Lyon Hockey

Stay or Go: UFA Edition

After a fantastic regular season for the Hurricanes that ended disappointingly in the playoffs, there are sure to be some changes sweeping the Canes’ opening night squad for next season. This is the sad reality of hockey as a business, and when a team is unable to meet expectations (however high), the next steps are to make the necessary changes to put the team in the best position to to win.

For Les Canes brass, they are now heading into a summer full of uncertainty. The only certain thing is the team’s commitment to winning – their main core is still young and under contract, and they have one of the best head coaches in the sport. Their competitor status remains and the window is still open.

What is uncertain though is the future of the surrounding pieces on the roster. As of the team’s playoff roster, they have 10 players set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1. d would be better off spending the money elsewhere. Unfortunately, emotional attachment takes precedence here.


We’ll start with the six unrestricted free agents on the NHL roster, as those players are the immediate concern. If the Hurricanes don’t re-sign these people by July 1, they will be free to head to the open market and sign wherever they see fit. Time is running out, so let’s get started.

Nino Niederreiter: For me, Niederreiter should be the #1 priority for Les Canes right now. He brings a consistent, tough style that the winger group would sorely miss without him. He has the size, toughness and goalscoring touch you covet. The only reservation I have with the player is that he turns 30 in September, so you have to ask yourself how many years you reasonably expect him to be effective with his style of play. I would say in all confidence 3 or 4, but anything beyond that is wishful thinking. The $5.25 million AAV he currently earns is mostly up to his offensive production, so if the team can get him to a 3-5 year contract in the $5 million range, I think that should be obvious to both parties. .

Stay or go: Stay

Vincent Trocheck: Trocheck has been a good soldier for the Canes since joining from the Panthers in 2020, but it looks like that’s where his chapter ends. Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s eight-year contract extension looked like writing on the wall. The reality is that Trocheck is a 5-foot-10 center who plays bigger than that and has a history of injuries. At 29, I don’t see the Canes committing a 6-8 year sentence here, all things considered. For Troch, this summer will likely be his last chance to make some money, and he’s poised to be one of the best centers in the FA market. Pun intended, I guess he’s headed for greener pastures.

Stay or go: Go

Ian Cole: I was initially a big fan of adding Cole, as I felt his experience and physical style of staying at home would really benefit the group. And while he provided that in spurts, it was far too inconsistent. My lasting impression of his tenure was his lack of discipline and his burning desire to take badly timed and ill-advised penalties. He also just… didn’t play very physically in the playoffs. I do not know. For me, he was generally a little underwhelming, and I think the Canes would be better off spending his $2.9 million cap elsewhere.

Stay or go: Go

Max Domi: In the case of Domi, it only took me about twenty games to come to a conclusion about the player. I tweeted the following about him in Game 6 against Boston:

Well, we know what version of him we had in Game 7 against Boston. Unfortunately, we got the unseen version for the vast majority of the Rangers series – as his contributions were absent for the most part. Virtually zero impact, and it will likely be remembered as a one-game wonder. It’s a shame, because he can be really effective when engaged. He’s annoying, energetic and a great passer, but just plain unreliable. I guess you could do worse than bring him back on a cheap one-year contract to play in the last six and see if another year in the system helps him, but I wouldn’t bet on that.

Stay or go: Go

Brendan Smith: Smith played his role effectively and basically delivered exactly what was expected of him, no more and no less. He brought some needed physicality at times and has the heart of a warrior there. But based entirely on on-ice performance, I can’t make a big deal out of re-signing him. He’s slow, his hockey skills are limited and the Canes have younger options like Jalen Chatfield, Joey Keane and Jesper Sellgren who should be lucky enough to take his minutes.

Stay or go: Go

Derek Stepan: Stepan is a really strange case because, given the way he has been playing throughout the year, re-signing him for a similar one-year deal should be a no-brainer. But despite his success, he inexplicably spent a lot of time as a healthy scratch, so I don’t know how bad his appetite would be to come back. Honestly, I think he could find a consistent bottom-six role elsewhere – his veteran presence and versatility make him a strong candidate to help teams no matter where they are in terms of development. I would definitely like him to stay, but I think he’d better go somewhere else and he could be a valuable contributor to any band.

Stay or go: Come on, for his own good.


AHL AHL

Andrew Poturalski: Originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Hurricanes in 2016, Poturalski returned to the organization last summer and made his mark. He scored an astonishing 101 points for Chicago, leading the entire AHL in the process. Unfortunately, tearing up the AHL only translated to 4 NHL games in his career, and it’s hard to imagine him breaking through in Raleigh at 28. That said, a low-end team like Arizona would be wise to give him an extended look and see what he can do with real NHL minutes. He has talent and deserves a chance, but I don’t think there is a future for him here.

Stay or go: Go

Stefan Noesen: Noesen had an incredible year in Chicago, scoring 48 goals in 70 games and collecting 85 points. Luckily, the Canes were pretty healthy for the majority of the season, so Noesen only played 2 NHL games. As a former senator, he’s a guy I’ve really liked over the years and plays a style that suits an NHL fourth line. With 207 NHL games under his belt and a phenomenal season at 29, I suspect he will be looking for an NHL comeback this offseason. He would be great depth, but I guess his clearest path to the NHL won’t be in Carolina, so I guess he’s trying to become a free agent.

Stay or go: Go

Josh Leivo: A 214-game NHL veteran, Leivo is in a similar boat to Noesen. He’s had a good year in the AHL and is also 29, so he’ll likely be looking for a way back into the NHL. If he doesn’t find that opportunity, it makes sense to bring him back as an AHL leader and depth option. But for him, I hope he gets a chance somewhere else.

Stay or go: Go

Spencer Smallman: A fifth-round pick in 2015, Smallman has become a veteran of the Canes organization. He has spent the past four years split between the AHL and ECHL levels. This season in Chicago, he set AHL career highs in games played (67), goals (10), assists (17) and points (27). It was kind of a breakout year for the player, who had to deal with a lot of injuries and some bad luck. I don’t think he’ll ever become an NHL regular, but he has good depth, a good play to have in the AHL and he’s been a longtime member of the organization. If he wants to come back, I guess he will.

Stay or go: Stay

C.J. Smith: Smith is a very good player in the AHL at 27 years old. He scored 24 goals and 58 points in 60 games with Chicago, and even played one game with the Hurricanes. While I don’t think he’s much more than a talented AHL guy, there’s value in bringing him back. He’s experienced, he’s a key player for Chicago and he has 15 NHL games under his belt. In a two-way deal, you can do much worse. I would strongly consider bringing him back.

Stay or go: Stay

Sam Miletic: In Chicago, Miletic had 14 points in 45 games in a last-six role before a shoulder injury requiring surgery ended his season. He’s 25, an AHL depth player and now he has question marks about his health. I could potentially see him return to Wolves on an AHL deal next year, but there’s no reason the Canes should sign him to another two-way deal.

Stay or go: Decision of the wolves

Alexander Lyons: Lyon had a good season for Chicago and he did a good job for the Hurricanes in his two starts with the team. But with Pyotr Kochetkov in the mix now and Eetu Mäkinemi back healthy next year, you don’t want a guy like Lyon taking valuable ice time from these kids. Jack LaFontaine could still be there too. With all the instances expected in competition, I think it’s likely that Lyon will be allowed to go elsewhere for next year.

Stay or go: Go


That’s it for UFA – naturally there are plenty of tough decisions for the Canes to make here over the next month. You may be thinking, “but what about RFAs?”. Don’t worry, I’m working on a separate article that introduces them (there are a lot of them) and will be out next week. As always, thanks for reading and let’s discuss in the comments.