The 2021 NHL Entry Draft was about to end Saturday — the Carolina Hurricanes had just made 13 picks — when Don Waddell settled into a seat in the “War Room” at PNC Arena for a Zoom media interview.
Waddell, the Canes’ president and general manager, didn’t let out a sigh, but he could have. It’s just that he still has so much to do and little time to do it.
The Canes want to keep the star defenseman. The defenseman wants to be properly paid. Soon to be an unrestricted free agent, Hamilton will be paid — a lot — by someone as one of the NHL’s best.
How much? Defenseman Seth Jones, traded Friday by Columbus to the Chicago Blackhawks, was given an eight-year contract with a $9.5 million annual cap hit. Defenseman Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche, 22, just got six years at $9 million a year.
Such are some of the market values. Hamilton’s agent, JP Barry, certainly knows all the details.
“We’ve let Dougie know and have been very open about what we think the value is,” Waddell said. “His value might be higher someplace else. But again we’re talking about a team that’s trying to win a championship. We have a plan in place for Dougie and he’s very aware of it.”
Waddell said Saturday he would continue his talks with Barry on Sunday. He also said it was agreed Hamilton’s situation needs to be resolved before Wednesday, before NHL free agency begins, and said the two sides seemed “closer” to an agreement.
“Deadlines are when things usually happen,” Waddell said on the media call. “I know Dougie’s very familiar with where we are. We know what his thoughts are. It’s up to his agent, to JP (Barry) and I, to figure it out, how we make this work for both of us.
“He’s a free agent and he can go any place. It’s got to be a two-way street. It’s got to fit for him and it’s got to fit for us. But I feel pretty good that we’ll be able to get this done.”
Another item of pressing concern: goaltending.
Waddell and the Canes traded goalie Alex Nedeljkovic to the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. Again, it was a money thing. Nedeljkovic was a restricted free agent with arbitration rights and seemed more than willing to go to arbitration and let a mediator determine his salary.
Instead, Nedeljkovic was traded for the rights to Red Wings goalie Jonathan Bernier and a 2021 third-round pick. Just like that, a goalie who was a 2021 Calder Trophy finalist and a fan favorite was dealt away, leaving a number of Canes fans confused and irked that the young guy known as “Ned” was leaving.
“The Ned thing is tough,” Waddell said. “Ned played good here. We got in a situation, he’s been in the organization for five years, we’ve watched him for five years. He played good here, he had 20-something good hockey games. We just felt that with the situation that we were in, he had [arbitration] rights, we couldn’t work out a deal, and maybe we need more experienced goalies in here.
“We made a decision as an organization. Everybody was involved — goalie coaches, coaches, ownership, everybody. We didn’t sit down on an island and make this call. You watch a player and you find out what he’s all about. He got on an unbelievable hot streak this year — we can’t deny that. He’s such a great kid and you’re happy for him and wish him nothing but success. But we also thought that going forward maybe we wanted to go with a more veteran-looking goaltending duo.”
Nedeljkovic made out fine, signing a two-year, $6 million contract with the Red Wings. Bernier remains unsigned and the Canes’ Petr Mrazek and James Reimer both are due to become UFA goalies on Wednesday.
Will a Mrazek-Bernier tandem eventually be the “veteran-looking” duo Waddell mentioned? Maybe.
“We’re wide open,” Waddell said. “We’re approaching it that we think it’s an opportunity for all these guys because we don’t have a starting goalie. We’re approaching this open-minded.”
Nedeljkovic wasn’t the only player traded. The Canes on Friday also sent defenseman Jake Bean, a former first-round draft pick by Carolina, to the Blue Jackets for a second-round selection in this year’s draft.
Bean, a rookie last season, was left unprotected by Carolina for the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft. The Kraken passed on him, making forward Morgan Geekie their selection from the Canes.
Why the Bean trade?
“We talked about it at great lengths and just felt that the way we were situated now with some of our younger kids coming and Jake’s been in the organization for a number of years, that if we got what we thought was equal value that we’d move him on,” Waddell said. “Sometimes we’ve seen it with the second team. Jake’s very capable of taking that next step and sometimes you need that second team to take it.
“But for us, it was more where we were. Jake played in our third pairing and we wanted a different look in that group. So the decision was made, once we got something that we felt was fair value, to move him.”