June 25, 2024

The Hurricanes will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason by any measure. After getting bounced in the second round by the Rangers, not only is the future of head coach Rod Brind’Amour in question, but they have multiple pending unrestricted free agents who would be among the top 20 names on the market should they not be re-signed before July 1.

One of them is blue-liner Brett Pesce, whose season ended in Game 2 of the first round against the Islanders after sustaining a lower-body injury. The top-four staple in Raleigh for nearly a decade could very well have played his last game for the Canes, notes Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Friday’s edition of “32 Thoughts”.

“Pesce didn’t seem likely. They kinda told him what they were willing to do last year,” Friedman said. “I think it was in the (five years, $5M AAV) range. It didn’t work. I don’t know that it’s changed.”

Early into the extension-eligible period for their 2024 UFAs, reports indicated the Hurricanes weren’t close to extensions with any of them aside from franchise center Sebastian Aho, who inked the richest contract in franchise history last July. That included Pesce, who most expected Carolina to trade before the season to avoid letting him walk for nothing. He was even allowed to discuss extensions with other teams last summer, but Friedman confirmed during training camp that he’d been taken off the trade block by general manager Don Waddell.

It wasn’t the wisest decision for Pesce, who’s coming off arguably his worst campaign since his rookie season. His 0.19 points per game were a career-low, his 20:17 average per game was the lowest since 2015-16 and his possession metrics checked in right around the team average in both shot attempts and expected goals.

After a lengthy run of being one of the better two-way defenders in the league, though, he’s still likely in line to earn a slightly richer deal than what Carolina is offering him. Evolving Hockey projects him to land a six-year deal on the open market with a roughly $5.5M cap hit.

Friedman also believes that forward Martin Nečas, now a restricted free agent after completing a two-year, $6M bridge deal, could have his signing rights traded this summer, saying he doesn’t think Carolina will do “what Nečas wants to do.” The Hurricanes are expected to prioritize re-signing trade deadline pickup Jake Guentzel, the best left wing available on the pending UFA market. He also notes that Seth Jarvis, an RFA like Necas, has surpassed him on the depth chart internally and is more of a financial priority long-term.

Nečas is eligible for salary arbitration this summer, so they may need to execute a sign-and-trade or allow him to negotiate with other clubs. Opening the possibility for Nečas to force an acquiring team to arbitration could lower his trade value.

The 2017 12th-overall pick took a considerable step back this season, posting 24 goals and 53 points in 77 games after recording a career-high 71 in 82 last season. The Czech winger hasn’t historically been a positive possession force on a deep Hurricanes forward group, either, although he was good in playoff action this year with four goals and five assists in 11 games.

Any team acquiring Nečas would only be able to sign him to a seven-year deal if they wanted to go for the maximum term since he was on Carolina’s reserve list at the trade deadline, although it could be an eight-year deal via a sign-and-trade. Evolving Hockey projects that as the most likely outcome with a $7.5M cap hit.

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