Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour has a new-look team, and a fresh challenge ahead
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes signed forward Andrei Svechnikov to an eight-year contract extension, surprising some with the length of the term.
They signed free agent forward Derek Stepan, goalies Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, defenseman Ian Cole and much-discussed defender Tony DeAngelo. They also traded for defenseman Ethan Bear.
Finally, in a bold move, the Hurricanes signed Montreal's Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet, obtaining the young center after the Canadiens said Saturday they would not match the offer for the restricted free agent.
That's a lot of offseason legwork. It will give the Canes a new look, and will have coach Rod Brind'Amour busy during preseason training camp as the Canes gear up for the 2021-22 season and a return to the Metropolitan Division.
"That's just the nature of it, I think," Brind'Amour said in a recent interview. "In today's landscape that's kind of how it goes. In a perfect world, you don't have to make changes, but that's part of it. We're always adapting.
"I think the key was the Andrei signing and trying to keep the core group intact. That was the objective while bringing in quality pieces that we need. Every team is trying to do that, but this year we've got a huge challenge because there are a lot of new faces that we hope can all fit the role that we're bringing them in to do."
Kotkaniemi is an unexpected new face. Canes president and general manager Don Waddell had said the team was looking to add another top-nine forward before the season but few on the outside believed it might come through an offer sheet.
No NHL player had changed teams because of an offer sheet since 2007, when forward Dustin Penner went from the Anaheim Ducks to the Edmonton Oilers when the Ducks did not match the Oilers' offer.
The Canes' offer sheet to Kotkaniemi — one year, for $6,100,015 and a $20 bonus — was made Aug. 28 among much social-media trolling and merriment, the Hurricanes making an announcement in French on their team Twitter account. It ended Saturday, the deadline for a Montreal decision, with both teams issuing three-paragraph press releases.
The Canadiens let Kotkaniemi, 21, walk and accepted first- and third-round picks in the 2022 NHL draft from the Canes. The Habs then worked a deal to acquire forward Christian Dvorak of the Arizona Coyotes, easing some anxiety in their fan base.
Brind'Amour likes to mull over line combinations in the offseason like others dwell on their daily crossword puzzles. Now he has someone with 10 letters in his name to go down the middle — another center in the mix.
Or winger. Waddell said Sunday on a media call that Kotkaniemi "probably" would be used at left wing this season. Kotkaniemi has played on the wing with the Canadiens during three NHL seasons, spending some games in the abbreviated 2020-2021 season at wing on a line centered by Phillip Danault.
One could see Brind'Amour opening with Sebastian Aho centering Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen on the top line, and Vincent Trocheck centering a line with Kotkaniemi on the left side and Martin Necas at right wing. Captain Jordan Staal could have Nino Niederreiter and Jesper Fast on his wings, and Stepan could be the fourth-line center with Jordan Martinook and Josh Leivo as his wingers.
Kotkaniemi also could slot in on the Staal line with Fast, with Niederreiter playing with Trocheck. Kotkaniemi can easily slot on the power play, making good use of his 6-foot-2, 201-pound frame and play-making ability.
"We know his skill level. We know what he brings to the table," Waddell said Sunday. "We were looking to add to our top group. To be able to add a player like Jesperi at 21 years old, who will only continue to get better, we feel very fortunate about that."
The defensive pairings should be interesting. With Dougie Hamilton gone to the New Jersey Devils in free agency, does Brind'Amour reunite Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce as his top pair? He could have Brady Skjei and DeAngelo as his second D pairing, and Cole and Bear as a third pair.
Some have speculated Brind'Amour might have Slavin with DeAngelo, a right-handed shooter who in theory can replace Hamilton and some of the offensive production lost. Talk about opposites. Slavin, an alternate captain for the Canes, won the NHL's 2021 Lady Byng Trophy for good play and gentlemanly behavior, DeAngelo has had a number of problems on and off the ice during his hockey career.
The Canes will have former defenseman Tim Gleason heading up their D-men after Gleason was hired this past week as an assistant coach to replace the departed Dean Chynoweth. Gleason is a tough, no-nonsense type who should work well with the new D corps.
Andersen and Raanta, who have played 591 NHL regular-season game and won 319 between them, replace Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer in net. Will the goaltending hold up? Time will tell.
"We had a lot of changes this year and some changes we feel really good about," Waddell said Sunday. "With this latest addition (Kotkaniemi) we feel we're really good up front, and we think we strengthened our back end with some of the new additions. Obviously we went into the goalie market knowing we wanted more experience and we came out of there getting that we wanted.
"I think overall we've got to prepare. As we approach training camp and the season I think we feel really good about our hockey club."