The Toronto Maple Leafs were reportedly in the mix and the New York Islanders would have loved to have him back, which is to say that Calvin de Haan, as the top rearguard left on the open market, most certainly had his suitors. But the 27-year-old blueliner made his free-agency decision Tuesday night, signing a four-year pact with the Carolina Hurricanes.
As far as the deal goes, it’s quite the take-home for de Haan and a clear sign of Carolina’s desire to insert the prime-aged defender into their lineup. Limited to just 33 games last season due to a shoulder injury, there was speculation he could come at a bargain and possibly even take a pay cut from the $3.3 million he was earning last season with the Islanders. The money on his new deal in Carolina, however, actually sees the defenseman get a healthy raise. He’ll earn $18.2 million over the lifetime of the contract, which works out to $4.55 million per season.
It’s a good investment for the Hurricanes, too. While there are questions about de Haan’s ability to stay healthy — and it really is a 50-50 proposition given he’s missed 76 games over the past four seasons — there’s no reason to doubt his ability to provide at both ends of the ice. A steady top-four rearguard throughout his past three seasons in New York, de Haan made noise during the 2016-17 campaign with five goals and 25 points in 82 games while averaging close to 20 minutes per night. That’s not to mention that he proved to be a capable and reliable hand in the defensive zone, often taking a heavier slant of own-zone starts and managing a positive possession rate compared to that of his teammates even if his overall rate was sub-50 percent.
And with the addition of de Haan, it would be fair to say that no other team has had an off-season quite as strong as Carolina in terms of improving the blueline, who are less than two weeks removed from adding Dougie Hamilton to the mix.
To acquire Hamilton, Carolina shipped youngsters Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm, both restricted free agents, to the Calgary Flames. What they received, though, is a blueliner who has finished top-15 in Norris Trophy voting in each of the past two seasons, along with prospect rearguard Adam Fox and forward Micheal Ferland. Hamilton immediately bolstered the blueline with the kind of top-tier rearguard that Carolina had quite frankly hoped Hanifin would be on his way to becoming by now, and the addition of the rangy 25-year-old brings not just a boost on the back end, where he’s rock-solid, but the kind of offense from the defense that teams so often seek. Hamilton has 30 goals and 94 points in 163 games over the past two seasons.
In bringing de Haan and Hamilton aboard, though, Carolina’s front office now faces a considerable conundrum. With Hamilton best utilized as a top-pairing defenseman, where his parter would most likely be Jaccob Slavin, and de Haan, who is being paid as a top-four rearguard, likely slotted in alongside Brett Pesce, it creates a scenario in which Justin Faulk becomes a nearly $5-million third-pairing defender. That would seem to suggest that something’s gotta give on the Hurricanes blueline. And it feels safe to say that something, if anything, is going to be Faulk.
That’s not some shocking revelation, of course. Faulk has been no stranger to the rumor mill over the past few seasons and chances are his name would have continued to crop up in trade discussions and reports even if the Hurricanes hadn’t added de Haan. But the addition of two top-four defenders seems as though it puts the writing on the wall for Faulk, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for Carolina.
Consider the attributes Faulk possesses. He’s a 26-year-old defenseman with a career average ice time of more than 23 minutes per game. He’s scored at a nearly half-point-per-game rate, can quarterback a power play, move the puck efficiently and skate his way out of trouble. Faulk is also — and this part is important — a right-shot, right-side defender. There are plenty of teams that would love to add exactly that kind of defenseman to their lineup next season. And the Hurricanes, well, they should be willing to listen to any and all offers on the blueliner.
After adding de Haan and Hamilton, what Carolina needs to bring aboard, more than anything, is some additional offense. Sure, both blueliners add a certain element of offense and second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov is going to get his shot at being a top contributor this coming season, but the Hurricanes had the ninth-lowest goal total of any team last season and their attack could use a jolt, particularly after losing a combined 31 goals and 82 points in the trade of Lindholm and Derek Ryan, who also headed to Calgary. Faulk can be the perfect bait to add a middle-six forward from a team desperate for some defending.
And that’s not as far-fetched as some might believe. Carolina is dealing out of a position of power when it comes to Faulk. Given he’s locked up for another two seasons and that the Hurricanes have no reason to move him beyond the fact they may have to shell out upwards of at least $4 million for one half of their third pair, Carolina can sit and wait for an offer that works for them in much the same way, say, the Avalanche were patient in moving Matt Duchene last season. We saw how that worked out for Colorado, too.
This is all to say that the de Haan signing, particularly when paired with Carolina’s acquisition of Hamilton, does two things for the Hurricanes. First, it solidifies an already strong, young blueline. But second, and maybe most importantly, it puts Carolina in the perfect position to move out a rearguard while simultaneously finding a way to boost the offense. And if GM Don Waddell can manage to swing such a deal, the Hurricanes could be more complete from top to bottom than they have been in any season in recent memory.
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