The big news from a Hurricanes standpoint coming out of the 2022 NHL Draft was a Friday trade that sent Tony DeAngelo’s rights (he was a restricted free agent) to the Philadelphia Flyers in return for a fourth round pick in 2022, a third round pick in 2023 and a fourth round pick in 2024. DeAngelo then signed a two-year contract for $5 million per year.
Tony DeAngelo as part of building the 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes
I have written quite a bit about Tony DeAngelo and how he fits into the bigger picture of trying to improve the top half of the roster heading into the 2022-23 season. In short, I saw him as a great #5 defenseman whose strengths were he offensive play, ability to man the point on the power play and bring some fire when needed. But on a team built air tight defensively to win in the playoffs, he just is not steady enough defensively to slot into the top 4 at even strength. The trade suggests that the team agreed with me on that assessment. With the Canes needing to both add a higher-end scoring forward or two and also solidify the top 4 on defense, DeAngelo’s $5 million salary is just not something the team can afford given other needs. So the team made the decision to collect what it could, which was a pretty good haul of three draft picks, and put the $5 million back in its back pocket to spend on greater needs over the coming weeks.
In essence, the Canes recovered $5 million (or close) of salary cap budget to spend on hopefully adding a steadier #4 defenseman and created another gap needing to find someone to man the point on the power play.
Looking backward — Recent history of the yearly churn on the blue line
When the finally pushed back into the playoffs in the 2018-19 season, arguably the team’s greatest strength was its blue line and its depth. Starting from a young core of Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin and with Justin Faulk still in tow, the Hurricanes added Calvin de Haan during free agency and then pulled off a big draft weekend trade to add Dougie Hamilton. The team also had a steady third pairing anchor in Trevor van Riemsdyk. Whereas many teams struggle to fill four top blue line slots with capable players, the Canes arguably had five top 4 defensemen. When playoff Hamilton took a step down from regular season Hamilton, the team was able to push him to the bottom pairing and elevate de Haan. When van Riemsdyk was injured, the team was still fine three pairings deep because of its depth. And even when the team lost a second defenseman to injury (de Haan), the blue line was deep enough to mostly just push forward without missing a beat.
Coming out of the 2018-19 season and return to the playoffs, the single greatest strength of the team was its defense. But that initial core strength has been constantly shifting since then.
With de Haan having reinjured a previously injured shoulder and looking at a delayed and uncertain start to the 2019-20 season, the team opted to trade him. Then when unable to come to terms on a long-term deal, the team opted to trade Faulk before the last year of his deal rather than re-upping for a long-term commitment. Faulk’s departure somewhat followed the pattern of the team being willing to quickly move on from players (Lindholm and Hanifin the prior summer) if unable to re-sign them at terms that they believed were favorable. With Faulk having a couple tough years prior to 2018-19 and looking for a long-term deal, the Canes instead decided to trade him to St. Louis. Faulk struggled a bit in his first year with the Blues, which initially made their seven-year commitment for $6.5 million per year that had not even started yet look dicey. But he has since rebounded and been a solid top 4 defenseman through the first two years of that contract. The Hurricanes gained Joel Edmundson in the Faulk trade and added Jake Gardiner as a free agent. Gardiner figured to slot into the top 4 and replace Faulk on the power play, and Edmundson added de Haan-like depth in the form of a gritty veteran.
But the 2019-20 saw Gardiner struggle out of the gate and Edmundson have to move up into the top 4. With van Riemsdyk still in the mix and Haydn Fleury moving up to the NHL level, the Canes were still deep defensively, but more so trying to make do with Edmundson in the #4 slot. But when Pesce was lost to a season-ending injury just before the trade deadline, the team moved to add reinforcements in the form of Brady Skjei. Sami Vatanen was also added for depth hoping that depth and quantity could maybe compensate for losing Pesce. The season ended after a COVID-induced long layoff and a second round playoff loss to the Bruins in the bubble.
With Skjei now in the mix with a healthy Pesce back, the Canes again hoped to be back to four legitimate top 4 defensemen. Gardiner pushed to the third pairing and van Riemsdyk departed via free agency and young up-and-comers like Fleury and Jake Bean ready to compete for ice time, the Canes went into the 2020-21 season seemingly with all four slots on the top two defense pairings and potentially good depth. During the season, Pesce and Skjei who were not on the roster together the prior season developed chemistry and meshed well. Slavin and Hamilton also continued to be a good fit. At the trade deadline, the team aimed to add a bit more grit swapping Fleury for Jani Hakanpaa. But the playoff results were similar with another second round loss, this time to the Lightning. Probably most significant in charting the future was the fact that again playoff Hamilton was at times a notch lower than regular season Hamilton.
That second consecutive second round exit prompted questions about what it would take to climb another step or two up the ladder into range of winning the Stanley Cup. The evaluation process of what would be required to take a next step forward also occurred right when the team needed to make another big decision on a free agent defenseman looking for a big next contract. Just like with Faulk, the Canes seemed willing to bring back Hamilton but only on specific terms that were some amount below the going market rate. Just like with Faulk, the situation ended with Hamilton signing a big contract for seven years at $9 million per year which figured to be about $1 or $2 million more than the Canes had offered and probably longer on term too. More so than dollars or term though, I think the team’s brain trust made the call not to double down on Hamilton finding a higher gear in the playoffs which after three consecutive playoff appearances had become more important than the regular season.
Similar to Faulk’s departure that saw Gardiner and Edmundson try to back fill parts of Faulk’s skill set, Hamilton’s departure saw the Canes bring in Ethan Bear and Tony DeAngelo. Bear was an unflashy right shot with decent mobility and a stay-home/defense-first leaning that could theoretically pair well with Slavin in the top 4 at even strength. And DeAngelo projected to be a ‘good enough defensively’ third pairing defenseman who could chip in offense and man the point on the power play. The initial plan failed to launch when Bear looked a bit lost with the Canes pace and aggressive system that required defensemen to lean forward a bit and know when to gap up either pinching in the offensive zone or taking away first passes in the neutral zone knowing/trusting that the forwards would rotate back to help cover. The result was a short audition for Bear in the top 4 and a quick start by DeAngelo that made him the better option for this slot. And that is how the season played out. In terms of what he was acquired to do which was boost the offense, help the power play and be as unnoticeable as possible defensively, DeAngelo excelled in all three areas. The power play struggled a bit down the stretch and also in the playoffs which was a black mark but in total DeAngelo did his job there. His scoring total basically replaced what they lost in Hamilton. And playing in a higher slot than initially expected, he mostly held his own defensively. So in that regard and putting salary cap math to the side, it would completely make sense to bring DeAngelo back for the same role he was originally signed for which is to be an offensive #5 defenseman. But as the season wore on, he did have enough ‘oopses’ defensively to suggest he was overslotted as a top 4 defenseman, and even more so the playoffs showed that he was not fit for that slot in the playoffs. That end result pushed DeAngelo to the same places as those who had come before him. The Hurricanes had a salary amount they would have spent for a premium #5 defenseman knowing that they needed to budget for adding a steadier #4. That number was probably something like $3-3.5 million, so when DeAngelo’s camp wanted enough more than that, true to its consistent history, the team moved on.
Looking forward — Building the 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes blue line — Top 4 defenseman
Among many who track the team, I think there is a misunderstanding of the step-wise progression about to happen. I see many commenting that even if DeAngelo’s $5 million ask is too much, how will the team possibly replace him for less that than. This misses the basic point on what DeAngelo’s role would be per the team’s (and my) opinion which is a #5 defenseman. It is not that the team will add a more expensive to replace DeAngelo as a #5 defenseman. It is that the team needs the money that could be spent on DeAngelo to fill the hole that exists from not having a #4 defenseman. So it seems like inevitably what will happen next is that the Hurricanes will add a free agent or trade acquisition who costs more than $5 million which will cause a bunch of questions for why the team did not just keep DeAngelo.
But what the Hurricanes need as priority #1 on the blue line is to add a sounder, steadier defenseman who can pair with Slavin to make a bona fide top defense pairing. As is always the case, the options to fill a top half of the roster slot are limited and generally expensive. Below is a short list of primary options known to be available from impending unrestricted free agents and trade possibilities who are being bandied around. Note that these options focus first and foremost on adding a sound and steady defensive top 4 defenseman. Though it would be ideal to also replace DeAngelo’s role on the power play, it might be better to address that separately (see below).
I started my draft week writing with an article that pegged him as my top trade target considering all options. I have ranted enough about him in the previous article which is HERE and on Twitter, so I will not ramble a bunch more. The short version is that he is a proven 24-year old defenseman who is top 4-capable and is already under contract for three years for a modest $4.6 million. Note that though he is a left shot, he has played a good amount on the right side. He continues to be my top target to the point where I am willing to overpay a bit.
After Chychrun, there are good options for 2022-23 who mostly will come with a ton of contract tail risk from having to commit big dollars long-term to older players.
As far as the free agent market, Klingberg would be a great fit. Most significantly, he fits the bill as a right shot who is a proven solid and steady top 4 defenseman. He is not an elite power play quarterback but could be adequate in this role. The issue will be his contract. He had been in negotiations to re-sign with the Dallas Stars and wanting something in the neighborhood of 7 years for something like $7-8 million. I would consider spending $7 million for two years to fill the slot for what I have started calling the Canes ‘first Cup window’ which lasts two years until they have to start re-signing players like Slavin, Teravainen, Pesce, etc. who are currently on less than market contracts. But with Klingberg turning 30 before the start of the 2022-23 season, the latter years of a seven-year max type contract are scary in terms of risk.
Only two years ago, Petry was a core part of a solid Canadiens team that surprised and pushed all the way to the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals. He had 42 points in 55 games during the regular season and was a core part of the team defense in the playoffs. But a mixed, up and down 2021-22 campaign raises questions on his future. He is 34 years old, so it is possible that his lesser 2021-22 campaign is the beginning of a fall off. That possibility makes three years at $6.25 million per year also risky. Adding him confidently would require a deep dive by the scouting team to try to assess and project whether he is likely to rebound a bit in 2022-23 and if he has three more good years in him or if he is starting to decline.
Those are the three higher-end options from players known or at least thought to be available. If the Canes are willing to offer Martin Necas, there could be other ‘hockey trade’ options that are player for player trades.
Looking forward — Building the 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes blue line — Power play point
Per above, in my opinion, adding a top 4 defenseman was a need regardless of if the Canes re-signed DeAngelo. But the thing that does need to be replaced with DeAngelo gone is his role on the power play. Buried somewhere in the comments of a previous article I believe, I suggested that the Canes should consider jumping to future NHL ahead of schedule and going with five forwards on the power play. Though he has never played in this role, I think Teravainen actually has the right skill set to do this. But for now, assuming the Canes go traditional and want a defenseman on the point, here are some options.
Gardiner comes with a ton of risk after a season off after back problems. But for now he is under contract for $4.05 million. As such, there is a chance the Canes could buy him out or more likely unload his salary as part of a bigger trade or by paying draft pick compensation to a team willing to take his salary. But if the team can make the math work to start the season with Gardiner’s contract in it, I think a good strategy could be to give Gardiner the first half of the season to assess his level of play. In that scenario, he would be a reasonable option for the point on the power play and would slot as a third pairing defenseman.
If you believe that the Canes will be good enough to play at a playoff pace even if Gardiner does not work out (I think that is reasonable), then the risk is low and an off ramp is available.
Scenario 1: Gardiner rebounds physically after a full year off and works on the power play and is at least competent as third pairing defenseman. If so, the team could just ride this into the playoffs if they do not have other significant needs.
Scenario 2: Gardiner has a setback injury-wise. If so, the Canes can put him back on long-term injured reserve and have that $4 million of salary cap back to add a player via trade.
Scenario 3: Gardiner is healthy but not up to par in terms of level of play. If so, the Canes can unload him at the trade deadline. Before the Blackhawks jumped to fast forward at the draft, I figured Patrick Kane would likely be available at the trade deadline. If that still ends up being the case, his $10.5 million salary will not fit into many teams’ budgets come February. If the Canes leave a little bit of room to start the season, they could make it work by swapping Gardiner and getting the Blackhawks or possibly another team to pick up part of Kane’s salary. Regardless, it could be reasonably easy to unload Gardiner with futures to upgrade for the playoffs at the trade deadline.
Another interesting option externally who looks a bit like DeAngelo is Tyson Barrie. He has a track record as a high-end power play defenseman both with Toronto and more recently with Edmonton. The issue is that he is sub-par defensively and not a player a good team would slot into the top 4. Because Edmonton is also scrambling to upgrade the top half of its roster and needs salary cap budget to do so, his $4.5 million salary was thought to be a luxury they can no longer afford. The Canes cannot afford it either, but if able to do a deal where a third team picks up half of salary making him a $2.25 million cost, maybe he fits. A week ago, he was nearly certain to be available. With Duncan Keith’s retirement freeing up $5 million of salary for the Oilers there is now talk that maybe Barrie could stay. But if they get in on players like Giroux and Kane and need to cut more salary, I think trading very little to Edmonton and a pick or two to a third part for the salary cap help could allow the Canes to replace DeAngelo at less than half the cost.
He is coming off a $9 million contract. His next contract will be for significantly less, but it is not clear to me how much. At 34 years old, I am not sure he is fully to the stage where he signs a cheap contract to play for a contender, but if he gets close to that such this salary could fit in the third pairing, he would be interesting. If he wants 2-3 years at what he is worth, he is probably too expensive. If he wants to join a contender and likes the set up with the Hurricanes, maybe it becomes possible.
Building the 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes blue line — #5-7
With the aim of adding a top 4 defenseman and also upgrading at forward, the Canes will be forced to spend light on depth defensemen for the bottom pairing and #7 slot.
If Gardiner stays, he would slot into the bottom pair and also have a role on the power play. The same would be true with Barrie or Subban. One of the other two depth defenseman slots will almost certainly be filled by Jalen Chatfield. And the other will need to be filled by a player making something near $1 million. Though I think the team would like to have Ian Cole back, he would need to take a significant pay cut from the $2.9 million that he earned in 2021-22. Not sure what he can get on the open market as a free agent, but a return will probably require him to return because he just wants to stay with the team not because the Canes ponied up maximum salary. I am not sure how the team feels about Brendan Smith or if he would again be willing to play for a near NHL minimum salary. If I had to guess, the Canes will add one depth defenseman from outside the current group to go with whoever the ‘offensive #5’ is and Jalen Chatfield and will hope to keep a player or two with NHL experience on the AHL roster.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on collecting three draft picks for Tony DeAngelo instead of re-signing him for two years at something in the neighborhood of $5 million per year?
2) Who do you most like as a Canes addition to round out the top 4 on defense and likely pair with Jaccob Slavin?
3) What are your thoughts on trying out Jake Gardiner at least until mid-season/trade deadline versus biting the bullet now to recover cap space either buying him out or paying another team in picks/prospects to take his contract?
4) More generally, if you were General Manager Don Waddell, what would you do to build out the 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes blue line?