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What’s next for the Carolina Hurricanes? Coach, GM address uncertain offseason ahead

As president and general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, Don Waddell’s first order of offseason business was getting coach Rod Brind’Amour’s contract extension completed.

That now done, Brind’Amour agreeing to a multi-year contract, Waddell can turn his attention to a plethora of other matters that he and Brind’Amour discussed Monday at an end-of-season press conference.

Among them:

Deciding which of the pending unrestricted free agents to try and re-sign, and which to allow to test free agency on July 1.

Working out a deal that could bring in defenseman Alexander Nikishin, an emerging star in Russia’s KHL.

Finding a center who is a right-handed shot, something missing in the Canes’ lineup this season.

“The No. 1 priority for us was to make sure Rod was taken care of,” said Waddell, who did not disclose the length of the extension.

Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour talks to his team during a timeout late in the third period of the Hurricanes’ 5-3 victory over the Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 22, 2024.
Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour talks to his team during a timeout late in the third period of the Hurricanes’ 5-3 victory over the Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 22, 2024.

A coach and his system

Brind’Amour’s sixth season as head coach included a 52-win regular season and second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. The Canes played an entertaining brand of hockey and played it before sellout crowds all season at home in PNC Arena.

Again, for the sixth straight season, the Stanley Cup playoffs brought disappointment. There was an ending many might believe was premature — the second-round loss in six games to the New York Rangers, the Metro winners and a team Brind’Amour again referred to Monday as the best in the league this season.

What needs to be done to change that narrative?

“I think definitely block out the noise,” Brind’Amour said. “There is a lot of stuff being said. You see it and you hear it. You try not to. But I think it’s totally inaccurate, the perception of our group.

“I believe in this group and the way we do things. I look at this year. We had a great year. We played the best team in the league and we’re going toe to toe with them. Can we do things better? Of course.”

Brind’Amour mentioned the power play. The Canes were second in the NHL at 26.9% during the regular season, but 11th among playoff teams (19.4%) and pretty dismal against the Rangers.

“Was that the difference? Not really,” Brind’Amour said. “You break it down and there were a couple of other things that were glaring to me.

“We’re knocking on the door. I tell you what, I’d rather be knocking on the door than two houses down, which is where we were for a long time.”

Asked about possible “tweaks” to his system, Brind’Amour said he didn’t want to change much.

“I believe in the way we do things and the best thing about it is the guys believe it,” he said. “So we’re going to be sharper, we’re going to obviously try to be better, but I don’t think we need to change a bunch of things, And that’s the hard part … because we are knocking on the door and I like where we’re at.”

Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell answers questions during a media availability following practice on Wednesday, May 17, 2023 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.
Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell answers questions during a media availability following practice on Wednesday, May 17, 2023 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C.

Hurricanes roster turnover

The ”hard part” is roster management, and that’s for Waddell to handle. The list of pending UFAs is a long one: forwards Teuvo Teravainen, Jake Guentzel, Jordan Martinook and Stefan Noesen; defensemen Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce, Jalen Chatfield and Tony DeAngelo; and goalie Antti Raanta.

“We’d like to sign them all, but we’ve got this thing called the salary cap that won’t allow us to do that,” Waddell said, grinning. “We know we’d like to keep much of our D together. We have one of the best D corps in the league.”

Skjei said Saturday a “fair offer” was the most important thing to him while also adding, “We’ll see what that looks like.” That is, term and dollars. Pesce said the same.

Adding a new defensive wrinkle is the situation with Nikishin. The Canes drafted the defenseman in the third round, 68th overall, in 2020, aware that he was under contract in Russia and would be staying there to play.

Now 22, Nikishin has put in parts of five seasons in the KHL. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, he has the size to win defensive zone battles while also showing mobility and offensive flair — he had 17 goals and 56 points in 67 games this season.

Many believe Nikishin is NHL-caliber. Could he be headed to North America?

“It’s a work in progress,” Waddell said. “We’ve spent more time on this player, trying to get him out of Russia, than anybody else. It’s still a work in progress and I’m not going to say it’s dead for this next year. We’re still talking with the people we need to be chatting with.

“We’re hoping one way or another, some time in the next three or four weeks before the draft, we’ll have a good feeling if he’s coming. The goal obviously is to know before we hit free agency because he could have a big impact for our team.”