Without defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Canes take a defense-by-committee approach

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Coaches often talk about replacing a key player “by committee.”

Expect to hear it again.

The Carolina Hurricanes lost defenseman Dougie Hamilton in free agency. The new “committee” will include defensemen Ian Cole, Ethan Bear and Brendan Smith.

And, yes, Tony DeAngelo.

The Canes signed Cole, Smith and DeAngelo as free agents and traded for Bear. It’s an interesting group that has a player with two Stanley Cup rings (Cole), an Indigenous player (Bear) who has dealt with stereotypes and slurs, and someone whose past includes a suspension in junior hockey for using a slur at a teammate (DeAngelo).

‘Never judge a book by its cover’

Bear, 24, said Friday that coming to a team that added DeAngelo was not concerning despite the firestorm DeAngelo’s signing caused among many Canes fans.

“I’m looking forward to playing with Tony,” Bear said on a media call. “I never judge a book by its cover. I always believe everyone deserves a second chance. He actually messaged me yesterday, so I really appreciate that from him.

“You never know. You never know what’s going to happen. It could be really good. He seems excited and I’m excited. When I first saw that (DeAngelo signing), it didn’t really pop in my head at all as a worry or a concern. I know he’s a very good player, so I think it will be good.”

The Canes need it to be good. Hamilton, fourth in the 2021 Norris Trophy voting, scored 42 goals and had 79 assists in his 184 games with the Canes over three seasons. He was in the top defensive pairing with Jaccob Slavin, and anchored the top power-play unit. He was an NHL All-Star.

Hamilton did seem to come up small in the playoffs for the Canes, but the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning stress defensemen to the breaking point, and can do that to a guy. Bottom line: Hamilton leaving Carolina is a big loss.

Minnesota Wild defenseman Carson Soucy (21) and defenseman Ian Cole (28) reach for the puck during the second period of Game 2 of the team’s first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Minnesota Wild defenseman Carson Soucy (21) and defenseman Ian Cole (28) reach for the puck during the second period of Game 2 of the team’s first-round NHL hockey playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

A winning culture

Cole, who signed a one-year contract for $2.9 million, has known playoff success. He was a part of two Cup-winning teams with the Pittsburgh Penguins. A former first-round draft pick by St. Louis, he has 595 games of regular-season experience and been in 96 playoff games.

“In my career, winning hockey games and trying to win a Stanley Cup is really the only goal,” Cole said Friday. “I wanted to go to as good a team as I could possibly be on.”

For Cole, 32, that was the Canes, a team he said was “certainly on the cusp.”

Cole said he also liked the thought of playing on a team coached by Rod Brind’Amour. That was a selling point: three years as head coach, three playoff appearances, and now Brind’Amour claiming the 2021 Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach.

“You hear about the culture he’s grown with the team and his commitment to the team and that’s really appealing to me,” Cole said. “I think to have that sustained success over the course of multiple seasons and playoffs you need to have that commitment to the team. I think to have a guy at the helm of the team like Rod, who had all the skill in the world but also the intangibles and the leadership, is a fantastic situation to come into.”

Brind’Amour has a new defensive assistant coach to hire after Dean Chynoweth left after the season. The system should remain much the same, with the Canes’ D-men playing aggressively and looking to ignite a quick offensive transition.

The defensive pairs, with Hamilton gone and Jake Bean traded, could have Brett Pesce rejoining Slavin. Brady Skjei could play with DeAngelo — the two former New York Rangers together — and Cole with Bear, the vet and the young guy.

That would give Brind’Amour three lefty-righty combinations on D. Jake Gardiner remains with the Canes, perhaps as the seventh defenseman. Smith, another former Ranger, has more than 500 games of NHL experience and adds depth.

‘Competitive, compassionate’

The Canes traded forward Warren Foegele to the Edmonton Oilers to get Bear, who has one year left on his contract and a $2 million cap hit. Bear, who is of Cree descent, spent most of his career in Western Canada, playing in the Western Hockey League and then with the Oilers.

Bear said this past season had unexpected challenges. “Just a lot of bad bounces,” he called it.

The worst: Bear was sitting on the bench one day and hit in the head by a puck. He suffered from concussion issues much of February and it took time to recover and regain his form.

“I’m a competitive, compassionate guy,” Bear said. “I work hard, I battle hard, I’m all smiles and I’m always having fun.

“I wanted to come to a winning organization with a young core. For me, it kind of gives me butterflies. It’s something that I’ve always wanted and it’s something I needed right now. I can’t wait.”

Canes signings

The Canes on Friday signed defenseman Jalen Chatfield to a one-year, two-way contract that pays $750,000 at the NHL level and $225,000 at the AHL level. Chatfield, 25, played 18 NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks last season.

Also signed was forward Sam Miletic, who recoeved to a one-year, two-way contract that will pay $750,000 at the NHL level and $85,000 at the AHL level. Miletic, 24, played 21 AHL games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2020-21.