After a season which many fans and front office types would consider a success, the youthful Carolina Hurricanes came closer to a playoff spot than many believed they would. With a blue line that was built for today’s NHL, the ’Canes were quick and resilient, leading to 86 points and many encouraging signs.
The team even pulled the trigger on what was once considered an unthinkable trade, dealing long-time captain and face of the franchise Eric Staal to the New York Rangers months before he became an unrestricted free agent. The return of that deal – two second round draft picks – has already been used to acquire another good young player, taking Teuvo Teravainen off the Blackhawks’ hands in return for paying Bryan Bickell this season.
The Hurricanes are a cap-floor team, meaning they will not spend the entire $71 million allowed this season. They are, however poised for another season of growth, with Justin Faulk and Noah Hanifin leading from the back end.
Key Restricted Free Agent: C Victor Rask – Among the talented young forward group, Victor Rask stands out. His rise from second round pick to twenty-goal man has come quicker than many expected, eclipsing the mark in just his second NHL season. After what was an excellent rookie year (33 points), Rask proved he could skate with the big boys in 2015-16, racking up 48 points and tying $6MM dollar man Jordan Staal for second on the team.
While his possession numbers dipped playing against stronger competition, Rask is still only 23 and finding his footing among his NHL peers. Grouped with Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and now Teravainen, he could be part of an excellent core going forward for the ’Canes.
Expect him to get something similar to the two-year, $5.4MM extension Lindholm received last summer. While Rask has slightly better production than Lindholm had at the time, he trails a bit in the pedigree department – Lindholm was drafted fifth overall in 2013 and broke in as a 19-year old.
Key Unrestricted Free Agent: F Riley Nash – Just a few days ago the ’Canes key UFA would have been long-time goaltender Cam Ward, but after re-signing him to a two-year $6.6MM deal, they have almost no one of importance headed out on the market.
Nash represents the best of the group, and after another underwhelming but effective season as a bottom six forward should get plenty of interest on the market. Nash will never be an offensive dynamo, but plays a smart possession game against some tough opponents. While it might be a bit disappointing given his first-round pick status, he’ll play for a long time in the NHL with this style.
He’s coming off a year in which he earned $1.15MM and chipped in with 22 points, seeing his ice-time drop off with the emergence of the other young forwards. If Carolina doesn’t bring him back, look for him to get another deal around the league for somewhere under $2MM per season.
Projected Cap Space: $22.5MM, 19 players under contract.
As stated above, Carolina won’t be spending up to the cap and are focused on the slow burn of rebuilding. That being said, they did have a cap hit of $61 million last season, and could have some money to spend this year. After seeing Staal and his big contract shipped out, it would be surprising to see him back, but if they have concerns about James Wisniewski’s surgically repaired knee, they might go after one of the younger defensemen on the market.