With the Carolina Hurricanes currently on the outside looking in on the playoff chase and the trade deadline now less than eight weeks away, the team could be forced to at least consider a number of contract situations well before the off-season arrives.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe considers the players with contracts that end after the 2018-19 season and what the team should do in each case.
Part of the core
At only 21 years old and currently leading the offense and on track for more than 80 points, Sebastian Aho is no doubt a part of the team’s core going forward. He is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer. Though there was a time when $6-7 million might have been possible his scoring totals are increasing the salary for his next contract. I now view $7 million as the low end of what it costs for Aho’s next deal with the potential for that amount to grow. But regardless of price, the Hurricanes need to do the obvious thing and commit to Aho with a long-term deal.
Next contract: Whatever it takes, but anything less than $8 million per year would be fair.
High-end complementary players
The player that I have called Robin to Aho’s Batman is also up for a new contract. In my opinion, the gap between Aho and Teravainen is wider than the modest point total difference would indicate. I view Teravainen as first line capable but importantly as a complementary player and not the player that drives such a line like Aho does. That could make it tricky to figure out price for Aho’s next contract. Especially given his chemistry with Aho who should be inked into the lineup for many years, Teravainen is definitely a player worth re-signing. But though I would pay Aho $8 million annually, I would not go close to that number for Teravainen. I think he fits at a lower price and a lower term. Teravainen is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. As such, the Hurricanes control his rights into the off-season which means nothing needs to be done by the trade deadline.
Next contract: 5 years at $5.5 million per year.
Though their styles are different, I put Micheal Ferland roughly in the same category as Teravainen as a player who is capable of playing on a top line, has fared well in exactly that role (at times) in 2018-19 but just is not in the same category as Aho. Significantly, Ferland provides size and more of a power forward type of scorer. The Hurricanes are light in this area, and Ferland looked good in that role playing with Aho. As such, the team would love to have Ferland back, but at what price? As with Teravainen, I would not risk a huge money and maximum or near maximum term on Ferland. But a key difference versus Teravainen is that Ferland is an unrestricted free agent who can go anywhere starting on July 1. As such, the Hurricanes are best off figuring out his long-term whereabouts by the trade deadline and acting accordingly. I would offer Ferland a contract in term of amount similar to Teravainen’s and be willing to stretch a bit to lock in a type of player that the team lacks.
Next contract: Would pay $5-5.5 million per year, but ideally for only 3-4 years. If he wants maximum dollars $6 million plus and maximum term of 6-7 years, I begrudgingly pass and trade him at the trade deadline.
A unique situation
Justin Williams is an interesting situation. At 38 years old starting the 2019-20 season, it is doubtful that Williams will see a scoring resurgence higher than his current 40ish-point pace. That simple look at scoring production would put Williams in roughly a third line role for which his current $4.5 million salary is too much. But then he is also the team’s captain, so how much can you try to dicker on price? I think a modest pay cut to $3-3.5 million on a one-year deal possibly stretching to two is fair for both sides.
Next contract: I think the Hurricanes pay for leadership and continuity and re-sign Williams for one or two years for $3.2 million yearly.
Like Ferland, Jordan Martinook is another newly-acquired player who has transitioned and meshed well with the Hurricanes. His current contract for $1.8 million is a modest premium for a good fourth-liner. If he pushes up close to 20 goals as he is on pace for right now, he starts to be able to make a case for being a third-liner which is really more the role that he has filled so far in 2018-19. I liken Martinook for being an extra captain and would be willing to pay a modest premium to keep him in the fold in that role. But if he wants significant term or too much of a price increase, I would let him go.
Next contract: I would do two years or possibly three years at a price of $2-2.25 million per year. A good fourth-liner (which is what I think Martinook is on a deeper team) is still a fourth-liner, so I would begrudgingly trade him at the trade deadline if his demands are higher based on his 2018-19 goal scoring.
McGinn is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, but because of his scoring woes in 2018-19 McGinn will not garner a significant raise. As such, I view him as being capable depth at least until more of the Hurricanes forward prospects develop. Unless McGinn’s season turns around, I would be willing to give McGinn a small raise on a one-way deal for one year.
Next contract: One year at $950,000
Thus far, Fleury has not lived up to his draft pedigree, but he has grown to become a serviceable #6/#7 defenseman potentially with upside from there since he is only 22 years old. As with McGinn, Fleury’s lack of offensive production and depth role in 2018-19 should keep his price down. Because even aging and mediocre blue line depth can cost north of $1 million per year, I would consider signing Fleury for a couple years to buy time for the next generation of defensemen to arrive and establish themselves.
Next contract: Two years at $1.1 million per year.
Bishop is a restricted free agent coming off of a two-year contract. He is gradually becoming a regular in the Hurricanes lineup, but I still think the team is best off keeping its flexibility by signing Bishop to a two-way contract if possible.
Next contract: One year at $950,000 on a two-way deal.
The goalie predicament
For multiple years now, the Hurricanes have been trying to right the ship goaltending-wise. Through 39 games of the 2018-19 season, that has actually happened. But as luck would have it, both Canes goalies still at the NHL level are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. That puts the pressure on the Canes brain trust to figure out which to keep and which to consider trading at the NHL trade deadline.
If Mrazek can continue the 2018-19 season on the same pace, he will have played his way into consideration another contract and a starting role. And if Mrazek can continue to do that, I would be willing to offer him a short-term deal with a bias toward over-committing a bit on price but not on term.
Next contract: Three years at $3-3.5 million yearly.
First let me say that I would be perfectly happy to have McElhinney return. But at 35 years old, I do not see him as part of the long-term solution. With that being the case, if he continues his strong season, he could have value to a Cup contender with an injury at goalie. But if the market for McElhinney is but a really late draft pick, I would consider keeping him and trying to work out a next deal.
Next contract: If there is a market for him, I think he gets traded. If the market is light, then I think the Hurricanes might lean forward a bit and offer him a raise on a one year or at most two-year deal.
Netting it out
I think Aho is a no-brainer and also that Teravainen is the next player to be re-signed. I also think Fleury and McGinn are all but certain to be re-signed because they provide needed depth at a near minimum salary. Bishop is also nearly a sure thing to be re-signed if the team can use its leverage to give him another two-way contract. Finally, I think Martinook who has just been a great fit will demand and receive a modest premium to his current contract and will receive it to stay in the fold.
Then things get complicated. I think Ferland is the most likely to use his free agent status next summer to pursue a maximum contract next summer. I put the odds at 50/50 that he is re-signed. I also think Williams’ situation is interesting. I view him as needing to take a pay cut, but if he tries to use his leverage as the captain, the gap between what is fair based on scoring and what he asks for could be sizable.
As for the goalie situation, if Mrazek keeps playing at his current level, I think the team will re-sign him possibly even before the trade deadline. If there is a market for a backup goalie at the trade deadline, I think the Canes could part ways with McElhinney simply because his age does not make him a great option for the long-term.
My expectations have the team passing on some trade value to re-sign players. Because I fear it will be difficult to lure high-end free agents to Raleigh next summer if the current trajectory continues, I think that it is a smart move to forego modest trade futures and do exactly this. But if instead the team goes full Ron Francis and collects what it can from unrestricted free agents, the team team has five unrestricted free agents in Ferland, Martinook, Williams, Mrazek and McElhinney.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of the free agents do you think the Hurricanes will ultimately retain for the 2019-20 season?
2) For Ferland and Teravainen, what are your maximum and expected yearly salaries for these deals?
3) What would you do with the two impending unrestricted free agent goalies?