to make matters worse, they lost one of their top goal scorers in Andrei Svechnikov to a season ending injury.

Hurricanes Offseason Options for Goal Scoring in House

Besides praying that the injury bug doesn’t hit again, Carolina will look to again find someone known for putting the puck in the net. But given the team’s identity and past moves, it will need to be someone that also fits the Brind’Amour style of play. He does not have to be a two-player per se, but also can’t be a complete liability defensively.

There are not really any options down on the farm for Carolina to bring up, nor are they in a “let’s try it and see if it works” type phase considering their window. Noel Gunler is one of the better pure sniper type players down in the AHL but he is a few steps from the NHL. They also could look at bringing back Pacioretty at a reasonable deal. This move could pay dividends IF it’s at the right price. He’s a consistent goal scorer and showed that in his five games last season, but injury concerns do matter. While a shorter one or two year deal at a reasonable price would be worth it, he probably should not be the notable “sniper” that Carolina should rely on for the upcoming season given his injury history.

Outside the Organization Scoring Help

Outside the organization, there are a few names that have been floating around for goal scoring. The free agent class this offseason is pretty weak. When it comes to goal scorers, the top names include Vladimir Tarasenko and then maybe James van Riemsdyk or Jason Zucker. None of these names are exactly the electric goal scoring forward Carolina would be looking for, especially considering the points of their careers now. Tyler Bertuzzi is another name out there whose value shot up after having a great performance in the playoffs, but again he is not really the 40 goal scorer the Hurricanes would look for in this role.

The Carolina Hurricanes will more likely look for a sniper via the trade route this offseason. One name that has popped up recently is Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets. Scheifele is a 6′ 3″, 198 lb centre who plays with an edge. Last season he had 42 goals and 26 assists for the Jets. This was a career-high in goals for Scheifele but was the highest for Winnipeg. It also would have been the highest for the Hurricanes. His 32.7 expected goals was also second on the team.

Having a little bit of injury trouble in the past is a risk but he has shown that he can score goals while still setting up other guys. Scheifele may be a good player to sort of kill three or four birds with one stone for Carolina (see below). If they combined acquiring Scheifele for the middle with an affordable Pacioretty, that could be the “fine-tuning” they would need.

Other High Profile Names

Other names have floated out there including Mitch Marner shortly after Carolina was eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals, but those rumours have quieted down. If the Toronto Maple Leafs blow up their core four (which sounds unlikely right now), the Hurricanes may want to look at William Nylander. He had 40 goals and 47 assists last season and is another player who can score. He signed a six-year deal in 2018 with an AAV of 6.9 million. This seems like a good value for his production. Carolina has shown how much they like cost certainty for the future.

Then there is Alex DeBrincat who the Ottawa Senators appear to be potentially shopping. He is a smaller forward but extremely skilled. He had 27 goals last year but 41 in 2021-22. The biggest concern with DeBrincat is he is a restricted free agent with a nine-million-dollar qualifying offer and Carolina has contracts to consider. There could be other options out there and Carolina has a tendency to make unexpected moves.

Getting the Powerplay Going

Within the same lines of finding increased scoring ability, the Hurricanes this offseason should look heavily at improving their powerplay. They finished last season at 19.8% success on the powerplay for 20th in the league. In the playoffs, that number dropped to 17.7% and Carolina was 12th out of the 16 playoff teams. While the powerplay may not have quite as big of an impact for Carolina in the regular season, their struggles to convert at a higher rate seems to cause issues for them in the playoffs.

How to solve the powerplay is an interesting question. Is it a lack of goal scorers? A lack of chemistry or creativity? Or does the actual powerplay itself need to change? Like their 5v5 play, Carolina relies heavily on shooting from the point and getting tips or rebounds. They will take looks for the bumper play or the one-timer from the dots, but the point shots seem to be their preference.

The team cannot rely solely on a good powerplay for success in the playoffs considering the tighter play and generally lower number of penalties. You saw this some with the New York Rangers this season who largely relied on their powerplay. However, Carolina needs to be opportunistic and every powerplay is an opportunity. It’s not a guarantee of success but an important factor. This will be something the coaching staff and upper management should look at in the offseason.

Size and Grit with Skill

In the end of season press conference, Hurricanes General Manager Don Waddell mentioned that the Carolina Hurricanes may look to get a little bigger this offseason. While not the only reason they lost to the Florida Panthers, this was seen some in the Eastern Conference Finals. More notably, the Golden Knights have shown in the Stanley Cup Final how to utilize their size to get to the middle of the ice to generate goal-scoring chances.

This is an area that Carolina should look to address, but not in the form of a fourth-line guy who simply has energy, hits and will drop the gloves. Ideally, it needs to be a player that is both a difference maker and plays heavy with an edge. Unfortunately for Carolina, Timo Meier and Matthew Tkachuk, both of whom they were reportedly in on, fit that bill. But at this point that is a moot point.

This is again where a player like Scheifele comes in. While not necessarily a team leader in hits, he did have 50 last season. He can produce offensively but absolutely plays with an edge. Sometimes, too much of an edge. While not a fan of dirty play at all, Carolina could use the edge that he brings. Brind’Amour would need to help him reign it in at times, but that is his game. This is very similar to Tkachuk. He pushes the limits which can certainly help the team, but also needs to know at what point to pull back.

Sizeable Depth

On the free agency front, Ivan Barbashev is an interesting name that could help Carolina in this regard. He plays hard and utilizes his size very well. He’s not a 40-goal scorer but has shown in the playoffs that he can play effectively on the top line as well as middle six. Given his playoff performance, he may come with a higher price tag.

Of course, Carolina could round out their lineup with size and grit in their bottom six or even with a depth defenceman. Although not the biggest, resigning Jesper Fast would be a good idea for Carolina given how effective he is defensively and on the forecheck. The same applies for Jordan Staal, although Staal has size and utilizes it. Jesse Puljujarvi has size and analytically plays well but really has not shown to be a very effective player so far. They may bring him back and give him a chance, but he is more of a project at this point. Outside the organization, bottom six forwards and depth defencemen are typically the “easier” targets to acquire in the offseason so don’t be surprised to see Carolina add some size out of this tier.

Positional Needs for Carolina this Offseason

Positionally speaking, there aren’t too many desperate needs for the Carolina Hurricanes this offseason except possibly the second-line centre spot. During the 2021-22 season, that spot was held by Vincent Trocheck. After Carolina signed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an eight-year deal, they clearly had aspirations for him to fill that spot and he did for this past season. Points wise, he did not fall a ton from what Trocheck produced the year before. But overall, he did not perform up to what Carolina needs for a second-line centre. They even entertained Paul Stastny in that role for a while too when Kotkaniemi was struggling.

To his credit, the second half of the season saw Kotkaniemi producing at a level closer to expected for someone in that role. Kotkaniemi may grow into that role for sure, and it could be this upcoming year, but with Carolina’s window to win being immediate, they will want to at least consider bringing in someone who can more certainly fit that role now. Kotkaniemi could then be a good third-line centre and replacement second-line centre if said new player misses games.

Options Down the Middle

Again, the second-line centre need points to Mark Scheifele. I don’t want to reiterate from above what Scheifele can bring in scoring and grit, but additionally, he provides Carolina with a very good second-line centre who may even take some time on the top line. His faceoff percentage last season was not too special at 48%, and over his career, he is not exactly a faceoff specialist, but his other abilities likely make up for that. In fact a bigger negative might be that he is an UFA after the 2023-24 season.

Another option to consider may include Ryan O’Reilly but he is a step back from the likes of Scheifele. O’Reilly is certainly a Brind’Amour type two-way player that is going to give everything every shift. Offensively, he scored 16 goals and 14 assists with Toronto and the St. Louis Blues last year in 53 games played. While injuries hampered him some last year, he is more of a perennial twenty-ish goal scorer. He did have an excellent playoff performance to win the Conn Smythe Trophy when St. Louis won the Stanley Cup in 2019. O’Reilly would really be another Jordan Staal type player with maybe some more offensive ability. While he could be an impactful player, he may not really move the needle a lot for Carolina considering additionally his age and likely contract given the weak free agency class.

Contracts to Consider

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, monkey wrench in all of the Carolina Hurricanes offseason plans involves the number of expiring contracts Carolina has this offseason and next. They will have 24 million in cap space this offseason and notable names to consider resigning including Frederik Andersen, Antti Raanta, Jesper Fast, Jordan Staal, Max Pacioretty and Shayne Gostisbehere with some other younger RFAs sprinkled in there. The bigger concern is what happens next year. As it stands right now, next offseason will see the Hurricanes looking at the end of contracts for Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis, Teuvo Teravainen, Martin Necas, Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce among others.

The question then is do they view this upcoming season as the last go with the core of the team or will they try to keep the core intact longer term. If the salary cap rises more substantially than it has the last few years, option two may be easier. Management has stated that they have a plan and resigning Aho is a top priority. But if the team can’t go all the way, is it time to make some more foundational moves? It’s hard to say but even with the 24 million in cap space, management will be keeping the 2024 offseason in mind. One of Andersen or Raanta will likely be back but don’t be surprised to see them both return. There are other options to consider outside the organization, but management may be ready to see Pyotr Kochetkov split time with one of the veterans.

Final Thoughts on the Carolina Hurricanes Offseason

Like mentioned above, Pacioretty coming back at a reasonable deal seems like a low risk high reward type move. Staal and Fast seem like good bets to come back, Staal being more likely than Fast. Gostisbehere played really well for Carolina, but all things considered, he will likely get more on the open market. If they can work out a deal Carolina would likely love to have him back though. Other depth defencemen outside the organization will be a more likely route Carolina will utilize.

As far as future contracts on the defensive side, keep an eye on Carolina prospect Alexander Nikishin playing in the KHL. He tore up the KHL this year and his contract in Russia expires in 2025. Not only could he be insurance for Carolina, but truly an asset should he make the jump to the NHL.

This would make losing one of Brady Skjei or Brett Pesce more manageable. While both are good players for Carolina, they could very likely become trade pieces to bring in a big name player. The same could be said for Martin Necas. You have to give talent to get talent. The weight of the contract situation will play heavily into those considerations.

Carolina also has nine picks in the upcoming Draft. They have shown they are not afraid to move a first-round pick for the right deal. It will likely take a combination of some of those players above and picks to land a player like Scheifele. But as we have seen before, don’t be surprised if Carolina makes an “off the board” move. The Carolina Hurricanes offseason could get interesting.

Main Photo: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports


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