The best defenseman remaining in the pool of unrestricted free agents is now off the board. The Carolina Hurricanes announced on Friday that they have signed Jake Gardiner to a four-year contract worth a total of $16.2 million. His salary-cap hit will be $4.05 million per season, through the 2022-23 season.
Hurricanes Swoop in on a Great Bargain
There were many who believed that Gardiner was waiting for the Toronto Maple Leafs to sign restricted free agent Mitch Marner first to see if they could afford to bring back the 29-year-old defender. Whether or not this was true, with just a week until training camp opens, the Hurricanes signed Gardiner to a very team-friendly deal.
“Jake is a solid veteran blueliner with a proven history of contributing offensively, including on the power play,” Carolina general manager Don Waddell shortly after the deal was made official. “He’s had options this summer, but ultimately decided that Carolina is his best fit, and we’re thrilled to have him here.”
Gardiner was originally drafted 17th overall by the Anaheim Ducks at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He was traded to Toronto on Feb. 9, 2011, along with Joffrey Lupul, for Francois Beauchemin. He played in 551 games for the Maple Leafs, scoring 45 goals and 200 points while putting up a plus-nine rating and averaging over 21 minutes per game. He is one of seven defensemen drafted in 2008 to pick up at least 200 assists.
Another Move Likely Coming for Hurricanes
The Minnesota native joins a very talented defensive group in Carolina. The Hurricanes already have Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk already under contract; all making less than $6 million per season. They also have youngsters Fleury Hayden and Jake Bean coming up through the organization.
Back in June, the Hurricanes traded defenseman Calvin de Haan to the Chicago Blackhawks to clear some salary-cap space. With today’s addition of Gardiner’s contract, the Hurricanes are currently about $1.5 million over the league’s hard salary cap. They will have until opening night to get under the $81.5 million limit.
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Waddell’s work is far from over as he will have to make at least one more trade to become salary cap compliant before the Hurricanes open the regular season on Oct. 3 versus the Montreal Canadiens. There have been trade rumors surrounding Faulk for the past couple of seasons, so he could be the man on the move.
The Hurricanes are looking to build off their fantastic run to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. Despite losing captain Justin Williams, Wadell has been very busy this offseason. In addition to bringing in Gardiner, he locked up Sebastian Aho to a long-term contract, as well as acquiring forward Erik Haula from the Vegas Golden Knights and signing free agents Ryan Dzingel and goaltender James Reimer.
Gardiner and the Hurricanes will play the Maple Leafs three times during the 2019-20 season. He will make his first trip back to Toronto on Dec. 23.