Luke DeCock: Carolina Hurricanes owner weighs in on the team’s offseason plans

Tribune Content Agency

Even with a week to digest the unappetizing finish, Carolina Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon still can’t believe how the team lost. The Stanley Cup finals will go on without them Saturday, despite outplaying the Florida Panthers in all four games in every metric except the only one that matters.

The owner’s takeaway from that unlikely sweep: Let’s run it back again.

That means going to quick work on new contracts for Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei (more or less in that order of priority), and giving strong consideration to bringing back most of the Hurricanes’ unrestricted free agents, with Staal and Jesper Fast atop that list, Dundon said.

Because as bizarre as the finish may have been, the Hurricanes like their odds of getting back to that point.

“You have to look at all 97 games we played,” Dundon said Tuesday. “The last four I actually thought we played pretty well in most of them and didn’t win. You’re going to tweak around the edges but I don’t want to overreact and get worse. It’s hard to get better from where we are. It’s easier to get worse.”

While general manager Don Waddell and coach Rod Brind’Amour will meet with the media on Wednesday for the annual public debriefing, some of the offseason goals are already clear beyond a reasonable doubt in the owner’s mind.

On a contract extension for Aho, who has a year to run left on his deal: “We want to get him on an eight-year deal, done as soon as possible. It’s a top, top priority. I think we’re on the same page. It’s kind of his team now.”

On bringing back Staal, who presumably will have to take less than the $6 million he made this season at age 34: “I think it gets done quickly. We want to keep him here.”

And on the goaltending situation, where Pyotr Kochetkov is under contract for a cool $2 million next year and Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta are both unrestricted free agents but not out of the picture: “I would consider bringing both goalies back and keeping all three, because Pyotr still has waivers. We’re either going to get zero, one or two of them back.”

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen packs up his equipment after doing end-of-season interviews on Friday, May 26, 2023 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Carolina Hurricanes goalie Frederik Andersen packs up his equipment after doing end-of-season interviews on Friday, May 26, 2023 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Willett

Of the players with a year left on their contracts, Pesce and Skjei are the top priorities, but long-term deals with players approaching 30 can be tricky, especially as the Hurricanes’ cap situation will become more cramped as Aho, Jaccob Slavin and Martin Necas get new deals. Necas has one year to go, but will be a restricted free agent; Slavin has two years left on his contract.

“Starting in the next year or two it gets really hard,” Dundon said. “We’ve got to be careful.”

But Dundon said the departures of Max Pacioretty and Ondrej Kase after injury-ruined seasons will open up roster spots that weren’t available last fall, which could mean there’s still room for older free agents like Paul Stastny and Derek Stepan.

“I’m sincere,” Dundon said. “Everybody on our team this year, we would be happy to bring back. We were a 113-point team this year. That’s pretty good.”

It’s never that simple, of course. Someone like Shayne Gostisbehere may be able to cash in on the open market, younger players may become available in free agency, Teuvo Teravainen’s contract situation may make this the best summer to move him and the Hurricanes couldn’t have foreseen getting Pacioretty for nothing at this time last year.

Capitalizing on other teams’ cap misfortune is a Hurricanes offseason tradition, although they’ll have substantially less of their own cap space to play with this time around.

But Dundon’s message is clear, from Aho on down: This worked, even if it ended poorly. The Hurricanes have the opportunity to bring back most, if not all, of this team. As far as the owner is concerned, this group has earned another chance.