Teuvo Teravainen probably could have made life difficult on the Carolina Hurricanes. On pace for the best output season of his career and playing a major role in the Hurricanes’ offense, Teravainen was heading towards restricted free agency with arbitration rights in his back pocket as a member of a low-scoring club that desperately needed to retain his services.
Instead of making the ordeal messy, though, Teravainen and Carolina had a relatively painless negotiation. In fact, without even so much as a word of speculation that contract discussions could get difficult, the Hurricanes and Teravainen agreed to a $27-million extension Monday that carries a $5.4-million cap hit over the next five seasons. The new pact sees Teravainen get quite the raise — he nearly doubles his current $2.86-million cap hit — but one of which he’s most certainly deserving.
Since arriving in Carolina as part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ cap-dumping deal that off-loaded the final year of Bryan Bickell’s contract, Teravainen has taken significant steps forward. His point total improved from 35 points in his final season as a Blackhawk to 42 points in his debut campaign with the Hurricanes. It leapt to 64 points last season as he took on the biggest role of his career as a permanent fixture in the top six. And he’s taken yet another step this season under coach Rod Brind’Amour, who has allowed Teravainen to flex his two-way game while also stretching his legs offensively. The result through 48 games is a 10-goal, 39-point output that puts Teravainen on pace for a career-best 67 points.
Considering his growth, too, it’s hard to have any gripes about the payment he’s receiving on the five-year extension. Much like Jake Guentzel’s five-year extension with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which may very well have been used as a framework for Teravainen’s pact with the Hurricanes, the deal between Carolina and the 24-year-old winger hits that sweet spot between an overpayment and a contract that falls too far on the side of team friendly. Both sides come out the other side of the agreement in a great position.
Truth be told, Teravainen’s deal is one that would even frankly allow the still-developing winger to have a difficult stretch without too many groans about his cap hit. And if Teravainen really has his breakout season and enters that point-per-game territory that some believe he’s capable of reaching — his five-goal, 14-point performance in eight games at the World Championship would indicate he might yet have some untapped scoring potential at the NHL level — the money on the deal is going to sing for Carolina. For a top-line talent, his cap hit could be one of the more cost-effective in the league should he take one more offensive stride.
From the Hurricanes’ standpoint, though, it’s not just about inking Teravainen to a sensible deal that makes the extension a victory. Rather, it’s about what Teravainen’s contract allows them to do and the freedom Carolina’s front office will now have to spend to retain players and add should they get the green light.
The big-ticket item for the Hurricanes this summer, of course, is Sebastian Aho, who has skated almost the entire season with Teravainen on his wing. The 21-year-old pivot has already registered 21 goals and 54 points, putting him only nine goals and 15 points shy of setting new career-best marks with nearly half the campaign remaining, and his 36-goal, 92-point pace on a relatively low-scoring Carolina club is mighty impressive. The concern with Aho’s production, however, has been what the cost associated with re-signing a talent of his caliber is going to be when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. Does he command $7 million? How about $8 million? And does he even flirt with $9 million or more?
What Aho signs for is to be determined, and his end-of-season output — not to mention the payment that is headed to the likes of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, among other notable RFAs in a similar contractual situation — will stand to impact the final dollar figure. But what the Teravainen contract does for the Hurricanes is allow them additional flexibility.
While an eight-year deal likely would have jacked up the price of Teravainen’s pact, the five-year extension kept the money manageable and, as of Tuesday morning, leaves the Hurricanes with a projected $28.3 million in cap space for the coming off-season, according to CapFriendly. It’s all but guaranteed that number will change come summer either by way of additional movement by Carolina (likely with the trade deadline in the offing) or an increase in the spending limit (also likely with a projected rise of at least a couple million dollars). With that, the Hurricanes have the freedom and flexibility to retain Aho on an eight-year pact at almost any number.
Locking up Aho and Teravainen, who was called a cornerstone of the offense by Waddell in the Hurricanes’ release, is only the starting point for the adjustments needed in Carolina over the coming summer and into next campaign, though. Waddell’s swap with the Minnesota Wild that brought Nino Niederreiter to the club has added another long-term offensive piece, but beyond the three aforementioned players, only four other current roster forwards — Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark — are locked in beyond this season. Others such as Martin Necas, Janne Kuokkanen, Julien Gauthier, Aleksi Saarela and Nicolas Roy could be in the mix next season, but that still leaves gaps in the depth and top-six.
Additional spending room could be utilized to bolster the forward group, including re-signing veteran free agent-to-be and captain Justin Williams. Jordan Martinook’s services could also be retained for a reasonable price. But bolstering the offense might mean dipping into the free agent market if the opportunity presents itself, and having Teravainen at a reasonable price gives Carolina the flexibility to do so.
In addition to adding up front, though, the Hurricanes may also be able to take another shot at finding a fit in goal. The tandem of Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek has been serviceable this season, to be sure, but locking down a no-doubt No. 1 goaltender could pay massive dividends for the Hurricanes. Having the cap space available to chase after a notable free agent keeper — Sergei Bobrovsky, Semyon Varlamov, Jimmy Howard and Cam Talbot are among the big-name netminders currently in line to head to market this summer — is another perk provided by the near-perfect price point on Teravainen’s deal.
This is all to say that the Hurricanes were always going to be active this off-season, from looking to re-sign Aho to locking down offensive help and addressing their continued crease concerns. Inking Teravainen to a deal that allows them flexibility, though, is an indication that they've started their planning for the future off on the right foot.