Dougie Hamilton’s next contract among big looming decisions for Hurricanes

Dougie Hamilton's next contract just one of big decisions for Hurricanes
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While the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t begun contract extension negotiations with star defenseman Dougie Hamilton, GM Don Waddell indicates that it’s a priority for the organization.

“We’re getting close to talking about it,” Waddell said on Thursday, according to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti. “Dougie’s not back here, yet. He’s still up in Toronto. He’s coming back here I think at the end of the week. … He is a UFA at the end of the year, so we’d like to get that one done sooner than later. That one, you would have doubts if you play out the season, so it makes sense to try to get something done before the start of the season.”

Hamilton’s reputation could grow with a strong contract year

It’s interesting that Waddell mentions that it might be better to hash out a contract extension with Hamilton, 27, before the 2020-21 season begins.

While there are pandemic-related reasons why both sides might want some cost certainty, being proactive could be wise. Frankly, the Hurricanes might be better off signing Hamilton now — while at least some in the hockey world are still unsure about his talent — rather than risking a value-boosting season.

After all, Hamilton had a decent shot at at least being a Norris Trophy finalist before getting injured in 2019-20. (All things considered, finishing seventh is impressive.)

When it comes to certain high-scoring defensemen, mainstream voters sometimes need time to realize their value. Recall, for instance, how Shea Theodore only recently went from an analytics darling to a more widely praised blueliner.

In the case of Hamilton, some gravitate toward silly narratives. There were rumblings about being afraid of contact with Alex Ovechkin during a series the Hurricanes ultimately won during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following being traded from the Flames, there were goofy murmurs about Hamilton opting for museums over bro time.

For some, Hamilton’s brilliance has only been recently realized. Interestingly, the underlying numbers indicate that Hamilton’s really just been this good for a long time, and the Flames maybe shouldn’t have traded him. Consider his strong 2019-20 by Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts, versus an even stronger outlook stretching back to his Flames’ days.

So, yeah … another season could mean a year where Hamilton wins a Norris Trophy. You can imagine how that would drive Hamilton’s asking price through the roof.

Could Hamilton get the term he likely craves?

Beyond discussing the pros of being proactive with a Dougie Hamilton extension, Waddell also commented on the flat salary cap. In doing so, Waddell nudged toward the possibility of keeping Hamilton’s term from being too lengthy.

“You’ve got a flat cap for the next two years, we know that,” Waddell said. “We also know that the market’s changed. I’m not saying we’re not going to do a long-term deal, but the long-term deals, if you look at free agency, you’ve only got a few guys that got more than three years in the whole market. … So I think the market has changed and it should change because of the situation we’re all in.”

On one hand, it’s true that the market is challenging. On the other hand, defensemen seemed to be the only free agents who really commanded term.

Alex Pietrangelo received the sort of mega-deal Taylor Hall likely wanted. While it’s easier to compute Pietrangelo and Krug getting serious term, it’s telling that teams handed term even to lesser defensemen. If Christopher Tanev, Dylan DeMelo, Joel Edmundson, and others receive significant term, why wouldn’t Hamilton?

Still, it’s smart that the Hurricanes at least want to nudge the conversation to something more manageable. Just about everyone pictures Hamilton getting a big raise from his bargain $5.75 million cap hit, but Carolina could limit risks by giving him bigger money and smaller term.

Being that Hamilton’s already been traded twice in his productive career, he’ll likely seek security in whatever his next contract looks like.

Dougie Hamilton contract extension talks Hurricanes Ovechkin chirping
(Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hamilton contract extension just one of Hurricanes’ key upcoming decisions

Again, it’s smart that a somewhat cost-conscious franchise like the Hurricanes is at least trying to nudge the conversation away from giving Hamilton term.

One way or another, the franchise faces some big forks in the road.

Along with Hamilton entering a contract year, Andrei Svechnikov‘s entry-level deal will expire after 2020-21. As mentioned before, Svechnikov is a rising star whose stature is only likely to grow. Read up here for an in-depth argument on the Hurricanes extending Svechnikov as soon as possible.

(For what it’s worth, Waddell also told Gulitti that he hopes to extend Svechnikov. Eventually.)

Even beyond figuring out what’s next for two stars, the Hurricanes perpetual goalie questions also demand answers. Both James Reimer (32, $3.4M) and Petr Mrazek (28, $3.125M) enter contract years for 2020-21.

Will the Hurricanes make their first truly major goalie splurge since being burned by the Scott Darling contract? Maybe after next season. (Frankly, it was a tad bit disappointing that Carolina didn’t dip into the robust goalie market this go around. Oh well.)

Not every looming deadline warrants spooky music, mind you. Chance are, the Hurricanes will either upgrade in net, or at least not spend more than $6.5M on a “meh” duo. And similarly “meh” money will come off the books, what with Ryan Dzingel ($3.375M) and the ghost of Alexander Semin’s buyout ($2.233M) set to expire after 2020-21.

Can the Hurricanes strike the right notes with Hamilton, Svechnikov, goalies, and other decisions? Finding the right answers could make the difference between continuing this run of close-but-no-cigar versus finally breaking through.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.