Roster turnover is an inevitable aspect of a hard salary cap league. The Carolina Hurricanes would have obviously loved to pay Dougie Hamilton to stay in Raleigh, but with the start the team has had to the season, it’s hard to argue against saving that money to solidify the team’s depth.
The impact that players like Ian Cole and Tony DeAngelo have made — along with Andrei Svechnikov’s eight-year extension (which may well be a key reason he’s off to such a terrific start to the season) — have made the blow of losing a fan favorite and elite defenseman like Hamilton sting a little less.
Despite the massive departures and roster overhaul of the offseason, the Hurricanes sit with a terrific 14-3-1 record in late November — a 132-point pace. That, incidentally, would tie the 76-77 Montreal Canadiens for the most points in a single season of all time. I think it’s going to be hard to continue this pace in the Metropolitan Division this season, but regardless, the Hurricanes should feel awfully good about how things have meshed with all the new faces.
But today, we’re going to back off the current team and instead take a stroll down memory lane to see what those old friends from a season ago are up to. There are a whopping nine roster regulars from the 2020-21 Carolina Hurricanes who are now playing on a new team, so we have plenty to talk about. Let’s get right into it.
Players the Hurricanes Traded
We’ll start with the trade that has provided the biggest impact for the Hurricanes, which was Warren Foegele going to the Edmonton Oilers for Ethan Bear. That trade has been a huge win for Carolina, as Bear has been an excellent partner for Jaccob Slavin on the top pairing. The only thing that has slowed him down this season was his recent positive test for COVID-19. The team has lost both of their games since he entered COVID protocol.
In Edmonton, Foegele has played mostly in their middle-six, and has put up two goals and seven points on the season. For a team that has always been extremely top-heavy, having a solid, two-way player like Foegele on their third line has been an underrated boost. The stats aren’t anything flashy, but he’s been an important part of the team’s scorching start.
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason, the departure of Alex Nedeljkovic, has been — and will be for the next half-decade or so — a fascinating storyline to follow. He had a very shaky start to his tenure with the Detroit Red Wings, but “Ned” has been one of the hottest goalies in the league since. After losing three times (twice in overtime) in four October starts with a save percentage (SV%) of just .900, the 26-year-old has gone 4-2-1 with a .927 SV% and 2.44 goals-against average (GAA) in November.
The Red Wings are one of the more fun teams to watch in the league with all their young talent, and now it appears Nedeljkovic is staking his claim as their goalie of the future. The sample is still small, but this could be a rare occasion where the trade works out well for both teams. The Hurricanes certainly love what they’ve gotten from Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, while Detroit has a young goalie that can grow with guys like Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider, and Filip Zadina. Win-win.
Finally, young defenseman Jake Bean was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a bit of a low-key deal over the summer. I haven’t watched the Blue Jackets much at all this season, so I reached out to my colleague Mark Scheig, a Blue Jackets journalist here at THW. When asked about the young, former first-round pick, he said, “Bean is finally being given a chance to play top minutes and in top situations and has produced so far. He’s clearly still learning, but we are seeing the potential he has as a solid two-way defender.”
Bean has put up six points in nine November games, including a two-goal performance in a win over the Colorado Avalanche, including the overtime winner. The 23-year-old blueliner is getting a much bigger opportunity in Columbus, having played over 20 minutes in every game but one so far this season, when he played 19:37 in an 8-2 win over Arizona on opening night. In the aforementioned Colorado game, he played a career-high 25:24.
Hurricanes’ Free Agent Departures
As far as free agency, the Hurricanes were a team that let quite a few players walk over the offseason, as you can probably deduce from a team with six new players in their lineup on any given night. The biggest name is obviously the $63-million-man, Hamilton. Now serving as the alternate captain of the New Jersey Devils, he’s off to a fantastic start in the Garden State with five goals and 10 points in 13 games. He quarterbacks their top power-play unit, kills penalties, and basically is doing what any No. 1 defenseman should do. DeAngelo’s elite offensive production has softened the blow from the Hurricanes’ perspective, but it still stings to see the big man in another sweater.
Another key piece to the Hurricanes’ group for six years, Brock McGinn will forever live in Hurricanes’ lore due to his overtime winner in Game 7 of the 2019 playoffs. What a moment it was, banging in a goal that eliminated the Washington Capitals and gave the Hurricanes their first playoff series win in a decade.
McGinn signed a four-year, $2.75 million average annual value (AAV) contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins over the summer and has gotten off to a great start with the Hurricanes’ Metropolitan Division rival. He’s got five goals and nine points, is playing a career-high 15:19 per game, has 29 hits (sixth-best on the team), and is third on the team in shorthanded time on ice. The 27-year-old has always been a heart-and-soul type player, and the Penguins are surely thrilled with the early return on the investment it took to pry him away from Carolina.
Lastly, we have the goalie tandem from 2020-21. Unfortunately, Petr Mrazek suffered a groin injury in early November. The initial estimated timetable was about a month, so within the next week or two, he should be closing in on a return for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That same groin issue has reportedly been bothering Mrazek throughout the year, so hopefully this extended time off will allow it to heal completely, and the fan-favorite Czech can stay in the crease for the Maple Leafs moving forward.
James Reimer, on the other hand, has been stellar for the San Jose Sharks, as the Hurricanes recently saw firsthand. Now, again, the Hurricanes looked like a team playing three time zones away for multiple weeks at the end of this road trip, but it’s kind of hard to blame his performance on that considering his overall season numbers.
Reimer currently sits fourth in the NHL in SV% at .936, behind only Jack Campbell, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jacob Markstrom; those players’ respective teams — the Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, and Calgary Flames — are all near the top of the standings. Meanwhile, the Sharks have hovered around .500 all season, and the other half of the goalie tandem, Adin Hill, has a .890 SV% in a similar sample size (nine games versus 11 for Reimer). In short, “Reims” has been sensational for his new team.
The Kraken Section (Expansion Picks)
Lastly, we have two former Carolina youngsters who just faced off against the team with Seattle. Morgan Geekie made a few nice, skilled plays during the matchup Wednesday night that showcased his hands and vision, although he was ultimately held off the scoresheet. He is playing a bottom-six role similar to the one he played in Carolina, and has registered two goals and four points on the season.
As Geekie tries to carve out a bigger role, the biggest obstacle still seems to be his below-average skating. The puck skill and hockey sense have never been an issue for him.
For Haydn Fleury, a frustrating career continues for the former seventh overall pick. He was in the press box again against the Hurricanes, and has played in just nine of the Kraken’s games this season, scoring two goals. After seeming to solidify himself as a full-time NHLer following his 2020 Trade Deadline deal to the Anaheim Ducks, playing over 20 minutes per night during his 12-game stint, the 25-year-old’s career has seemed to stall out a bit once again.
I’m sure the staff has their reasons, but I can’t help but wonder what the logic behind scratching him for the Carolina game was. The point is moot; the Kraken did get the win (the Hurricanes definitely did not bring their A-game), but not dressing a young, talented player against his former team seems odd to me.
It’s not like the Kraken’s defense has been that impressive, and players like Carson Soucy or Jeremy Lauzon don’t strike me as “must-play” players. It really seemed like a chance to get a fired-up Fleury into the lineup, hopefully allow him to have some success against a team he’s familiar with, and build off any confidence he may build going forward. Here’s hoping that he eventually finds a role, or a new team, that can take advantage of his skillset.
Win-Win for the Players and the Hurricanes
The Hurricanes have excelled at identifying players they need long-term, and ones they can afford to replace or even upgrade upon. It’s a big reason they are where they are this season, even despite tremendous turnover, so credit for the front office for their work since owner Tom Dundon and general manager Don Waddell took over.
Now that they actually spend to the salary cap, a new challenge exists — living in a new world where sometimes players you would love to keep end up pricing themselves out of town. It’s the nature of the business. Despite some of these players certainly being missed for both their personalities and on-ice contributions, the team is in great shape with the core they re-tooled with this summer.
It’s good to see most of these deals looking beneficial for both parties. And in the holiday spirit, fans of the Hurricanes should be thankful for their stacked roster, as well as for the former players that donned their sweater in the past — and not just for that time in Carolina, but also for their success elsewhere.
What’s goin’ on folks, my name is Brandon Stanley. I cover the Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings here at THW. I was born and raised in Raleigh, NC and have played hockey since about the time I could stand. I traveled all over North America with the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes organization in my youth days, and the game has simply always been my biggest passion. I also have a podcast with two other writers (one of which, Alex Ohari, is also a writer here at THW) called Tracking the Storm. The pod covers everything Carolina Hurricanes, from prospects, to game recaps, and everything in between. I’m always available to chat anything hockey related, so don’t hesitate to shoot me a tweet or DM anytime on Twitter @bwstanley26!