Hurricanes GM Don Waddell eyes 2023-24 NHL season, player extensions, getting ‘heavier’

Tribune Content Agency

RALEIGH, N.C. — Don Waddell doesn’t sound like a man ready to make major changes to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Waddell, the Canes’ president and general manager, noted Wednesday that the team had the second-best record in the NHL in 2022-23, won a third consecutive divisional title, reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for a fifth straight season and played before sellout crowds at PNC Arena much of the year.

Yes, the Hurricanes did lose in the Eastern Conference final to the Florida Panthers, losing four straight close games. There will be no Stanley Cup championship.

“We started this thing five years ago and our ultimate goal is to win a championship, and we took what I believe is another big step toward that,” Waddell said at a news conference at PNC Arena. “Injuries are a part of the game and unfortunately we got into a series where we needed some goal scorers and couldn’t come up with enough goals.

“You’re always disappointed when you don’t win the Cup. You can’t ever be satisfied. When you look at what we went through and some of the adversity of the year and how it turned out for us, it’s quite a lot of accomplishments we have to be proud about.”

Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who joined Waddell at the press conference, called the season “phenomenal” with the caveat of having “one bad week” at the end against the Panthers.

“As a whole, I don’t know how you could have a better year,” Brind’Amour said. “We’ve still got that one thing out there we’ve got to accomplish, and everyone knows it.”

There are needs to be addressed, Waddell said. He said he’d like to see the Canes get “a little heavier.” He again mentioned additional goal scoring, although he did not commit to re-signing Max Pacioretty.

The 34-year-old forward arrived in Raleigh after a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights, only to tear his Achilles tendon twice — before and then during the season. Pacioretty, who has scored 30 or more goals in a season six times in his career, played just five games for the Hurricanes.

“Pacioretty has obviously gone through a lot and we don’t know what the future will hold there,” Waddell said.

Goaltenders Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta both are due to become unrestricted free agents. Waddell and the Canes made a bold move two years ago, switching out goalies Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer for Andersen and Raanta, and have gotten solid goaltending from the two, both in their 30s with a string of injury issues.

“Both goalies want to come back,” Waddell said. “We just want to make sure we do our due diligence, not only on our guys but in making sure we know what the options are.”

There are other pending UFAs such as Jordan Staal, the Canes captain, and forwards Jesper Fast, Paul Stastny and Derek Stepan, and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.

Team owner Tom Dundon, in an interview Tuesday with the News & Observer, said re-signing Staal and Fast are among the immediate priorities.

“We really like our team,” Waddell said Wednesday. “We want to bring back most of the guys on our hockey club, but you’re always looking to add some areas we think we can be better at. We don’t have a lot of holes but we have some areas we’d like to address if possible.

“If we can add the right pieces that could fit to this lineup we certainly will do that. The good news is we have plenty of cap space. Cap space is not an issue, although it could be two years from now when we have a lot of players up. But we do have a lot of (salary) cap space to work with and a lot of teams are in cap jail.”

Forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, and defensemen Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce will be in the final year of their contracts in 2023-24. Dundon said he’d like to sign Aho to an eight-year deal, calling it a “top, top priority.”

“We have a plan in place but we have not started negotiations yet,” Waddell said.

Brind’Amour stressed Wednesday that any new additions to the team — through trades and free agency, which starts July 1 — must be the “right fit” for the Hurricanes.

“We can say we’ll bring in a pure goal scorer, but if he doesn’t fit, it’s not going to make us better,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s all about people, and the guys we bring in have to fit and be a part of what we’re trying to do here.”

Of note …

The Canes have signed forward Justin Robidas to a three-year, entry-level contract. The deal will begin in 2023-24 and will pay Robidas $775,000 at the NHL level and $80,000 at the AHL level. He receives a signing bonus of $150,000.

Robidas, 20, had 25 goals and 53 assists in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League games with Val-d’Or and Quebec this season. He is currently playing with Quebec at the Memorial Cup tournament in Kamloops, British Columbia.

He was a fifth-round draft pick by the Canes in 2021.