Less than a week before the start of NHL free agency, the Carolina Hurricanes still have as many questions as answers.
Will either goalie Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney sign a new contract with the team?
Will captain Justin Williams retire or return next season, and how long can the Canes wait on an answer?
How much longer will it take to sign Sebastian Aho and are there concerns another NHL team could issue an offer sheet for the star Finnish center?
Where does goalie Anton Forsberg, obtained Monday in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, fit into the goaltending plans?
Canes general manager Don Waddell tried to bring some clarity to the situation Tuesday during a media conference call.
If not re-signed, Mrazek and McElhinney both will become unrestricted free agents on July 1, when free agency begins. Waddell said talks continue with both but noted, “It has been daily conversations with Mrazek and not so much with Curtis.”
“I’m still optimistic about signing a No. 1 goalie and Petr certainly is in the mix as we speak,” Waddell said.
Waddell said Forsberg, a backup for the Blackhawks, was recommended by Paul Schonfelder, the Canes’ minor-league goalie consultant who has worked with Forsberg in the past and is one of many candidates to replace Mike Bales as the Canes’ goaltending coach.
“We can create great, great competition for that position, which is not a bad thing and we’ll also be covered were we to run into any kind of injuries as the season progresses,” Waddell said.
Scott Darling will no longer be in that goaltending mix. Darling, signed to a four-year contract in 2017, could be bought out, Waddell said, adding the team also is looking at other options. “I’d say we’re leaning a little more toward buying him out at this point, probably more than before,” Waddell said.
Waddell said all of the Canes’ restricted free agents would receive qualifying offers, including forwards Brock McGinn and Saku Maenalanen. Forwards Greg McKegg and Patrick Brown will become UFAs on July 1 but Waddell said conversations are being held with the players about new contracts.
Aho is a restricted free agent but the team would like to get the Canes’ leading scorer and All-Star forward signed to a long-term deal. Waddell said again Tuesday that he talked with Aho’s agent and had a “great discussion” during last week’s draft in Vancouver, and that the talks would continue later this week.
“I have confidence we’ll get him signed ... before we start training camp,” Waddell said.
Waddell said any talk of Aho or other young NHL stars getting offer sheets was a subject being “overblown by the media” and said in Aho’s case, “We can and we would match any offer made to us and we’ve made that real clear.”
Waddell also said he had “good talks” with Justin Faulk’s agent in Vancouver. The defenseman is entering the last year of his contract before becoming a UFA but Waddell said he did not feel any urgency to get a new deal done quickly or any need to trade him.
Trading defenseman Calvin de Haan to Chicago should add to the need to keep Faulk in the lineup this season. The trade brought back Forsberg, defenseman Gustav Forsling from the Blackhawks but Waddell said it was a tough call to make, noting de Haan’s steady play and popularity among his teammates.
Waddell said there is no rush to get a decision from Williams, who will turn 38 in early October, about his plans. Nor, he said, would that have an adverse effect on the Canes’ approach to free agency or approach to the 2019-2020 season.
“If Justin comes back obviously there will be a spot there for him but if not we have a bunch of young players who will able to compete for that job,” Waddell said.
John Forslund, the Canes’ longtime TV play-by-play man, and analyst Tripp Tracy both have contracts expiring at the end of June but Waddell said both should return.
Asked if he had received a new contract from team owner Tom Dundon to continue as GM and president, Waddell quipped, “Tom gave me a lifetime contract so I’m good to go. He told me I could be the GM until I was 70 years old and my answer to him was ‘I don’t know if I could be the GM until I’m 70 working for you, Tom.”