Ryan Dzingel was on the free-agent market a little longer than some expected, then signed for less than some expected.
The Carolina Hurricanes announced Friday that the forward had agreed to a two-year contract that will pay him $3.25 million next season and $3.5 million in 2020-21.
Why the Canes? It wasn’t just the money offered, Dzingel said Friday, but also the chance to join a team coming off a Stanley Cup playoff run, a team with an uptempo offensive style under coach Rod Brind’Amour that he prefers.
“He likes his wingers to get going and fly out of the zone and that’s what I love to do,” Dzingel said in a media conference call. “I love to use my speed. That’s one of my best attributes. That’s one of the biggest reasons I think I’ll fit in."
A former seventh-round draft pick by the Ottawa Senators, Dzingel scored a career-high 26 goals last season, continuing an upward trend in his first three full NHL seasons -- he had 14 goals in 2016-17 and 23 in 2017-18. He also had career-best in assists (30) and points (56) this past season.
Dzingel, 27, has a career shooting percentage of 15 percent in 268 regular-season games and it’s higher five-on-four. While his defense has been questioned at times, he can find the net and should help a Canes power play that was woefully inconsistent last season.
“I like to think I can do it all but at the same time I understand I’m a finisher,” he said. “I put myself in situations to get open and use my shot.
“My speed and my shot are two things that I rely on the most. I like to do it all and don’t want to be one-dimensional. I want to keep growing and that’s why I don’t want to say I’m just a shooter but I believe actually that’s what I am. I’m a shooter.”
But Dzingel’s production slowed last season after the Feb. 23 trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who acquired the former Ohio State All-American to help them get to the playoffs. The Blue Jackets made it, claiming the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. They then pulled off the stunner of the playoffs, knocking out the Tampa Bay Lightning in four games, before losing to the Boston Bruins in the second round.
Dzingel’s playoff contribution was negligible: one goal in nine games. That was his only point. It also could have raised questions heading into free agency after the Blue Jackets took a pass on him and resulted in a shorter term, at a lower salary, than was being speculated in NHL circles before July 1.
“I’m not quite sure,” Dzingel said. “Obviously it took a little longer than I wanted. But any time you get traded to a new team, especially during the season you’re trying to fit in and help the team out. They have their go-to guys and I was trying to complement them.
“I wish I had done more for them and for Columbus while I was there but I’m not looking back on that, only looking forward.”
Dzingel said he talked with Canes owner Tom Dundon, general manager Don Waddell and Brind’Amour before signing. He liked what he heard -- about the team, the system, the city, the hockey market.
“They said we don’t have a top six, we have a top nine,” Dzingel said. “They said we’re not going to tell you who you’re going to play with, you’ll have to earn it, and that’s what I’ve done my whole career. I was a seventh-rounder. I was cut by a lot of teams as a kid. I was doubted my whole life. I compete and work hard and that’s what I liked to hear from the head coach.
As to where he might best fit in the lineup, Dzingel said, “All four of the centers are dynamic and they’re skilled and I think I can complement any of the centers.”
With Dzingel’s signing the Canes have about $7 million in salary-cap space, according to CapFriendly.com. They’re still waiting to see if captain Justin Williams returns or decides to retire, and have yet to sign restricted free agent forwards Brock McGinn and Saku Maenalanen and defenseman Haydn Fleury to contracts.
A native of Wheaton, Ill., Dzingel is happy to have the process at an end.
“It was my first time in free agency so it was a little bit different for me and a good learning experience,” he said. “I’m beyond excited. I think playing with another chip on my shoulder and taking a two-year deal is going to help me play better and work even harder.”