After yet another strong regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes playoffs ended in disappointing fashion, this year in a second-round loss to the New York Rangers. There were several factors that played into this year’s exit, but at the end of the day they simply just weren’t good enough to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
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By no means is it time to panic for Canes fans, as their team still boasts some great talent, most of whom have a number of years left on their contracts. That said, they do have some pending free agents to deal with, both restricted and unrestricted. While they should be a very solid team once again in 2022-23, general manager Don Waddell will by no means have a quiet offseason. Here are four players from the roster he assembled this past season that will likely be finding new homes for next season.
After a solid rookie season and an even better sophomore campaign in which he recorded 41 points in 53 games, Martin Necas took a major step backwards in 2021-22. The 23-year-old appeared to have little to no confidence plenty of times and finished with just 40 points in 78 games. To make matters even worse, he was held goalless in 14 playoff contests and chipped in with just five assists.
It is very evident to anybody who has seen Necas play that he has a very high skill level, but his regression this season is a major cause for concern. While he does still have time to figure things out and turn his game around, a fresh start may be the best way for that to come to fruition. Sara Civian of The Athletic recently mentioned that she wouldn’t be surprised to see the Hurricanes look for a trade and sign with the restricted free agent (RFA), but also didn’t rule out the fact they may sign him to a bridge deal in hopes he can turn things around. With the emergence of Seth Jarvis, however, he may no longer be in this team’s long-term plans (from ‘Sara Civian: The Hurricanes’ 6 biggest priorities as an offseason of huge changes begins,’ The Athletic 06/01/22).
By all accounts, the Hurricanes would like to bring Vincent Trocheck back. The 28-year-old can provide offense, proven by his 51 points on the season, while also providing a physical element. That said, he is in line to get a significant raise from his 2021-22 cap hit of $4.75 million, meaning he will likely be priced out of Raleigh.
On top of the money, the Hurricanes have centermen in Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal on their roster and will be looking to give Jesperi Kotkaniemi a bigger role given the contract they have committed to him. Jarvis is also an option to play center if need be. While bringing Trocheck back would be great, there are other areas they can look to improve with that money instead.
In his prime, Derek Stepan was a very underrated second-line centerman who any team in the league would have loved to have on their roster. That is not the case anymore, however, as the 31-year-olds game has been in decline mode over the past four seasons. Aside from the 20 games, he played in 2020-21, this season was the worst of his career as he managed just nine goals and 19 points in 58 games.
It is clear that Rod Brind’Amour doesn’t have a ton of confidence in Stepan’s game, either, as he chose to healthy scratch him for the entirety of the second round despite how much playoff experience he brings to the table. While he may be able to latch on with another team on a cheap deal next season, it is highly unlikely it will be with the Canes.
During this year’s playoffs, Brendan Smith was somewhat of a feel-good story in the second round, as he was able to score a shorthanded goal in a Game 2 win over the Rangers, a team who at one point had placed him on waivers. Despite the feel-good story and his honest effort on each and every night, however, the fact of the matter is that he is a 33-year-old defenceman who averaged less than 14 minutes a game this season.
While veterans are always good to have in the lineup, this team has enough already that they don’t need to worry about bringing Smith back. The Hurricanes would be much better off replacing him with a younger player with more potential, which is something they will do. This could very well have been the last season we have seen from Smith as an NHLer.
While those four are the most likely to move on, there are several other players who are question marks right now. Tony DeAngelo is in for a huge raise from his $1 million salary in 2021-22, though given how well he fit in the Hurricanes are likely going to do everything they can to keep him around. Nino Niederreiter is also currently without a contract but is a player who feels likely to return.
Another player on the back end who has question marks surrounding him is Ethan Bear, though as a restricted free agent he can be signed for cheap and at 24 still has potential to grow as a player. The other big area of course is goaltending, as both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta struggled to stay healthy. That will be a tricky situation for management to decide on, as both were great when they played. Whether they look to add more stability to that position remains to be seen, but you can guarantee it is something they are discussing.