In my Daily Cup of Joe for Monday, I talked about the Hurricanes having a two-year window through the 2020-21 season based on receiving about $7 million of cap relief not tied to actual roster players with Patrick Marleau and Justin Faulk coming off the books. That combined with only modest salary escalation from players needing to be re-signed or replaced means that it could be possible to bring back all of the key parts of the 2019-20 roster and add a player or two.
The math changes the following summer heading into the 2021-22 season when the team must re-sign Andrei Svechnikov and either re-sign or replace Dougie Hamilton. For the first time in the team’s history, it will be up against the cap ceiling and be forced to manage that situation like other teams do year in and year out.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes an early look at building that 2021-22 Carolina Hurricanes roster.
The goalie situation is completely TBD. Both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents before the 2021-22 season. Ideally, Alex Nedeljkovic fills at least a backup role on what should be an inexpensive contract. It is possible that either Reimer or Mrazek could still be in the mix as a 1A/1B depending on their play between now and then, but I would not consider either even remotely close to a lock to be on the roster at that point.
Potential Core: Alex Nedeljkovic.
For the 2021-22 season, the core will still be Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce on defense. Both players will still be in their prime and signed to salary cap-friendly deals. With trade deadline lunacy on the way, it is a good time to remind yourself that neither of those players is going anywhere. Past that, things become more uncertain. If he rebounds from his injury and plays even remotely close to his 2019-20 level, the Hurricanes will want to make Hamilton a third core defenseman, but the potential for him to become an unrestricted free agent with huge scoring totals adds significant uncertainty. I am not sure the Hurricanes will be willing or able to pay maximum dollar on a long-term deal. So if Hamilton wants to go the highest bidder route, he might not be in it for the long haul.
Past Slavin, Pesce and possibly Hamilton, the blue line becomes much more uncertain out to 2021-22. I am on record as doubting that either Joel Edmundson or Trevor van Riemsdyk return after becoming free agents this summer. It is not that the Hurricanes would not either player. I actually think either would be a great fit for a #5 slot. But the issue is that I do not see the Hurricanes being willing to commit significant dollars or term to that slot with the salary cap challenges that start the next summer. As such, I think both players will be better off financially on the open market and will leave based on that. Jake Gardiner would ideally be either the third or fourth part of the core. But though he has been somewhat better of late, putting him into the lineup long-term in anything but pencil would be putting the cart before the horse. Then there is Haydn Fleury who is arguably the player most likely to be lost in the NHL expansion draft. But if he is not plucked away by Seattle, Fleury would figure to still be at least a depth defenseman on an inexpensive contract.
When one nets it out, the Hurricanes have two, maybe three, core defensemen in Slavin, Pesce and Hamilton, but the rest of the 2021-22 blue line is pretty open right now.
Core: Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce.
Potential Core: Dougie Hamilton, Jake Gardiner.
At forward, I see the top-end core as being Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. Necas has some work to do to join this group, but even if his development is modest, he still figures to at least be a top 9 forward. As I discussed in yesterday’s article, I think ideal would be for Necas to shift back to center like Aho did. I think the peak version of the Hurricanes a couple years out would require having two legitimate scoring lines to balance load. Necas has the skill set to be a catalyst for such a second scoring line if he can make the transition back to center and meet the requirements for two-way play in a second line center slot.
That group of four will certainly be joined by other players currently on the roster, but I do not see the others as integral. Jordan Staal is likely to still be filling a similar role, but he will be 33 years old when the 2021-22 season begins. Lucas Wallmark could also fill a Jordan Staal-like defensive-leaning role.Warren Foegele is also very likely to still be in the mix. Other players could be as well, but I really think the definite core is smaller than some people might think.
Core: Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas.
Potential Core: Jordan Staal, Warren Foegele, Lucas Wallmark.
Netting it out
When I net it out, I really think Don Waddell ends up being key for the goalie position. Unless Nedeljkovic rises up and pulls a Jordan Binnington in 2020-21, the goalie position is two blank slots for Waddell to fill. On defense, Slavin and Pesce are a great starting point, but I think the key to the defense will be some combination of convincing Hamilton to re-sign for a reasonable salary and also Gardiner’s trajectory. At forward, one has to like the young core especially if Martin Necas continues to develop, but I do not think the team is as deep as some believe. Ideally the forward group gets more help from the prospect pool by 2020-21.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What do you think about the players I identified as core for 2021-22? Are there any that you would add? Are there any that you would subtract?
2) What does your crystal ball say about goaltending for 2021-22 given that my version has no sure things and potentially two open slots?
3) On defense, do you consider Hamilton or Gardiner part of the core for 2021-22 and beyond?
4) From the prospect pool of players not currently at the NHL level, which player(s) o do you think are most likely to rise up and fill key roles by 2021-22?