RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Did you know three of Carolina’s top-five scorers from the team that made the Eastern Conference Final in 2019 are no longer on the team? Justin Williams has since retired. Micheal Ferland moved on and has only played 17 games since leaving. Dougie Hamilton recently exited in free agency, signing with New Jersey for seven years.
Roster turnover is normal, especially given the stagnant salary cap in the NHL. That said, the Hurricanes team that hits the ice in October is going to look a whole lot different than the group that fell to eventual repeat champion Tampa Bay in the second round of the playoffs.
In net, the ‘Canes will work with a brand-new goaltending tandem. Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic was traded to Detroit and Petr Mrazek signed as a free agent with Toronto. Incoming are free agents Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta — each on two-year deals.
Andersen is a workhorse. He started at least 60 games a year for three-straight seasons in Toronto from 2016-19. His save percentage was about .918 each of those seasons before dipping to .909 in 2019-20 then .895 this past year.
Raanta has largely been a backup goalie throughout his career. He did make 46 starts in 2017-18 and 32 in 2019-20 — both in Arizona. He was a reliable option in four seasons with the Coyotes, often being called upon to take on more starts when Darcy Keumper would suffer an injury.
The defensive corps will look entirely different, too. The ‘Canes lost a top-pair player in Hamilton. All signs point to Brett Pesce lining up alongside Jaccob Slavin. They traded for 24-year-old Ethan Bear, sending Warren Foegele to Edmonton in the process. He showed a fair amount of offensive flair in chipping in 21 points in 71 games in his first full season with the Oilers.
Ian Cole will come in likely to shore up the third pairing. He would be replacing Jake Bean, who was traded to Columbus. Cole played just a shade under 16 minutes a night last year. Jake Gardiner, who still has two years left on a contract that carries a cap hit just north of $4 million, should compete for a role on that pairing, as well.
The final defensive acquisition has been the biggest talking point among Carolina fans. Tony DeAngelo was inked to a one-year, $1 million deal. DeAngelo was waived by the New York Rangers months after signing a two-year contract worth $4.8 million per season.
Reports indicated that DeAngelo didn’t take kindly to being benched early last season following a penalty coach David Quinn deemed “undisciplined.” The final straw proved to be an altercation between him and one of the Rangers’ goalies. Outside of the rink, DeAngelo’s social media presence led to his character being called into question — namely, his skepticism about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the ice, DeAngelo’s signing seems to be a low-risk, high-reward transaction. However, it seems that there’s baggage that comes along with the player, and many fans have said they feel the team is alienating them based on DeAngelo’s stances on political and social issues.
Brendan Smith — a 6-foot-2, 195-pound defenseman — will add depth and a bit of muscle to the blueline, something they lost with Jani Hakanpaa exiting in free agency.
At forward, Carolina’s top-six remains unchanged. One of the most significant stories to follow in the lead up to the season will be prospects vying for the opening left by Foegele. The team’s last two first-round picks seem to have the best shot. Ryan Suzuki, drafted 28th overall in 2019, made his professional debut last season. He had five goals and five assists in 26 games in the AHL.
Seth Jarvis, the 13th pick in the 2020 draft, seemed to acclimate well to the AHL level, too, albeit in a smaller sample. He had seven goals and four helpers in nine games last year.
Josh Leivo signed as a free agent and will round out the bottom-six. He chipped in 19 points in 36 games in Vancouver two years ago. His ice time dipped significantly in Calgary this past season and he only had nine points in 38 games.
Brock McGinn left while Jordan Martinook re-signed for three more seasons. Derek Stepan inked a one-year deal and will likely compete with Steven Lorentz for the fourth-line center role.
The most pressing bit of business left is getting a new contract for Andrei Svechnikov. The ‘Canes have more than $11.8 million left in cap space, which is more than enough.
It could be that the ‘Canes don’t plan to spend to the cap, so they could be largely done once Svechnikov’s new deal is sorted out. They could also be looking for a way to move out Gardiner. I don’t see them going for any big moves that would take them right to the cap ceiling, though — not with Martin Necas due for a significant pay raise after this season.