Rightfully, the headline news from a Carolina Hurricanes standpoint is the re-signing of Petr Mrazek to fill the top of the depth chart in net and the offer sheet signed by Sebastian Aho.
Beneath the headlines the Hurricanes took a hit in terms of AHL/NHL depth on the first day of free agency.
Canes lose six depth players to free agency
At forward, Charlotte Checkers captain Patrick Brown signed with the Vegas Golden Knights. Charlotte Checkers leading scorer Andrew Poturalski signed with the Anaheim Ducks. Greg McKegg signed with the New York Rangers. Tomas Jurco signed with the Edmonton Oilers.
On defense, Daniel Renouf signed with the Colorado Avalanche, and Josiah Didier who was under contract with the Checkers, not the Hurricanes, departed to sign with Providence in the AHL.
Coupled with the departure of Charlotte Checkers Head Coach Mike Vellucci, there will be significant changeover in Charlotte. More significantly, the team’s AHL/NHL depth has been depleted, especially at forward.
Is this a red flag?
The Mike Vellucci situation is a separate thing which I will not address here, but at a summary level, I would categorize the other departures as mostly normal turnover. The Checkers won the Calder Cup which put these players in the spotlight. And I feel nothing but happy when players whose career has been mostly or all AHL salaries to date leverage a successful season to win better next contracts. So though the impact on the team’s AHL-level depth is a negative, the situation of the team doing well and players being rewarded for it is still a positive.
Player by player
As a player who arrived to bolster the AHL lineup a year ago, Greg McKegg sure had a big impact. He burst onto the scene with a couple big scoring games when the team needed it and was part of the oddly-timed turnaround. When Jordan Staal was out of the lineup long-term, Lucas Wallmark stepped up to fill that big hole and Greg McKegg stepped up to fill Wallmark’s spot. McKegg was a steady professional from that point forward. As a 26-year old, he was a player who seemed destined to be a good AHL player for the rest of his career. Kudos to him for seizing the opportunity given to him and playing his way up into a one-way contract for 2019-20. As with the others below, I actually do not blame the Hurricanes for passing on his next contract. Erik Haula makes the Hurricanes deeper at scoring and pushes McKegg to a fifth center slot.
3rd round draft pick
Career earnings entering 2019-20: $2,178,000 / Current contract guaranteed: $750,000 for 2019-20 season
Jurco was sort of the 2018-19 version of the 2017-18 Greg McKegg. Jurco arrived as reinforcements during the season and played well down the stretch and also in the playoffs. Most significantly, he clicked with countryman Martin Necas and played a significant role in Necas having a strong AHL season after not quite being ready for the NHL to start 2018-19. With Necas very likely to get another look at the NHL level in 2019-20, some have suggested that the Hurricanes should have signed Jurco to move up with him. While that familiarity could be a positive, it is questionable whether Jurco would earn a slot. He is another who won a one-way contract for 2019-20. That is a huge step up from the AHL contract that he played on in 2018-19.
2nd round draft pick
Career earnings entering 2019-20: $3,966,000 / Current contract guaranteed: $750,000 for 2019-20 season
Patrick Brown has been the captain of the Checkers for some time and now has ‘captain of an AHL champion’ on his resume. To boot, he was serviceable in a fill in role at the NHL level during the playoffs which is a strong testament to his ability to at least be #13 or #14 forward depth. When one adds it up, Brown brings a lot of value as a fringe AHL/NHL player. And he was rewarded for it. His new contract is two-way in the first year but with a sizable $450,000 AHL salary is a one-way contract for $700,000 in the second year. Because I think mature, veteran leadership can be an underrated part of prospect development in the AHL, I would have been tempted to offer Patrick Brown a similar deal. But admittedly the $1,150,000 commitment over two years is a bit steep for a player who at best slots as a #13ish depth forward for the Hurricanes. In addition, the path to the NHL might be less blocked with a Las Vegas team that needs a couple depth forwards on sub-$1 million contracts to make the salary cap math work. So in the end, I think you have be happy for Patrick Brown and let him go. The key question is who will be the next captain in Charlotte. The team does have a few players with Trevor Carrick being the gray beard who were part of the 2018-19 success and could be next in line for captaincy.
Career earnings entering 2019-20: $799,000 / Current contract guaranteed: $1,150,000 for two years
Poturalski’s starting point as a professional was as an undersized, undrafted skill player who figured maybe to be a capable AHL player. He has since grown to become a great AHL player and has earned at least a chance to see if he can do it at the next level. Whether he does or not, he is yet another great story. With 70 points in 72 games and 23 points in 18 games in the playoffs, Poturalski was an offensive catalyst for the Checkers in 2018-19 and like Brown will be missed. But though I would like to see him get an NHL audition with the Hurricanes, I do not see him as a 2018-19 regular with the Hurricanes. As such, it makes sense for him to pursue a better opportunity elsewhere. As with Brown, he earned an upgraded contract that is two-way but guarantees him a minimum of $425,000. This another case of good for him/not really much Canes can do.
Career earnings entering 2019-20: $409,000 / Current contract guaranteed: $425,000 for 2019-20 season
Renouf is a bit like Brown and Poturalski in that he is a veteran AHLer who has a hump to push over to get into the NHL. Veteran AHLers are valuable to have in the organization to fill out the AHL roster, but they are not often part of the NHL equation. From his strong showing on the AHL champions, he went from earning $70,000 at the AHL level in 2018-19 to a two-year contract with a total of $625,000 total. That will more than double what he has earned thus far in his professional career. This is yet another case for being happy for a player being rewarded for this success. The Hurricanes have back filled at least one defense spot with the signing of Finnish defenseman Alex Lintuniemi.
Career earnings entering 2019-20: $454,000 / Current contract guaranteed: $275,000 in 2019-20 and $350,000 in 2020-21.
Didier was actually on an AHL contract with the Checkers and not technically a Hurricanes prospect. Even more so than the rest, Didier is a player whose financial life could benefit from gaining a good contract after the Calder Cup win. As an AHL player, he does not so much impact the Hurricanes directly.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Who else is unanimously happy to see these players be rewarded for strong 2018-19 seasons?
2) Are there any that you would have committed similar contracts to to retain?