Last year, it was believed that the Hurricanes owned one of the top defensive units in the entire NHL. This offseason, the Hurricanes arguably managed to improve on defense while also adding even more depth to their already stacked blueline.
Here, we will preview how the Hurricanes are looking on defense for the 2019-2020 season. If you want to see my preview on how the Hurricanes’ group of forwards are looking, you can find that here. And stay tuned, as I’ll be previewing the goaltenders soon as well.
Before we dive into the preview, let’s take a look at the changes that the Hurricanes made on defense this summer. First, the Canes traded defenseman Calvin de Haan, who signed a four-year deal just last summer, to the Chicago Blackhawks along with forward Aleksi Saarela in exchange for defenseman Gustav Forsling and goaltender Anton Forsberg.
Following the de Haan trade, the team eventually signed one of the top free agent defensemen of the summer when they inked former Maple Leaf Jake Gardiner to a bargain four-year deal worth just over $4 million per year.
Following the addition of Gardiner, rumors began surfacing on the future of longtime Canes defenseman Justin Faulk. Last week, Faulk was traded to the defending champion St. Louis Blues along with a fifth-round pick in exchange for defenseman Joel Edmundson, promising forward prospect Dominik Bokk, and a seventh-round pick.
The Hurricanes also signed free agent defenseman Chase Priskie, who played NCAA hockey with Quinnipiac University and is a former Washington Capitals prospect.
That’s a lot of movement for a team that already sported a top five defense. Now let’s dive into the roster.
Contract: 6 years left at $5.3 million per year
2018-2019 season stats: 8 goals, 23 assists, 31 points in 82 games. 11 assists in 15 playoff games
Slavin finished last season second among all NHL defensemen and sixth among all skaters with 86 takeaways, and had just 18 penalty minutes while leading the Hurricanes with an average ice time of 23:02 per game. Slavin is one of the best defensemen in the NHL, and he is on a bargain of a contract. Slavin can play in any situation and can be trusted 110% no matter the situation. He is undoubtedly the Hurricanes’ top defender, and he will look to continue getting better as he leads an ultra-talented Hurricanes blueline.
Contract: 4 years at $4.05 million per year
2018-2019 season stats: 3 goals, 27 assists, 30 points in 62 games with Toronto.
I don’t know how Gardiner lasted until September without a team, and I definitely don’t know how the Hurricanes managed to sign him to a contract worth just over $4 million per year. Gardiner is great offensively, and he has the ability to quarterback a powerplay unit, which should help improve a Hurricanes powerplay that has struggled for years. Gardiner can be questionable defensively at times, but overall, he is good enough in both ends of the ice to make him an almost perfect addition into the top four. I think that Gardiner would fit in nicely beside either Dougie Hamilton or Brett Pesce, and I think that he will inch towards a 40-point season.
Contract: 1 year left at $3.1 million
2018-2019 season stats: 2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points in 64 games with St. Louis
Edmundson was acquired earlier this week as part of the deal that sent Justin Faulk to the St. Louis Blues. I really like Edmundson’s fit on the Hurricanes roster. He will likely slot in on the bottom defensive pairing, and his physical presence and ability to play a role on the penalty kill make him a welcome addition to the team. Edmundson has already played in 269 NHL games, and overall, I think that he is going to be a great fit. He is coming off of a Stanley Cup championship with the Blues and is due to hit free agency at the end of the year.
Contract: 1 year left at $850k
2018-2019 season stats: 1 assist in 20 NHL games. 10 points in 28 AHL games
Fleury hasn’t been able to find his place as a full-time NHL defenseman yet. In the 2017-2018 season, he played in 67 NHL games, but last year he split time between Raleigh and Charlotte. At this point, Fleury would need to pass through waivers to be sent back to the AHL. That means that Fleury is likely to make the NHL roster. This might be Fleury’s last chance to prove that he deserves to be a part of the team moving forward. With youngsters like Jake Bean, Jesper Sellgren and Chase Priskie developing, Fleury needs to capitalize on his opportunity and have a good season. If he struggles, Fleury could be traded as I can’t see the team losing him for nothing on waivers. And the addition of Edmundson makes Fleury’s situation that much cloudier.
Contract: 1 year left at roughly $874k
2018-2019 season stats: 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points in 43 games with Chicago
As mentioned earlier, Forsling was acquired as part of the trade that sent Calvin de Haan to Chicago. Forsling hasn’t been great thus far in his NHL career with the Blackhawks, but he looks to be a solid seventh defenseman or depth option for the Hurricanes. If he is needed, Forsling would slot in on the bottom defensive pairing, and he likely would be good for around 15-20 points over the course of 82 games. But after adding Edmundson to the mix, I struggle to see a way for Forsling to stick around with the NHL club for too much longer.
2018-2019 season stats: 13 goals, 31 assists, 44 points in 70 AHL games
Bean had an excellent first professional season last year with the Checkers in the AHL. Bean’s ability to quarterback a powerplay and his offensive upside make him an intriguing prospect for the Hurricanes. Unless some seriously bad injury luck hit the NHL roster, I don’t see a way for Bean to see much time with the Hurricanes this year, but he would be more than capable of filling in temporarily. Next year will be the year that Bean looks to make a real push for the NHL roster.
While Sellgren was drafted in the sixth round in the 2018 NHL draft, I am a huge fan of his game and his upside. If Sellgren doesn’t make the NHL roster he will head back to Sweden for the season, but I wanted to mention his name here anyways. I thought that Sellgren would have a chance to stick around for a bit if the Hurricanes traded Faulk, but acquiring Edmundson in that deal probably ends any chances of that happening.
Claesson initially joined the Hurricanes on a Professional Tryout (PTO) during training camp, and he was able to turn that into a one-year, two-way deal. Claesson has cleared waivers, so he can be sent down to the AHL. Again, the addition of Edmundson likely makes it tough for Claesson to stick around, but depending on the health of van Riemsdyk, he could see some time as a depth defender to start the year.
Contract: 2 years left at $5.75 million per year
2018-2019 season stats: 18 goals, 21 assists, 39 points in 82 games
Hamilton was undoubtedly the Hurricanes’ star of the trade that sent Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to the Calgary Flames last summer. He came into Raleigh and led all Hurricanes defensemen with 39 points and finished second among all NHL defensemen in 18 goals. Hamilton struggled at times, but overall, he was a great fit on the Hurricanes and played well next to Slavin on the top defensive pair. Now that Justin Faulk is gone, Hamilton looks poised to play on the top powerplay unit, so I expect his point totals to increase.
Contract: 5 years left at $4.025 million per year
2018-2019 season stats: 7 goals, 22 assists, 29 points in 73 games
Like much of the Hurricanes’ defense, Pesce is on an extremely team-friendly contract. Pesce is right there with Slavin as the best true defenders on the Hurricanes defense. Some might argue that defensively, Pesce is the best on the Hurricanes. Pesce should be locked into a role on the second defensive pairing and top penalty killing unit, and I am intrigued to see if Pesce will play with new addition Jake Gardiner. If so, I expect Pesce’s offensive stats to increase, but if Pesce plays with Slavin I think that he will see a slight decrease in his stats offensively.
Trevor van Riemsdyk
Contract: 1 year left at $2.3 million
2018-2019 season stats: 3 goals, 11 assists, 14 points in 78 games
TVR had offseason shoulder surgery, but he looks to be close to being ready to play. I’m not sure if he will be 100% before the regular season begins, but he shouldn’t be too far off of that. Personally, I really like having TVR as a bottom pairing defender. He can kill penalties as well. He’s never going to blow anyone away offensively, but he is a solid player in his role. Once he’s healthy, I could see him in some kind of rotation with Fleury on the bottom pairing next to Edmundson.
Contract: 2 years left at $925k per year
2018-2019 season stats: 39 points in 36 games at Quinnipiac University
The Hurricanes were rumored at the end of last year to be interested in trading for Priskie when he was part of the Washington Capitals’ organization, but he ended up hitting free agency and came to Raleigh anyways. He looks likely to start the year with the Checkers in the AHL, but he is likely the first or second option to call up should an injury happen.
Contract: 1 year left at $700k
2018-2019 season stats: 4 goals, 21 assists, 25 points in 70 AHL games
McKeown has cleared waivers, which means that he will likely be assigned to the Checkers and play in the AHL again this season. To be completely honest, I don’t see a high ceiling for McKeown, but I think that one day he could be a solid TVR-like defenseman. Unfortunately, the depth on defense with the Hurricanes is very strong. I doubt McKeown sees much NHL time, if any.
Kyle Wood/Alex Lintuniemi
Wood was acquired from the San Jose Sharks, and Lintuniemi was signed in free agency. Both should be solid defenders in the AHL, and like McKeown, I doubt that they see NHL time. The organizational depth is just too strong right now.
Which teams make up the top five strongest defensive units in the NHL? Do the Hurricanes make the list? Let us know.
The Hurricanes open the regular season at home against the Montreal Canadiens at 7:00 on Thursday, October 4th next week.