With the NHL Draft and free agency fast approaching, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell has been a busy man and will soon be busier.
Waddell said Tuesday that he planned to meet with Sebastian Aho’s agent at the draft next week in Vancouver. Both the team and the center would like to agree on a long-term contract, but at what price? Seven million dollars a year? Eight? Nine? More?
“There’s still some real negotiating to be done,” Waddell said.
Aho, a restricted free agent, is coming off a 30-goal, 53-assist season, helping lift the Canes into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009. He was named an NHL All-Star for the first time. He’s highly marketable and a fan favorite. That’s some nice negotiating leverage for the 21-year-old forward from Finland.
But Waddell and the Canes have players due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1 if not re-signed, among them team captain Justin Williams, forward Micheal Ferland and goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney.
Williams said after the Canes’ playoff run ended in the Eastern Conference finals that he would take time to unwind and reflect -- on the season and his career -- before deciding whether to retire or continue to play. At 37, he has three Stanley Cup rings and financial security, signing a two-year, $9 million deal in July 2017 when he returned to the Canes as a free agent.
Waddell said no decision had been made by Williams, noting Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour had been talking with his good friend and teammate on the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup champs. Waddell said there would be other conversations with Williams at the NHL Awards next week in Las Vegas -- Williams is a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award -- and that Williams, if he does play, would stay with the Canes, not move to another team.
Waddell, in his end-of-season press conference on May 21, said that the team’s preference would be to agree to new deals with both Mrazek and McElhinney, who combined to give the Canes enough consistent and quality goal-tending to reach the playoffs.
“With both guys, that’s still our goal,” Waddell said Tuesday. “If a deal makes sense, we will get that done but there’s still work to be done.”
The goalies’ asking prices are not known. Mrazek came to Carolina last year as a free agent, his one-year deal paying him $1.5 million. McElhinney, claimed on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs in early October, earned $850,000.
Both should be asking for substantial increases. Mrazek, 27, finished with a 2.39 GAA and .914 percentage in the regular season while McElhinney, who turned 36 on May 23, had a 2.58 GAA and .912 save percentage.
The Edmonton Oilers signed goalie Mikko Koskinen, due to become a UFA on July 1, to a three-year extension with an annual cap hit of $4.5 million. Koskinen finished the season with a 2.93 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.
Waddell stressed that every situation, like every NHL market, is different. Former Canes forward Jeff Skinner, after scoring a career-high 40 goals last season with the Buffalo Sabres, recently signed an eight-year deal worth $9 million a season with the Sabres. But again, Skinner was to be a UFA on July 1 if the Sabres could not get him under contract.
“We have made it clear that everyone’s revenue is different around the league,” Waddell said. “Our contracts can’t be based on another team’s economics but on our own economics.”
Waddell said the team had held no conversations with Ferland, a part of the Canes’ megatrade with the Calgary Flames last June, indicating Ferland would become a UFA on July 1. Ferland’s first season with the Canes had a strong start and he added some needed toughness to the lineup, but his production later dipped because of injuries.
The Canes also have a number of non-player contracts expiring at the end of June. That includes Waddell, who serves as president and general manager.
John Forslund, the Canes’ long-time television play-by-play man, and TV analyst Tripp Tracy could soon be signed to new contracts, Waddell said.
Tony MacDonald, long the Canes’ director of amateur scouting, will retire after the draft next week, Waddell said.
As for Waddell, he said owner Tom Dundon has asked him to stay on as president and GM, saying of a new contract, “We’ll figure it out.”