Yesterday’s Daily Cup of Joe which is HERE, stepped through the Canes free agent decisions for forwards.
Today’s article looks at the team’s free agent defensemen.
For: DeAngelo was a decent proxy for Dougie Hamilton offensively with 51 point in 64 games. His point play on the power play was actually a bit more multi-dimensional than Hamilton who was mostly just a trigger man. And DeAngelo also produced at even strength. And though imperfect, he proved to adequate defensively in a #4 slot during the regular season. So at face value, DeAngelo could be a #4 defenseman who fills the need for offense/scoring. Something like $5 million would be a huge raise from his $1 million bargain salary in 2022-23 but not at all unreasonable by today’s NHL standards.
Against: But the burning question is whether he is truly a #4 on a good hockey team built to win the Stanley Cup. Per previous articles, I think DeAngelo is a great #5 defenseman but is overslotted defensively as a regular on the first or second pairing. That showed at times in the playoffs. As a #5 defenseman, I think he becomes a bit like Niederreiter as a player one would like to retain if salary cap was not an issue, but maybe not one the team can afford based on the slot and the need to upgrade the top half of the roster. Further, though he comes with significant risk, if the Canes do not buy out or give up picks to trade Jake Gardiner, he could similarly be a third pairing defenseman who fills a power play role. Seemingly with some margin for error to make the playoffs with just most of the current roster, I could see the Canes trying this and then possibly paying less to unload Gardiner’s salary at the midway point or trade deadline if it does not work out.
Where I land: I would pass on DeAngelo if he wants the $5 million-ish that his offensive production probably wins in arbitration. I just think the team is better built for playoff success with a steady even if unspectacular #4 next to Jaccob Slavin and trying to fill the power play and offensive need with a third pairing specialist type. Because of the arbitration situation, the Hurricanes may try to resolve this one sooner rather than later. At at discount closer to $3 million, I like DeAngelo as a premium #5.
For: Cole generally came as advertised as a good locker room addition and veteran. In that regard, it makes sense for a team to pay a premium even though he is a third pairing defenseman at this stage of his career.
Against: But continuing with a repeated theme, with the Hurricanes pushing up against the salary cap and needing to improve the top half of the roster, it will be hard to justify a $2.8 million contract like Cole had for 2021-22. The salary cap math for the blue line becomes even trickier if the Canes do re-up with DeAngelo who will get a significant raise even if he takes a hometown discount or if the Canes either keep Gardiner or have to eat part of his contract. Long story short, Cole is another player whose salary will likely be needed elsewhere.
Where I land: I like the idea of a gritty veteran in the third pairing, but if the suddenly veteran group of the Hurricanes can not find enough leadership among the core players, they have problems. As such, I pass on re-signing Cole unless he is willing to take a significant pay cut to a $1 million-ish more appropriate for his slot.
For: Like Cole, Smith came as advertised. When in the lineup, he played with a physical edge and fit the bill salary-wise as a #7 defenseman. If DeAngelo and Cole both depth as I suggest, it could make sense to retain Brendan Smith for depth in the form of a known quantity if he is willing to a salary near the $800,000 he earned in 2021-22.
Against: But Smith struggled at times defensively. I would prefer to see the Canes go younger for depth or possibly look outside the organization for a modest upgrade. Especially if the Canes give it a try with Gardiner, the team will want steady help for the other half of the third pairing and #7 depth.
Where I land: At something near a league minimum salary again, I could see retaining Smith as #7 type veteran depth, but I would prefer to see the team go younger or look elsewhere.
For: Coming off a sub-par 2021-22 campaign that saw him fall from starting the season as a #4 defenseman to becoming a health scratch, Bear would definitely be a buy low option right now. He is coming off a $2 million salary and has arbitration rights that would probably yield a salary in the same range. As such, he will be priced as a higher-end third pairing defenseman. He is only 25 years old, so if he rebounds he would be priced fair or discounted for his role.
Against: But putting the above paragraph more simply, Ethan Bear just did not work out in 2021-22. As such, best might be to recover the salary budget and just move on.
Where I land: I am torn on Bear. I think ideal would be to find an even trade for a similar young-ish player with some upside but coming off a down year or possibly just collecting a mid/late-round draft pick and moving on. But the risk/reward trade-off could be worth considering given his modest salary.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think I am discounting Tony DeAngelo too much but pegging him as a good #5 defenseman? How much would you pay to re-sign him?
2) Would you prioritize re-signing either of the veterans (Ian Cole and Brendan Smith)?
3) Based on how Ethan Bear’s season ended, do you think trading him is the only option for both parties?