Only a couple years ago when Ron Francis inherited an organization with a low-rated and depleted prospect pool, the 50-contract limit for NHL teams was mostly a non-issue. The Hurricanes could easily have cut loose a few more veteran AHLers to make room as needed. But with Francis collecting and using extra draft picks and the team increasing the depth and quality of its prospect pool, the Hurricanes could find themselves pushing up against the 50-contract limit soon and with tough decisions and maneuvering required to stay under it.
Despite the fact that the Hurricanes are seemingly up against the limit with 49 contracts right now, the task of staying under 50 for the 2018-19 season does not look that daunting.
The organization has a handful of prospects at the AHL level with expiring contracts who will not all be re-signed. In addition, the team still has a good number of AHL veterans coming off of contracts. Winning at the AHL level requires a mix of prospects and good AHL veterans, so the goal is not to cut too much from the current winning group. But the team could open another slot or two if it needed to by going lighter on veterans.
Goalie (1 AHLer dropped; 1 draftee added)
Alex Nedeljkovic’s emergence in his second year as a professional is positive in terms of his potential obviously, but it also relieves pressure on the logjam at the goalie position. With Nedeljkovic now more established, the Hurricanes can opt not to re-sign or replace veteran AHLer Jeremy Smith and can use that slot for Jeremy Helvig. That puts three prospect goalies (Callum Booth is the other) in the two AHL slots and and ECHL slot.
Best guess: Jeremy Smith departs; Jeremy Helvig is signed and steps into the AHL/ECHL mix. No net change.
Defensemen (2 AHLers dropped; 1 draftee added; 1 already signed and moving up)
The rapid rise of the Hurricanes young blue-liners combined with a couple years light on defensemen draft picks actually sees the prospect pool on defense a bit depleted.
The 2017-18 Charlotte Checkers blue line largely featured five veteran AHLers and one true prospect in Roland McKeown. Dennis Robertson, Jake Chelios, Brenden Kichton and Philip Samuelsson are all more veteran AHLers than prospects at this stage of their career. Trevor Carrick and Keegan Kanzig are tweeners at 23 years old. The only true prospects are Roland McKeown, Josh Wesley and Tyler Ganly.
Keegan Kanzig and Tyler Ganly are both coming off contract, and neither has carved out a role at the AHL level. As such, I think both are unlikely to be re-signed. The entire set of veterans is up for new contracts. To make room for Jake Bean and possibly Noah Carroll at the AHL level, it is possible that the Hurricanes go with one fewer veteran at the AHL level, but given the team’s success in 2017-18, I also think it is possible that the team just maintains the current veteran group for another year.
Best guess: Keegan Kanzig and Tyler Ganly depart; Jake Bean moves up and Noah Carroll is also signed to an entry-level deal; possibly one of the five veteran AHL defensemen is let go. The net is one fewer contract since Bean is already signed.
When you net it out for goalies and defensemen, the team conservatively projects to be down one contract. That also assumes that the team maintains all five of its veteran defenseman and also elects to sign Noah Carroll to an entry-level contract. Carroll is the one prospect who must re-signed or set free this summer who could go either way.
Within the next few days, I will take a similar look at the forward ranks for the 2017-18 season and then also look at potential impacts of the 50-contract limit further into the future.