Today under cover of the hangover from the free agent frenzy of Friday and the holiday weekend, the Hurricanes signed defenseman Matt Tennyson to a 2-way contract. Tennyson is a 26-year old depth defenseman who played the 29 games for the San Jose Sharks in a 2015-16 season that saw him miss time with a concussion and also another upper body injury. He is a right shot with an NHL-caliber point shot on the power play and brings a respectable 60 games of NHL experience. He slots nicely as a #8 defenseman who would play in Charlotte unless injuries or underperformance warranted a call up. I will be looking for some hints from Canes GM Ron Francis in the next week or so as to whether he sees Tennyson as a #8 for the AHL level or actually a #7 expected to stick in Raleigh. My hunch and hope is the former.
At a basic level, I view Tennyson as replacing Michal Jordan for 2016-17. Francis chose not to qualify Jordan which would have required a 1-way deal and guarantee at least salary-wise that he would play at the NHL level. My assessment of Jordan’s role was that he would actually make sense if brought back on a 2-way contract that slotted (and paid him correctly) at the AHL level and provided experienced NHL depth if injuries forced the Canes to work down below #7 on the depth chart. That is exactly where I think Tennyson fits. While it is possible that Jordan could still be retained on a similar 2-way deal for a similar role, I think it is less likely now. Tennyson’s deal puts the Canes at 46 out of 50 contracts once all restricted free agents are signed and also 9 defenseman for the AHL level and below if the Canes still add another depth defenseman as I think they might.
Slotting the Hurricanes defense
(Intent is not to get bogged down in specific pairings or who plays with who but rather to establish NHL roster healthy and then the layers of depth below that.)
Ron Hainsey / Justin Faulk
Jaccob Slavin /Brett Pesce
Noah Hanifin / Ryan Murphy
______________(TBD though it is possible that Francis has Tennyson slotted here)
I continue to think that Francis is still in the market for 1 more experienced NHL depth defenseman.
AHL depth by situation
Press box depth: If Canes simply need a #7 defenseman with the primary responsibility of sitting in the press box, Matt Tennyson is your man. Even if Haydn Fleury, Roland McKeown or even to some degree Trevor Carrick prove to be the seventh or eighth best defenseman in training camp, it makes no sense to put them in a #7 slot that sits in the press box at the NHL level. Their ongoing development is much better served playing 20+ minutes per game at the NHL level.
Actual NHL ice time: Depending on how ready players like Fleury, McKeown and Carrick look in training camp, they could jump Tennyson on the depth chart, but only if it the NHL slot that available comes with actual ice time. My assessment of Carrick in training camp last fall was that he was not yet able to handle the pace and pressure at the NHL level, but in a short 2-game stint last spring I thought he looked better in that small sample size. Fleury and McKeown are unknowns at this early juncture of their professional careers. Hanifin, Pesce and Slavin jumped straight from amateur level to the NHL with some success, but that is not the norm.
Shorter version: Tennyson is the best fit if you need #8 or lower depth from the AHL roster to sit in the press box. Depending on how the kids look in training camp, Tennyson’s extensive AHL experience and also 60 games at the NHL level could also prove to be the best options if injuries force the Canes to reach to #8 for a player who will actually go into the NHL lineup.
Is the NHL roster now complete?
While it is possible that Francis’ addition of Tennyson is intended to be the #7 defenseman for the NHL level and a move that completes the roster (for now) save any trade or other opportunities to upgrade via trade, I do not think that is the case. With a young blue line, my hunch is that Francis is still in the market for 1 additional more experienced NHL defenseman to fill the #7 slot at the NHL level and push Tennyson to #8 on call from Charlotte. In addition to the simple need for depth, there is the issue of at some point adding an ‘expansion draft shield’ that I wrote about a few weeks ago.
With the important qualification of understanding that the role is that of a #7 defenseman and the limitations that come with that price range, there are actually some pretty good options for NHL depth still available in the free agent clearance bin.
The Canes press release offers minimal clues in terms of how Francis sees Tennyson being used, so I will be curious to see if he offers additional insight into whether he views Tennyson as a #7 to complete the team or a #8 to provide depth when he is next interviewed.
Tennyson is also the kind of fringe AHL/NHL type player that I hoped the Canes would add 1-2 of at forward. Andrew Miller who was added Friday somewhat qualifies though his NHL experience is minimal. With the Canes now at 46 contracts possibly stretching to 47 if they do add another NHL level defenseman, the decision between more options versus contract-limit flexibility is tougher to make.