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Hurricanes prioritized this offseason, with nine players headed to unrestricted free agency

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Carolina Hurricanes hope to retain most of the nine players who could become unrestricted free agents on July 1.

“We’d love to sign them all,” general manager Don Waddell said Monday. “We have something good going on here, and we want to keep that going. There is something called the salary cap that doesn’t allow us to do that. We haven’t sat down and prioritized player by player, but we know we want to try to keep as much of our defense together as possible. We think we have one of the best D corps in the League.”

Chief among the UFAs is Jake Guentzel, a forward acquired in a March 7 trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Michael Bunting, three prospects, a conditional first-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and a conditional pick in the fifth round in the 2024 Draft.

“With Jake, I think he played a good role here,” Waddell said. “I know Sebastian (Aho) told me how much he enjoyed playing with him. We will talk to him too.”

Guentzel had 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 17 games after the trade and helped Carolina finish second in the Metropolitan Division (52-23-7). He had nine points (four goals, five assists) in eleven Stanley Cup Playoff games before the Hurricanes were eliminated by the New York Rangers with a 5–3 loss in Game 6 of the second round of the Eastern Conference.

“No. 1, he’s a great player,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We want good people who are good players, and he’s ticked both boxes. And in the short time he’s been here, I think he’s enjoyed the group and the way we do things, so that gives us hope that we might be able to make this work.” .”

Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei, who formed the second defensive pair, are other potential UFAs, including forwards Teuvo Teravainen, Stefan Noesen and Jordan Martinook, defensemen Jalen Chatfield and Tony DeAngelo, and goaltender Antti Raanta.

“Players play for a long time to go uncapped and figure out what the market is going to pay them,” Waddell said. “We’re hoping we can subvert that a little bit with some guys, but there’s definitely going to be guys going to unrestricted free agency on July 1.”

The Hurricanes will also look for a right center to play with Aho, Jordan Staal, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack Drury and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

“The depth of our centers is good, but they are all left-handed shots,” Waddell said. “We’d like to get a right-hand shot to balance out our left-hand shots. As we know, there’s just not a lot of those guys. If we could find one of those guys who can do faceoffs on the right side can win side, I think that’s what (Rod) would want.”

The Hurricanes used four goaltenders this season after Frederik Andersen missed 50 games due to blood clotting problems. Andersen, Pyotr Kochetkov and Spencer Martin are under contract for next season.

“They’re all under contract, but our goal is always to try to improve in any position,” Waddell said. “If there is something that makes sense for us, we have to explore it. Everyone has contracts. They will play somewhere, hopefully most of them here, but our job is to explore the possibilities.”

The Hurricanes’ efforts to bring defenseman Alexander Nikishin to the NHL before next season are a work in progress. The 22-year-old was selected in the third round (No. 69) of the 2020 NHL Draft. He had 56 points (17 goals, 39 assists) in 67 games for SKA of the Kontinental Hockey League.

“I’m not going to say it’s dead before next year,” Waddell said. “We are still talking to the people we need to talk to. We’re hoping for something somehow in the next three to four weeks.

“Before the draft we will have a good feeling if he comes out. The goal is obviously to know before we get to free agency because he can have a big impact for our team. One way or another we will get him probably suits.” signed, whether he has a commitment to stay (in Russia) or not, for next year.”