I believe I touched on this toward the end of the off-season or beginning of the 2021-22 season, but in spending some time poking around CapFriendly looking at Canes and other teams’ salaries in considering the 2022 NHL trade deadline, I again noticed how neatly the current roster window schedules out.
There are players up for new contracts but what I would consider the core of the current roster is mostly intact for the current year plus two more. All of Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents after the 2023-24 season. In addition, Seth Jarvis’ entry-level contract expires the same year, and Brett Pesce is signed for one year after that. Finally, both members of the goalie tandem are signed for this year and next… also within the three-year window. More significant than these players’ contracts expiring is the fact that most of them have current contracts that are at significant discounts to what their next contracts will be. So while it is very reasonable to expect the Hurricanes to try to re-sign most of these players, the math will be challenging. Slavin at $5.3 million, Pesce at $4.0 million and Teravainen at $5.4 million are significant discounts to next contracts that could be in the $8 million range. If Jarvis continues to progress, he will earn a sizable raise from his sub $1 million entry-level contract. There will be opportunities to cut some salary costs as players like Trocheck, Staal, Niederreiter and others come of contract, but the outside of the noted three-year window, the salary cap math will be challenging. At a minimum, the cost structure of the team will need to be more top heavy to retain key players, and that will likely drive significant changeover in players past a small core.
Thus far, the team has been very good at getting key players under contract for salaries that are fair and even in some cases less. Having a likeable coach, a chance to compete for the Cup and a close-knit group helps in that regard, but when key players are looking at what will likely be their last max deal, even fair or slightly discounted prices are going to be hard to make work salary cap-wise.
For me, the upshot is twofold.
First, the time is now to make moves to win a Cup now. It is not that the chance to challenge for a Stanley Cup ends after this three year window, but the number of higher-end players that the NHL salary cap can hold might actually be at its peak and destined to decline as key players are re-signed to higher salary deals.
Second, how well the Canes can backfill middle of the lineup slots with young players from the prospect pool could prove critical to both winning inside the three-year window and also extending it. If players like Jack Drury, Jamieson Rees and others can step into second or third line slots and produce offensively while being capable defensively while still on entry-level or relatively inexpensive second contracts, the Canes will have the chance to keep the established core without becoming shallow in terms of depth from losing a few middle of the lineup veteran players due to salary cap constraints.
The addition of two veteran goalies in the off-season and also a veteran character defenseman with his name on the Cup in Ian Cole and another veteran depth player in Derek Stepan suggests that Canes management also recognizes this reality and is very much trying to build a team to win now in the playoffs.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Do you think the current roster has what it takes to win a Stanley Cup within the next three years? What, if anything, would you try to add to improve the chances?
2) Of players coming off sizable contracts in the next couple years (Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter and Ian Cole after this season and Jordan Staal, Jesper Fast, Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta after the 2022-23 season), which would you consider parting ways with to free up salary cap to re-sign the key group that follows?