Now one month into free agency, the top scorer left on the unrestricted free agent market is Carolina Hurricanes veteran Justin Williams. After Hurricanes GM Don Waddell spoke with the media today, The Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander writes that it is Carolina waiting on Williams and not the other way around. The 37-year-old is reportedly still weighing whether or not he wants to return for a 19th NHL season. However, Waddell indicated that Williams is at least leaning toward another year. The decision is not based on finances either, but rather just on whether Williams is physically up for another season. In fact, Waddell stated that the two sides have not talked contract terms at all, but is confident that a deal can be figured out despite the team’s lacking salary cap space. The Hurricane have just under $2.5MM open, but CapFriendly’s projection includes 23 players and Williams’ addition would bump another forward down to AHL Charlotte, meaning there’s slightly more space than it would appear. Waddell noted that an incentive-laden contract would allow the team to maneuver around the cap to fit Williams in. Williams is expected to be in Raleigh next week, likely with his decision made, so expect an announcement, one way or another, in short order. Given that he posted his highest point total since 2011-12 last season, it’s safe to assume that the respected veteran is not done just yet.
- Alexander also relays from Waddell some news on injured defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. Despite early reports that van Riemsdyk could miss the beginning of the regular season, Waddell stated that he has already resumed skating. TVR suffered a serious shoulder injury in the postseason and went under the knife in early May. At the time, he was give a four-to-six month recover period that would have extended into November in the worst case scenario. Instead, he is clearly rehabbing well and is back on the ice after just three months. Waddell did warn that van Riemsdyk could be held out of contract drills early in training camp, but it certainly seems like the start of the regular season in October is well within his reach. Waddell added that forward Jordan Martinook is also doing well in his recovery from core surgery in late May.
- The Hurricanes’ front office is keeping busy still at this point in the summer, with a possible Willams negotiation still to come and ongoing talks with restricted free agents Saku Maenalanen, Trevor Carrick, Roland McKeown, and Anton Forsberg. The latter is new to the organization, coming over from the Chicago Blackhawks in the Calvin de Haan trade. The goaltender may get a rough start to his tenure in Carolina, as he is currently slated for a salary arbitration hearing on Sunday. The 26-year-old Forsberg is currently expected to play behind Petr Mrazek and fellow new addition James Reimer, as well as possibly top goalie prospect Alex Nedeljkovic. The Hurricanes are likely willing to go through arbitration with Forsberg to argue for a two-way contract, so as to avoid paying an NHL salary to a player who is likely to be buried in the minor leagues next season. Forsberg, who did not make an NHL appearance last season, is still likely to argue that not only does he deserve a one-way contract, but he deserves a raise on his previous $750K salary, given his NHL experience and stout AHL numbers.
- There is of course a chance that Forsberg could win the backup role behind Mrazek in training camp, as could Nedeljkovic. However, one of the key evaluators in that position battle is not yet in place. After goaltending coach Mike Bales resigned from his post in June to join the Buffalo Sabres, the Hurricanes have been on the hunt for his replacement. While a replacement has yet to be named, the announcement is imminent. Alexander writes that Waddell said the team is “close” to hiring a new goalie coach. Whoever that man is will play a key role in sorting through an intriguing situation in net, one that is unlikely to be completely decided in training camp alone.