Hurricanes: Odds That Each Pending UFA Gets a Contract Extension

Though firmly entrenched in the midst of a season with Stanley Cup aspirations, it’s never too early to take a look ahead towards the offseason – where the Carolina Hurricanes will have an abundance of big decisions to make on their roster.

As things currently stand, the Canes have seven players that are set to be unrestricted free agents and could be eight (depending on the status of Alex Nedeljkovic – which we’ll touch on later). Considering the team’s current standing, all of these guys play a role and contribute to the success of the group, so all of them figure to be tough decisions. Let’s take a look at what they each provide, their likely contract value, and the likelihood percentage (which is just an estimate) of each of them being brought back.

Forwards

Brock McGinn

We’ll start things off with McGinn, who’s been a key player for the Hurricanes over the past five seasons. He has been with the organization since he was drafted back in 2012 and has developed fan-favorite status within this fanbase due to his relentless motor, overall charisma and his tough-as-nails persona. He also scored the biggest goal for the franchise of the past decade (after his shot-block saved the game in the final minute of regulation):

There’s no denying McGinn’s value to the team. He’s become a key penalty killer for the group and has emerged as one of the best guys in the league in that regard. He’s got the diversity to move up and down the lineup and can fit on any line. He’s clearly a guy that coach Rod Brind’Amour trusts a lot, and his energy level and overall impact are just as noticeable when he’s not in the lineup. In a lot of ways, he feels like the heart and soul of the team.

Looking ahead, the Canes (even with potential big-money extensions for Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov) should have enough cap space to keep McGinn in the mix. His contributions are super valuable, and he’s the ideal bottom-six forward in the modern NHL. Without an offensive breakout, it’s hard to see his value really climbing that much, so I’d assume the Canes could get him back at somewhere around the 2.1 million AAV he’s currently making. 

On say, a two-year contract at a 2-2.5 million AAV, I think that sort of an extension would make a ton of sense for both sides. The Canes keep an essential complementary player to their core group in the mix, and McGinn would stay on board with the only NHL franchise he’s ever played for, which is a contending team. Win-win for everyone involved.

Odds of being re-signed: 75%

Jordan Martinook

This one is tough because Martinook is also very similar to McGinn in the sense that he’s super-valuable to the locker room. He’s a vocal leader, he’s an assistant captain for the team and his presence is warmly embraced by the team and by the fanbase.

The issue is that it’ll likely be much easier to replace Martinook’s impact strictly on the ice. He’s obviously not an offensive-minded player, but he routinely gets stints in top-6 and top-9 roles in Carolina despite producing next to nothing in that role. He’s scored four goals in 85 games over the past two seasons – which is no slight to him, but he’s at best a fourth-line player who’s being deployed as more than that. He’s also a fixture on the penalty kill, but analytically has the worst goal-suppression rate on that unit amongst Canes regulars this year.

The emergence of Steven Lorentz in a similar role also complicates things for Martinook. (from ‘Steven Lorentz is a Canes rookie. But he’s ‘looking more and more like an NHL’er.’,’ News & Observer, 04/01/2021) Lorentz is both younger, cheaper, and has looked the part in a lesser role. His play has shown belief that he could step into Martinook’s current position if given the opportunity, and that’s significant considering Lorentz should come in at a cheaper cap hit than Marty would. Morgan Geekie would also stand to benefit from more ice-time.

So where do we stand? On one hand, we have a player who’s a favorite in the dressing room and to the fanbase, and a glue guy for the team. On the other, we have a player who isn’t consistently impactful on the ice and can likely be replaced by younger and cheaper options. Personally, with the emotional attachment aside, I think the Hurricanes would benefit from spending Marty’s $2M cap hit elsewhere, and moving forward with their youth.

Odds of being re-signed: 20%

Cedric Paquette

I’ve got to give credit to Paquette. He’s come in and played a serviceable fourth-line role for the team since the Ryan Dzingel trade. I was super skeptical of the deal at the time. As an Ottawa native, I’d watched Paquette play for the Sens earlier in the year and he was generally terrible, so his impact with the Hurricanes has been much to my delight.

That said, he’s strictly a role player and nothing more. He’s played under 10 minutes in 19 of the Canes’ past 20 games, and he’s managed to chip in two goals during that period. He’s an honest player – tough to play against, works hard, and adds some physicality to the group. He doesn’t play special teams at all, but on the fourth-line paired with Lorentz and Geekie, they’ve done a great job driving play.

I do however believe that the Hurricanes could improve in this spot. In the Alex Galchenyuk trade, they acquired prospect Yegor Korshkov, who could likely assume the same role as Paquette, if he returns from Russia. There’s also always a bunch of these types of guys on the free-agent market, which are options the Canes could explore as well. I feel like they’ll look elsewhere for a suitable replacement, but could circle back to Paquette if nothing else materializes. Ultimately though, I think they’ll go in a different direction.

Odds of being re-signed: 10%

Defense

Dougie Hamilton

The decision of exactly what to do with Hamilton will be the biggest decision the Hurricanes will make this coming offseason. With Haydn Fleury moved to Anaheim and the potential to lose one of Jake Bean, Brady Skjei or Jake Gardiner to Seattle (depending on whom they decide to protect), the need for Hamilton could grow even larger than it already is.

Hamilton is obviously an elite offensive defenseman in this league, and his 35 points in 43 games prove that. He’s the driver of everything the Canes do offensively from the blueline, and without him, there’d be a massive dip in production from their defense. If the Hurricanes *did* move on from Dougie, they would really need Bean to take a huge step forward offensively, as well as a healthy and effective Gardiner for any chance to make up for that loss.

Dougie Hamilton Carolina Hurricanes
Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Regardless, without Dougie, the team would have a huge hole in their defense. He’s their top powerplay quarterback and plays first-pair minutes as a right-shot. He’s vital to everything they do as a group, which will make this such a tough negotiation. The Don Waddell regime has not been generous with giving out long-term deals. In three years at the helm, he’s given out just two deals that exceeded two years – five to Teuvo Teravainen, four to Gardiner – as well as the notorious Sebastian Aho offer sheet debacle.

In short, the Canes very well may balk when Dougie’s representation asks for the max term. The team’s main bargaining chip (in theory) is the fact that they can give Dougie the eighth year on a new deal, while he can only get seven years on the UFA market. He’ll likely command top dollar as well – an $8 million AAV would put him top-10 among D – and could potentially land in the top-5, closer to $9 million

He’ll be 28 by the time the deal kicks in, and what makes things so complicated is that you just absolutely cannot be paying guys what they’re worth at age 28 when they’re age 34. Dougie already struggles with the pace today, and the defensive side of his game has never been particularly strong. Those aspects don’t stand to improve when he hits 30 years old and beyond, so Carolina needs to be super cautious. 

In summary, you have a player who’s nearly irreplaceable for this group today, but you don’t want to be stuck with an immovable, anchor of a contract in a few years down the road when there are younger guys ready to cash in. So I’m personally beyond torn on this one. They were reportedly really far off in negotiations earlier in the season, so that’s another hurdle to worry about. I’d also imagine that their internal belief of what will happen at the Seattle expansion draft could really sway things here. But he wants to be here, and the Hurricanes want him here. I think they’ll do whatever they can to sign him, but I really think that, considering their history of tough negotiating and the “next man up” philosophy, that this one can go either way – with the slight edge toward both sides coming to an agreement.

Odds of being re-signed: 51-60%

Jani Hakanpää

The new guy! Hakanpää was acquired in the Haydn Fleury deal just last week and has played just two games for the team. So I won’t spend too much time on this one. He’s looked to fit in quite nicely so far, and ‘Canes fans have taken notice. But the sample size here is way too small to talk about an extension right now. Let’s see what he does for the rest of the season, and circle back to this at a later date.

Side note: GM Don Waddell did say in a recent Zoom interview that “there’s no doubt about” Hakanpää potentially being more than just a rental. “Obviously he’s talked to Sebastian before and a couple of our other Finnish players so I think he could potentially be a good fit. Something that we [could] look at longer term.”

Odds of being re-signed: Too early to decide

Goalies

Petr Mrazek

The Canes’ starting goaltender for the past three years, and their most consistent goaltender of the past decade, Mrazek has given his all for this franchise. There have been some moments of inconsistency and some injury woes, but overall he’s been fantastic and is key to the team’s success. He’s gone 5-1-1 with a 1.41 goals-against average (GAA) and a .944 save percentage (SV%) this season, and any regular viewer of this team can see how important he is to the team.

Petr Mrazek Carolina Hurricanes
Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s only 29, which is still pretty young for the goaltender position. The position is so non-linear, which makes it tough to project how long a guy can keep us at his top level of play. And in turn; that makes it hard to commit to guys long term unless they’re among the truly elite at the position. Mrazek is currently making a $3.125 million AAV on a two-year deal, and would likely look for a little more long-term security on his next deal.

If the Hurricanes would like to re-sign him, and my guess is that they would, a deal similar to the Scott Darling contract (4 years at $4.15 million) from a few years back makes a lot of sense for the Mrazek camp. The Canes will need to decide if they’d want to commit that type of deal to the goaltending position. But if they want to keep him, they’ll have to pay, as Mrazek currently looks to be among the top options slated to available on the free-agent market this summer. And in turn, that gives the team very few options to replace him, and even less to upgrade on him. The Canes and Mrazek have been a perfect fit for both sides, and as of today, I think there’s a strong case to be made that they’re still the perfect fits for each other moving forward.

Odds of being re-signed: 75%

James Reimer

I kind of feel bad for Reimer. He’s honestly had a very solid year, but the stellar play of Mrazek and promising youngster Nedeljkovic have made Reimer’s overall solid play seem worse than it’s been. He *should* be the team’s third goaltender, and probably shouldn’t be starting over those other two at this point, but a 14-5-1 record with a 2.68 GAA and a .907 SV% has been super serviceable as a back-up option.

That said, it’s really hard to see any way that Reimer ends up in Raleigh again next year. He’s 33 and has been outplayed by two goaltenders much younger than him in the Canes’ crease this season. The only way I could see him returning is if one of Nedeljkovic or Mrazek moves on, and he is brought back as the backup to whoever stays. Even then, it’s possible the Canes could look for a younger or cheaper option in that role. It’s been a good couple of years for Optimus Reim, but I can’t imagine another chapter in his Canes story.

Odds of being re-signed: 5%

Alex Nedeljkovic

I’m only including Ned on this list to provide readers with an update on his situation. According to CapFriendly, Nedeljkovic needs to play 30+ minutes in 26 games by the start of the first free agency period after his 25th birthday, or he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Nedeljkovic turned 25 in January, so he could potentially wind up as a UFA this summer. As of this writing, Nedeljkovic has accrued 22 games of eligibility – so he needs four more to retain his restricted free agent status, and is therefore in the Canes’ control.

Alex Nedeljkovic Carolina Hurricanes
Alex Nedeljkovic, Carolina Hurricanes (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The important note is that playoff games DO count towards the accrued games, so Nedeljkovic just needs four starts in the Canes’ final 13 regular-season games and playoff run. Considering how effective he’s been – a 10-4-2 record with a 1.92 GAA and a .930 SV% – there’s no reason to believe he won’t get the starts, and it would be horrible asset management if he didn’t. At this point, we should be talking about Ned as the Canes’ potential starter/franchise goaltender moving forward, and I plan to write a separate article on that topic in the coming days – so stay tuned!

The Rest

I think it’s imperative to note that I didn’t include any of the Canes’ minor-league UFAs in this article, mainly because I don’t think any of them have much likelihood of being brought back, especially on NHL-affiliated deals. The five players in question include forwards Dave Gust and Sheldon Rempal, defensemen Roland McKeown and David Warsofsky, plus goaltender Antoine Bibeau. Of the bunch, only Rempal has played NHL games for Carolina this year – which was a grand total of three. I think it’s safe to assume that all those guys look for opportunity elsewhere, and could circle back on AHL deals if nothing better arises for them.

All in all, it stands to be an exciting (and hectic) summer for the Canes. Some key free agency decisions and the Seattle Kraken expansion draft are on the horizon, so for now, let’s just sit back and enjoy a (hopefully) long playoff ride.


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