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With Sebastian Aho’s contract settled, the Hurricanes can look ahead to next season

Rod Brind’Amour on Sebastian Aho: ‘I gotta be able to play him against the best players’

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour outlines the expectations for Sebastian Aho next season
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Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour outlines the expectations for Sebastian Aho next season

Sebastian Aho’s sticky contract situation has been settled, even if unconventionally for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Goalie Petr Mrazek has been re-signed.

The Canes have traded for a center, Erik Haula, and a veteran goalie, James Reimer.

About all that’s left is a decision from the captain, Justin Williams: will he retire or return and play on?

For the Canes, much of the heavy lifting has been done and changes made looking toward the 2019-20 season.

“I think we’ve had a pretty good summer,” owner Tom Dundon said in an interview Tuesday. “We were pretty young and inexperienced and now we’re a year older, better and more experienced. We think Haula was a big add for us. We were going to bring in a forward with NHL experience and we did that.

“So I think we’re better. We’re always looking at different things, but it’s hard to get materially better for us because we have pretty good players.”

A year ago, there were numerous questions. One of the biggest was how Rod Brind’Amour would handle his first season as a head coach in the NHL. Being an assistant coach helps prepare you for that kind of responsibility. Being the main guy behind the bench is entirely different.

“Sometimes it’s almost better not knowing what you’re getting into,” Brind’Amour said Saturday in a media scrum at PNC Arena. “Now I know all the stuff we have to get done. Personnel, whatever, you know what you’re missing. Sometimes, if you don’t know it’s better.

“I definitely feel more comfortable in these shoes in year two. We’ll see how it works out.”

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It all worked out last season as the Canes, out of the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2009, made a strong surge in the final 50 games of the regular season to claim a wild-card playoff berth. The momentum carried them to the Eastern Conference finals, where the Boston Bruins, a better team, swept the series.

Brind’Amour was not a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL coach of the year, angering many Canes fans. Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders won the award as Brind’Amour finished fifth in the voting.

Did the Canes’ turnaround earn Brind’Amour a raise and contract extension?

“Rod, when I hired him, understood it’s his job as long as he wanted it,” Dundon said. “Rod doesn’t need a contract from me. He can have it as long as he wants.”

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (20) reacts as time expires and the Hurricanes fall 2-1 to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

One thing Brind’Amour doesn’t have to worry about this season is the potential for an extended contract holdout by Aho, his best offensive player. Any chance of that ended when NHL free agency began Monday and the Montreal Canadiens extended an offer sheet to Aho, a restricted free agent.

Dundon quickly responded by saying Tuesday the Canes would match the offer: $8.454 million a year for five years. He called the offer sheet “ridiculous in terms of probability of succeeding,” the Dallas billionaire saying he would have no problem writing the check to cover an offer that includes a bonus of more than $21 million in the first 12 months.

“It’s nice to have it done, probably not the way we would like to have it done,” Dundon said.

Looking at his lineup, Brind’Amour could use Aho, Jordan Staal, Haula and possibly Lucas Wallmark as his four centers. Haula is coming off a serious knee injury last November that ended his season with the Vegas Golden Knights, but the Finn was skating again and had been medically cleared to play had Vegas not been ousted in the first round of the playoffs.

“It wasn’t a minor injury. It was a big, big deal,” Haula said on a Monday conference call. “It was a huge setback and hard on me. But I’ve worked really hard and I have no doubt I’ll be back at 100 percent next season.”

Haula, 28, said he played on the same line with the Canes’ Nino Niederreiter for a couple of years with the Minnesota Wild before going to Vegas, so he has that familiarity. He had a career-high 29 goals in 2017-18 for Vegas as the Golden Knights, an expansion team in their inaugural season reached the Stanley Cup final.

“I talked to him and he thinks he’s going to be fine,” Brind’Amour said. “So we’re getting another speedy forward who has shown the ability to score some goals, too.”

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Carolina Hurricanes’ goalie Petr Mrazek (34) stops a scoring attempt by Boston Bruins’ Chris Wagner (14) during the second period in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday, May 9, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston, Mass. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Canes weren’t happy about parting with veteran defenseman Calvin de Haan. But general manager Don Waddell said concerns about a possible Aho offer sheet, and its potential salary-cap concerns, factored into the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that brought backup goalie Anton Forsberg and defenseman Gustav Forsling to Carolina.

Waddell then brought in Reimer, working a deal with the Florida that sent goalie Scott Darling and the final two years of his contract to the Panthers. Unless Waddell has another goaltending move in mind, the Canes will have Mrazek as their No. 1 goalie, and Reimer, Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic competing to be the backup.

“We’ve learned over the years you can’t have too many goalies,” Waddell said at a Monday press conference. “It will be good competition in training camp.”

Waddell said the Canes still could look to add some depth players, possibly a defenseman, saying he was still “dabbling around.”

If not, the only missing piece is Williams, who is still mulling things over and is an unrestricted free agent.

“He hasn’t given us 100 percent yet which way he’s going to go,” Waddell said Tuesday during a conference call. “I think he potentially could be leaning toward playing. We should know in the near future.”

HURRICANES ROSTER

RETURNING FROM 2018-19

Forwards

Sebastian Aho

Jordan Staal

Teuvo Teravainen

Nino Niederreiter

Jordan Martinook

Andrei Svechnikov

Warren Foegele

Brock McGinn

Lucas Wallmark

Saku Maenalanen

Defensemen

Jaccob Slavin

Dougie Hamilton

Justin Faulk

Brett Pesce

Trevor van Riemsdyk

Haydn Fleury

Goalie

Petr Mrazek

ACQUIRED BY TRADE

F Erik Haula from Vegas

G James Reimer from Florida

G Anton Forsberg from Chicago

D Gustav Forsling from Chicago

LEFT VIA TRADE, FREE AGENCY

D Calvin de Haan trade to Chicago

G Scott Darling trade to Florida

G Curtis McElhinney signed with Tampa Bay

F Greg McKegg signed with NY Rangers

F Patrick Brown signed with Vegas

* F Micheal Ferland

Captain’s choice

* F Justin Williams, undecided on future

*-- unrestricted free agent, unsigned

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
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