Hurricanes Should Re-Sign Ethan Bear ASAP

In an offseason filled with roster turnover for the Carolina Hurricanes, a move that notably stood out was the acquisition of defenseman Ethan Bear — who was acquired at the cost of a mainstay winger in Warren Foegele. 

The trade raised a lot of eyebrows for a variety of reasons. I couldn’t — and still can’t — understand why the Edmonton Oilers were comfortable with trading a blossoming 24-year old right-shot defender for an (at best) third-line grinding winger with limited upside. It was even crazier to consider that Bear was moved to make room for acquisitions like a 38-year old Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci on a freshly-inked four-year deal.

When the trade was announced, it was hard not to consider it an immediate win for the Hurricanes — and it’s aged even better. Foegele had seemingly plateaued in the Oilers’ system, and it would’ve been next to impossible to justify matching the three-year contract that the Oilers gave him. In the process, the Canes added a young Bear to an already stout defensive group, and he’s emerged as a player that should be kept around for the long term.

He’s Upgraded the Hurricanes’ Defense

The Hurricanes have experienced a revolving door of defensemen who’ve come and gone on the right side of their defense over the past couple of years — a spot that they’ve been trying to shore up since the departure of Trevor van Riemsdyk to the Washington Capitals. Jake Bean, Haydn Fleury, Jani Hakanpaa all got a crack in a third-pairing role during the 2020-21 season but were all moved along by the time the offseason commenced. Jake Gardiner was also a player who should’ve had a role but played strictly on the left side, and his career has hit a roadblock with yet another back surgery.

Related: Hurricanes Strike Gold With Ethan Bear Trade

The shortcomings of the options before him opened the door for Bear, who’s all but proven that he’s a fit on the right side along with Brett Pesce. While the 16 minutes and 41 seconds of ice tome that he’s averaging per game is the lowest of his career up to this point, he’s established a defined and important role. He’s been frequently paired with Jaccob Slavin on the team’s first pairing and has had some real success on the team’s second-ranked penalty kill. Shorthanded, the Canes allow just 3.1 goals per 60 minutes with Bear on the ice — which is a better suppression rate than all but Sebastian Aho, Slavin, and Ian Cole.

Bear Has Legitimate Long-Term Value

The stability he’s provided for the defensive group as a whole has been noteworthy, and there’s reason for optimism that he can continue to grow in the system. As has been seen with acquired players like Gardiner, Dougie Hamilton, and Brady Skjei in the past, there’s an indefinite adjustment period for defensemen to learn the Canes high-tempo system — and all of those players noticeably improved after spending prolonged time with the group.

At just 24 years old, he’s far from a finished product. His style of play is already a seamless fit for what the Hurricanes ask for from their defensemen — smooth skating, strong puck-moving ability, and smart pinching. Bear possesses all of those qualities and has a coveted physical edge to his game. He’s very calm in all three zones, sees the ice super well, and consistently makes smart decisions. As he continues to settle in and potentially sees his role increase, there’s real room for improvement — especially when it comes to his offensive output.

Through 24 games, he has two goals and five assists, which might seem relatively modest for anybody that watches him. His offensive instincts are high-level, with great vision, distribution ability, and a deceptive shot. Considering the struggle of Hurricanes’ second power-play group throughout the season, I’m surprised Bear hasn’t gotten a chance to quarterback the unit yet. He evidently has the skills for it and could provide a spark to a unit that’s been searching for answers. Suffice to say, with more offensive-zone starts, and some PP time, we could definitely see a legitimate rise in his offensive production.

Bear’s Contract Comparables 

Another area that Bear can provide fantastic value to the Hurricanes is because he’s an extremely capable defender who doesn’t figure to “break the bank” due to his limited offensive output up to this point of his career. As we continue to see across the NHL, the trend is that teams give point-producing defenders the big-money deals — and Bear doesn’t fall into that category. In turn, that leads to real value in retaining two-way defenders, as we’ve seen with Slavin and Pesce’s contracts becoming some of the best across the league.

An important thing to note here is that Bear would be a first-time eligible for contract arbitration this summer, but I can’t see that being a route that his agent would be willing to take. Arbitration has proven to be highly unpredictable over the past few years, and with the currently limited point production, it’s hard to envision him receiving a big pay-out. And with the player turning 25 in June, I think it’s fair to assume that he’s ready to sign his first long-term deal in the NHL for some financial security.

Ethan Bear Edmonton Oilers
Ethan Bear, during his time with the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Scoping out the comparables, every time I consider what a Bear extension would look like, I think back to the Columbus Blue Jackets giving former Hurricanes defenseman Jake Bean a three-year deal this past summer (with a $2.33M AAV), based on his 42-game sample in Raleigh last season. That contract kind of sets a “floor” for the market, especially for players that have yet to hit their prime years. On that note, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’d take Bear ahead of Bean in a heartbeat if I had the choice — and the analytical numbers back it up. He’s solidified himself as a top-four defenseman that can play all situations but without the elite offensive output. He’s also clearly a notch above Ceci, who’s making $3.25 million over each of the next four seasons in Edmonton.

So when considering both the Ceci and Bean contracts, combined all of the variables and strengths surrounding Bear, I think he falls comfortably into the $4-5M AAV range — and I’ve picked out Calgary Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson as the closest comparable. Their profiles are extremely alike — same handedness, similar age, offensive production, and play style. Andersson was given a six-year deal worth $4.55M annually back in early 2020, and I think Bear could reasonably command a near-identical contract. He would get long-term security at a competitive rate, while the Hurricanes would lock up a young, established top-four defender with untapped upside as a key piece to a Stanley Cup-caliber group. Win-win for both sides.

Recap

Regardless of what Bear’s AAV settles at, I can’t see him nor the team wanting to sign a short-term contract here. He’s coming off of a bridge deal that he signed with the Oilers back in 2020, and it seems likely that he’ll want some security moving forward. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes would be wise to lock him down as soon as possible. If he can take a step forward offensively the way most observers expect, he could drive his price range up, especially when combined with his defensive prowess. But as of now, only one thing is sure: he has established himself as an important player to the team’s success and undoubtedly should be kept around for the long haul.



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