The old saying is that defense wins championships and that will be no truer if the Carolina Hurricanes can win the Stanley Cup in the near future. The defensive position is arguably the deepest on the roster.
The one problem on defense from a managerial standpoint is that no one has a contract past the 2024-25 season. For a team that is ready to win right now, that may seem very far but in reality it is not.
The more pressing point will be this summer to come with Brady Skjei, Brett Pesce, Tony DeAngelo and Jalen Chatfield becoming unrestricted free agents. The three remaining defensemen will become unrestricted free agents the following summer. Brent Burns will be turning 40 for any new, potential contract.
Fortunately for all the teams, the NHL salary cap ceiling should rise each of the next two seasons allowing some wiggle room. Unfortunately for the Canes, they are against the salary cap ceiling now and have more important free agents to retain this summer than the defensemen. Seth Jarvis, Martin Necas, and Jack Drury to name a few.
Don Waddell and his staff will need to prioritize these players before making contract offers. Pesce and Waddell already discussed an extension last summer but nothing came to fruition. I am not sure if that is an indication on whether Pesce is a priority this summer or not.
I think Skjei and Chatfield have to be the first to get a contract. Skjei is 29 and thriving under Rod Brind'Amour's system. The former New York Rangers draft pick can do it all with his strong skating. He has the offensive talent while being a strong presence in the defensive zone. A power-play asset, the Minnesota native, can put the puck in the net.
The thing with Chatfield is that he is young and affordable with a yearly cap hit of just $762,500. At just age 27, the Michigan native is due a big pay raise. He is coming into his own defensively and chipping in offensively here and there. His game is only going to improve.
With Skjei already making $5.25 million this year, the Canes will hope for a discount after his success and tenure with the team. Waddell may have to give him more years to offset the yearly salary cap hit.
The next move will most likely be to trade a player like Dmitry Orlov. He has under performed this year and has a large salary of $7.75 million next season. It may be time to part ways this off-season if the season continues in this direction.
To make room for other contracts, contenders like the Canes will have to play cheaper players in bigger spots to fit everyone. That time is coming on defense quicker than any Caniac would like.
With players like Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns getting up in age, it is more likely they will take less money to stay in Raleigh if the team is committed to winning. But that is never a guarantee.
Either way it will be extremely important to have Skjei and Chatfield locked up next season for the present and the future.