Now that the dust has settled on two cataclysmic weeks of player movement that turned over a full third of the Carolina Hurricanes’ roster, two conclusions have clearly emerged from the madness.
The Hurricanes still think their core group of young players is good enough to win a Stanley Cup.
They didn’t think the players around them were good enough to win a Stanley Cup.
After three trips through the postseason that saw the Hurricanes win four playoff series before being ultimately derailed by what were unquestionably better teams, combined with the unfortunate but inevitable free-agent departure of Dougie Hamilton, it was time for some retooling.
It’s the hockey equivalent of a 40,000 mile service. Change the oil, rotate the tires, give it new brake pads and rotors, flush the coolant and leave it parked out back.
So while the long-term foundation of the team remains intact — starting with young stars Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Martin Necas — almost all of the complementary pieces on the board have been shuffled.
Guys like Warren Foegele, Brock McGinn and Petr Mrazek had three kicks at the playoff can, and they all certainly had their moments of glory, but were too often ineffective when it mattered most. Even as Alex Nedeljkovic saved the Hurricanes’ season, the team was clearly never sold on the rookie goalie even before his playoff miscues.
And Hamilton, a dynamic regular-season player who also seemed to fade into the wallpaper in the postseason, nevertheless would still have been a fit here, just not for the $9 million he got from the New Jersey Devils. A tip of the cap to Hamilton, who will be missed.
Not everyone was deemed replaceable: Jordan Martinook got a three-year, back-loaded contract to stay, a stabilizing move for an otherwise quiet dressing room that will need some ballast with the arrival of Tony DeAngelo, who even in the most positive light has been somewhat of a loose cannon over the course of his career.
The young stars still get top billing, but they’re surrounded by new players who arrive with the very specific mandate to get this team further in the postseason than the ones they replaced.
That starts in net, where Aanti Raanta has put up terrific numbers when healthy — which hasn’t been all that often. Raanta has all the attributes of a No. 1 goalie other than durability. It makes sense to partner him with the durable and reliable Frederik Andersen, who ironically enough was criticized for his playoff shortcomings with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who in turn replaced him with … Mrazek.
Familiarity and contempt and all that.
The fourth line was remodeled with Martinook, Derek Stepan and Josh Leivo, and there’s still room — and about $4 million in cap space after Svechnikov is re-signed, now priority No. 1 — for another top-nine forward to fill out the group. Stepan’s best years may be behind him, but in a limited role his smarts and leadership should be valuable to a young team. Leivo has done elsewhere what Foegele and McGinn did here, but at a fraction of the price.
Hamilton isn’t replaceable, but the Hurricanes tried to make it up in numbers: The polarizing DeAngelo will get yet another chance as a right-shot power-play specialist; Ethan Bear is only 24 and a useful second-pairing piece; and both Ian Cole and Brendan Smith offer the kind of veteran presence the Hurricanes have lacked on the back end.
On paper, that’s a stronger group at the bottom even if it’s weaker at the top without Hamilton, but a lack of defensive depth has been a key factor in all three of the Hurricanes’ playoff exits.
It’s hard, after winning at least one series in three straight postseasons — the preliminary-round win over the Rangers still counts, given the Hurricanes’ regular-season struggles with that team — to see such sweeping change. In some cases, like the departures of Nedeljkovic and Hamilton and the arrival of DeAngelo, it’s downright infuriating.
But there’s a message here: Mere tweaks to this roster weren’t enough. Incremental improvement wasn’t going to be good enough to beat teams like the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning in their pomp. More drastic measures were required to meet the increasing expectations this group faces. More depth. More experience.
It was time for a change, even if few expected this much of a change. Everyone is on the same page now: As far as the Hurricanes have come, the status quo wasn’t good enough.