Given that the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t seen the post-season in more than half a decade, some will have a hard time believing the organization is really trending in the right direction, but GM Ron Francis continues to impress with his savvy moves to slowly but surely improve the on-ice situation in Carolina.
The off-season started with a blockbuster deal that saw the Hurricanes use their cap space to relieve the Chicago Blackhawks of Bryan Bickell and his $4 million contract, but Francis leveraged the deal into acquiring skilled youngster Teuvo Teravainen, as well. Francis also brought back veteran goaltender Cam Ward, made a smart signing in locking up Lee Stempniak and added some lesser pieces in Viktor Stalberg and Matt Tennyson.
But Francis’ best piece of work may have come Tuesday as the Hurricanes announced they’ve locked up 23-year-old restricted free agent center Victor Rask to a six-year, $24-million contract that will keep him in Carolina well into his prime.
“Victor has gotten better every season that he’s been a part of our organization,” Francis said in a release. “He is a big part of this team’s present and future, and we are thrilled to sign him to a longer-term deal.”
The signing is a stroke of genius for Francis and the Hurricanes organization. Though it’s early in Rask’s career, he’s already shown the ability of a skilled two-way center, he notched 21 goals and 48 points in his sophomore season in the league and he has more than enough room to grow into a potential top-line center by the midway point of his new contract.
If Rask really starts hitting his stride by the time he’s 26, the Hurricanes could very well have a top-line center locked up for three of his prime seasons at the same cap hit as they’re prepared to pay the aforementioned Bickell this season. That’s the same Bickell who had two assists in 25 games in 2015-16. And while Rask’s deal is, of course, going to look outstanding compared to Bickell’s, the Rask contract continues to look good even when considering other centers with similar cap hits.
There are 17 active centers, according to CapFriendly, who have cap hits within the $3.5-4.5 million range for the upcoming campaign. Among them are players such as Mike Fisher, Brandon Sutter, Tyler Bozak, Nick Bjugstad, Ryan Johansen and Adam Henrique. Rask — who, again, is only entering his third NHL season — fares well in every category when compared to those 17 active centers over the past two seasons. Only seven have more goals than Rask’s 32 and only three have more points than Rask’s 81.
It’s not unrealistic to assume that by the second or third year of Rask’s six-year deal, he could be the team’s top-line center and an even more solid two-way pivot. While he’s not likely to be confused with Anze Kopitar or Jonathan Toews any time soon, Rask’s deal is worth less than half of those for Kopitar or Toews. And if Rask does mature into a true top-line center, he’ll remain cheaper than half the league’s top pivots by the time he’s in his prime. That makes for a steal of a deal for the Hurricanes and gives them plenty of wiggle room to add around Rask, if need be.
As Ryan Kennedy pointed out, the Hurricanes have already done well by loading up on blueline talent. They have a great stable of young defensemen in Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Haydn Fleury. That’s not to mention Justin Faulk is a burgeoning star at 24 and goaltending prospect Alex Nedeljkovic appears to be the future in goal.
Now with Rask locked up, Teravainen on board, and a young crop of forwards like Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm and Julien Gauthier ready to make an impact going forward, the Hurricanes look like they could be even more of a force in the future.
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