Carolina Hurricanes offseason begins – Here are the stories to watch

SUNRISE, Fla. — History books will show the Hurricanes were beaten in four straight games by the Panthers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the third straight time Carolina has managed to reach the last four of the NHL to be swept out of the playoffs.

This season’s conference runner-up was unlike teams in 2009 and 2019 who shocked and impressed through two rounds, upsetting top-seeded teams before running out of steam.

The 2022-23 Hurricanes finished as the second-best regular-season team in the NHL, totaling 113 points and beating their first two playoff opponents — the Islanders in six games, the Devils in five — without too much drama.

But even though the standings showed Carolina slated to be among the last teams standing as others were knocked out of the playoffs, the race was not without surprises.

The Hurricanes were left for dead by many when Andrei Svechnikov was lost for the season to a knee injury just after the trade deadline, becoming the second-highest 30-goal scorer – along with Max Pacioretty – out of the group. Carolina forwards.

Coach Rod Brind’Amour’s committee approach flourished through the first two rounds, with significant goals and contributions to the lineup.

Need a power play goal? Stefan Noesen was there to provide it against the Islanders. Overtime heroism? Look no further than Jesper Fast and Paul Stastny. An exceptional performance from an unlikely source? It was Jordan Martinook in the Devils series. Hoping for a reliable goalkeeper? Antti Raanta and Frederik Andersen provided it.

But the magic faded against the Panthers, with Sergei Bobrovsky’s goalie run for ages and Matthew Tkachuk’s three game-winning goals – he also assisted on the only goal in Game 3 – proving too much for the whole thing. -for-one, one for all hurricanes.

“I don’t know. It’s always different – ​​so we’re done,” Martinook said after Game 4, stunned that Carolina had come so close but so far. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Hurts very badly. It’s like you got run over by a bus, emotionally.

Now, the Hurricanes enter another offseason in search of the pieces that will take them past the milestone. Most of the core of the team is intact, but there are decisions to be made on several key players – whether they are support players who will be unrestricted free agents or star players with only one year left. on their offers. Here are some of the storylines from the offseason.

Guardian carousel

Andersen and Raanta are on expiring deals, and there’s no guarantee either will be back. The Hurricanes have given rumored future goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov — a 2019 second-round pick and one of hockey’s top goaltender prospects — a four-year contract extension in the season starting the year. next and will pay him $2 million a year.

The days of playing 65 or 70 games with a goalkeeper in a season are over, so Carolina will have to find someone to share the load with the 23-year-old. It could be one of Andersen or Raanta, although both have proven to be injury prone.

Bringing back Andersen, who turns 34 at the start of next season, would allow the Hurricanes to facilitate Kochetkov in a bigger role while giving Andersen the No. 1 spot over a contender, which he surely covets. Raanta would instead be a No. 2 — he’s probably good for up to 30 regular-season games — and hand more responsibility to the unproven Kochetkov.

Carolina could also look outside the organization. Would Semyon Varlamov, who proved to be a perfect complement to Ilya Sorokin with the Islanders, want to fill a similar role in Raleigh with another young Russian goaltender? Is Cam Talbot too risky an option given his injury history? What about the reunion with Alex Nedeljkovic? Maybe Dan Vladar, likely on the trade block in Calgary with two years remaining on a deal with a $2.2 million cap, could thrive behind the Hurricanes defense?

Finally, the Hurricanes will need to invest in a legitimate No. 3 — someone like Alex Lyon — as insurance.

New offers

The Hurricanes have six forwards and one defenseman who played for them in the playoffs with expiring contracts.

All are unrestricted free agents except for Jesse Puljujarvi, whose trial at Raleigh won’t lead to a qualifying offer on his $3 million contract, although Carolina may try to sign him for a third. of that as a 12th or 13th striker.

The biggest name is captain Jordan Staal, whose 10-year, $60 million contract is about to expire. After the Game 4 loss, Staal looked like someone ready to return for an 18th NHL season and 12th in Raleigh.

“We’re going to keep learning from this, and this core group is going to find a way to get to the end,” he said.

The good news for Carolina is that her price tag won’t be $6 million a year. According to AFP Analytics, Staal’s expected deal is two years at $3.2 million. A two-year deal would make sense – it would give Staal security and, since he would be signed before the age of 35, he wouldn’t be guaranteed to count against the cap if Staal only played one more season .

Staal’s frequent linemate Fast also owes a new contract. The 31-year-old is a favorite of Brind’Amour and the coaching staff due to his attention to detail and reliability, but his playoff bigs – six goals, including two overtime winners and the tying goal in the end of game 4 against the Panthers – could lead to more suitors throwing money at him in free agency. AFP is winning him a slight raise on his annual salary of $2 million, providing for a two-year contract worth $2.3 million.

The rest of UFA will likely only be back if they agree to team-friendly deals. Max Pacioretty is a big question mark, but if the price is right, the Hurricanes will consider bringing him back. AFP expects him to get a one-year contract worth $1.5 million. It’s probably worth the risk for Carolina.

Stastny had a fairly quiet regular season, but scored some big playoff goals while taking on a fourth-line role. He’s also 37, and Carolina might want to make room for younger players in its final six.

Mackenzie MacEachern might have earned a one-way deal with his playoff play, though that kind of deal probably won’t come from the Hurricanes. Derek Stepan watched most of the playoffs from the press box, as he did last year, and likely played his last game for Carolina.

Acquiring deadline Shayne Gostisbehere will likely be too expensive and will want a longer contract than the Hurricanes are willing to give on a defense that flips five pillars.

Calvin de Haan’s second term is Raleigh’s certain to end, and restricted free agents Dylan Coghlan and Max Lajoie are both likely destined for the AHL or a seventh defenseman role next season, should the Hurricanes bring them back. .

One and it’s done?

The Hurricanes are awash with cap space – even if they signed Staal, Fast and Pacioretty to the aforementioned deals and kept Andersen near his current cap of $4.5 million, Carolina could have somewhere near 15 million to play with, with 13 forwards (including Vasily Ponomarev) and five defenders signed.

The biggest moves around the Hurricanes could be with their players who only have one year left on their offers before becoming unrestricted free agents. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen will be UFAs in 2024-25, as will Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce.

Carolina will have to consider whether it’s ready to enter next season with Aho on an expiring deal with no extension in place. Contract negotiations over his second contract have been tough – no one needs to call out Montreal’s offer sheet – and the Hurricanes will have to decide if they want to invest a long-term franchisor contract on someone who will be 26 years this summer. AFP expects Aho to land an eight-year contract worth $9.4 million, a raise of around $1 million.

If not, would the front office try to overthrow him in a blockbuster trade that reshapes the franchise? I think the parties will find a way to reach an agreement that will keep Aho in Raleigh.

Teravainen’s future is more uncertain. He’s had a tough regular season and could be on his way. The Hurricanes could try to bundle their reasonable cap of $5.4 million into a deal to improve their forward squad.

This is also where Martin Necas comes in. He has one year left on a bridge deal that costs $3 million over the cap. He’s had a breakthrough regular season and will receive a raise after next year, but is Carolina ready for a long-term commitment to him? Otherwise, its value will never be higher than this off-season when its ceiling is low.

It gives the Hurricanes the chance to run to one of Toronto’s ‘Core Four’ (minus John Tavares), see how things go with Clayton Keller in Arizona, or check in with new Philadelphia management about of Travis Konecny, among other options. The expected salary cap increase after next season leaves the door open for Carolina to re-sign Aho and add another premium player.

The Hurricanes could also start talks with Seth Jarvis over a contract extension and try to lock him into a long-term value deal, like they did with Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Defense decisions are a bit more difficult. Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns each have two years remaining, but Pesce and Skjei will be in the final year of their contracts. With Alexander Nikishin and Scott Morrow in the pipeline, there’s probably only room to expand one from Skjei or Pesce. The question is whether Carolina lets one or both play the final year of their contract or plans to move one in the offseason. If so, Jalen Chatfield could be assigned to a bigger role, which would leave the Hurricanes with two lower pairing openings.

youth movement

Jack Drury was a mainstay of the Hurricanes’ playoff roster, but his impact was negligible. I could see Carolina using it as part of a package to upgrade elsewhere.

Vasily Ponomarev is ready for the NHL and should have a shot at being the center of the Hurricanes’ fourth line. Jamieson Rees has also marinated quite a long time in the AHL and should be an option on the fourth line or as a 13th forward. Ryan Suzuki, if he can stay healthy, will be a call-up possibility.

All of the Hurricanes defensemen in the AHL this season could use a little more time in the minors, but Anttoni Honka could defend for a long time as a replacement for Gostisbehere with an outstanding offseason and training camp.

(Photo: Sam Navarro/USA Today)

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