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Challenges loom for Hurricanes after locking up Brind'Amour

Jaylynn Nash / Getty Images Sport / Getty

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes have locked up their biggest free agent in coach Rod Brind'Amour. The work ahead could prove more challenging for president and general manager Don Waddell.

The Hurricanes have had six straight playoff trips, including at least one series win every time and two trips to the Eastern Conference final. But it's still a team looking for a breakthrough toward its goal of winning the Stanley Cup after losing in the second round to the Presidents' Trophy-winning New York Rangers, and there are looming free agency challenges ahead.

For Waddell, the reality is that as much as the team would “like to keep it going,” there will have to be changes.

“Players play for a long time to get to this point where they become unrestricted, where they can find out what the marketplace is going to pay them," Waddell said Monday in a joint news conference with Brind'Amour. "We're hoping we can nip that a little bit with a few of the guys, but certainly there's going to be guys going to unrestricted free agency, that's for sure, on July 1.”

The list of unrestricted free agents (UFA), who would be clear to sign with any team in July, includes trade-deadline acquisition Jake Guentzel, and four of the top seven defensemen.

Additionally, young talents like Seth Jarvis and Martin Necas are restricted free agents (RFA) — meaning another team could sign them to an offer sheet and Carolina would have the opportunity to match — while players like top-pairing defenseman Jaccob Slavin would be eligible for an extension with a year left on his deal.

Getting Brind'Amour and his staff taken care of was the first step with a multiyear deal announced Sunday.

Brind'Amour is a franchise fixture who captained Carolina to the 2006 Cup and won the Jack Adams Award as the league's top coach in 2021, saying it was “hard for me to envision doing this anywhere else.” And he dismissed the idea that Carolina's approach could be better built for regular-season success — Carolina ranked second in the NHL over the last four seasons with 420 points — than winning the Cup.

“We're knocking on the door,” Brind'Amour said. "I can tell you what: I'd rather be knocking on the door than be two houses down, which is where we've been, we were, for a long time. ... I believe in the way we do things. And the best thing about it is the guys in there believe it.

“So we're going to be sharper. We're going to try to obviously continue to get better. But I don't think we need to change a bunch of things.”

Guentzel's arrival was viewed as a final-piece move for this season. He had 12 goals and 34 points in 28 regular-season and postseason games, but the 29-year-old will be one of the top names on the free-agency market.

“I’ve got a family now, so it’s a big part of it,” Guentzel said Saturday during end-of-season interviews. "It’s not just a decision for me, it’s for me and my family. ... There’s a lot of factors that go into it. But so far I’ve loved everything about this place.”

Among the RFAs, the 22-year-old Jarvis has quickly become a proven contributor with 33 goals this season and 13 playoff goals in his first three seasons. He also missed only one game all season despite playing through a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder nearly all year, then suffering a broken finger during the playoffs.

There's also Necas, a 2017 first-round pick who has blossomed into an offensively gifted forward and is just 25. Waddell called him “an exceptionally skilled player that has a lot more to give," and shrugged off a report out of Europe in which Necas' father said his son would prefer to be traded.

The UFA forwards will be Teuvo Teravainen, 29, who has been a reliable secondary scoring option in eight seasons with the team; Stefan Noesen, 31, who provided dirty-work goals near the crease; and alternate captain Jordan Martinook, 31.

Defensively, Carolina's second pairing of Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei will both be UFAs, along with third-pairing blue-liner Jalen Chatfield. There's also Tony DeAngelo, who carried the seventh-defenseman role before taking over for an injured Pesce during Round 1 of the playoffs.

Carolina's top two goaltenders, Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov, are under contract.

There's an additional variable with the possibility of adding top prospect Alexander Nikishin, a left-handed defenseman in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Nikishin has led KHL blue-liners in points for two straight seasons and has 28 goals.

“I'm not going to say it's dead for this next year,” Waddell said. “We're still talking with the people we need to be chatting with. ... The goal is obviously to know before we get to free agency because he could be a big impact for our team.

“I think one way or another, we'll probably get him signed. And whether he's got a commitment to stay there or not for next year, that's what we've got to work out.”


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