OK, Carolinas, so I’ve got bad news and some more bad news. The bad news is that on Wednesday the Hurricanes lost out in their bid to resign their best defenseman, Dougie Hamilton. The other bad news is that one of the guys they picked up to replace him, Tony DeAngelo, has repeatedly shown himself to be a real piece-of-crap teammate at all levels of hockey. Oh yeah, and I don’t really know what they’re thinking when it comes to their goaltending, either.
There’s a lot to sort through from the beginning of NHL free agency, but let’s start with Hamilton. An advanced-stats darling who finished second on the team in assists last year, Dougie had been with the Hurricanes for the past three years and been a crucial part of their turnaround from a forgotten franchise with a decade-long playoff drought to an enjoyable team that puts up very impressive goal differentials. As he hit the open market at just 28 years old, it was always going to be a struggle for the Hurricanes to retain him, but losing Hamilton to the rebuilding New Jersey Devils, in particular, was a bit of a surprise, and very much a tough pill to swallow.
So the Canes lost one of their best players. That’s never great, but it happens sometimes. Where they started to compound the sudden, glaring questions of “what exactly is the plan here,” though, is who they did sign to replenish their blue line—DeAngelo, on a one-year deal, after the Rangers bought out the final year of his contract. The phrase “locker room cancer” isn’t one I like to throw around very often, but DeAngelo’s issues are so prominent and so difficult to excuse that he’s already cycled through three different franchises at the age of 25. Here’s a quick rundown:
In the OHL, in 2014, DeAngelo caught suspensions both for abuse of officials and for a slur directed at his teammate. The Lightning drafted him anyway, watched him be a healthy scratch in the AHL several times despite solid production, and then traded him to Arizona. With the Coyotes, DeAngelo, got suspended three games for putting his hands on a referee. After that season he was traded to New York, where he learned the art of posting and eventually got himself banished from the team early this season for getting into it with his goalie and, according to one report, bullying the Rangers’ sole black player, K’Andre Miller. (That last allegation feels especially relevant after the Canes also traded for Ethan Bear, a First Nations player who’s had to deal with racist abuse.)
Many, but apparently not all, around the NHL thought that DeAngelo had run out of chances, but obviously the Hurricanes saw his talent and thought that, for a mere $1 million, he could be a real bargain. The press conference where Canes GM Don Waddell introduced DeAngelo—maybe just skip the press conference this time around?—was light on any kind of specifics about how the defenseman has changed as a person but heavy on vague platitudes about how he’s “made progress.”
“We’ve read and researched everything,” Waddell said. “He’s recognized it. He’s lived up to his mistakes. He continues to try to be a better person. I know he’s worked with a group out of New York, working on himself. That’s all you can do. You believe in what people are telling you, and we’ve talked to Tony a numerous amount of times. We all got comfortable making this decision.”
Said DeAngelo, “It’s just trying to control your emotions the best you can and not let the emotions get the best of you and making mistakes from it. So we’ve done a lot of work. My agent set us up with some good people. I think there’s been a lot of progress.”
This has really just been an ugly, ugly offseason so far for the Hurricanes, who exited this past season at a crossroads where the lovable underdogs had to find a way to step up to being legit contenders. The failure to keep Hamilton severely knocks them down, and so perhaps does their complete makeover at goaltender. Petr Mrázek and Alex Nedeljkovic are both gone, and in their place are Frederik Andersen, who badly needed a change of scenery from Toronto, and Antti Raanta, who hasn’t stayed healthy in forever. All four of those names would have represented some level of risk for next year, but there’s no question that the ex-Canes played better in net more recently than the new ones.
The Canes still have time to add to their roster, and they’ll have some cap space to do it even after they resign RFA Andrei Svechnikov, but it’s a bit shocking how quickly the vibes got bad around this franchise. As Sara Civian pointed out over at The Athletic, part of the appeal of the modern-day Hurricanes is the image they project of a tightly knit, fun-loving small-market team that cares about their community. Yet the moves they’ve made this summer have reminded anybody who forgot that hockey is an amoral business and that a rich guy with a team is never going to value positivity over profit.
It was very cool to see the Hurricanes come back from the dead and earn themselves a spot as a lot of people’s second-favorite team, with their storm surges and their exciting play, and so it is a bit sad to see them seemingly hellbent on squandering that goodwill. But nobody is obligated to be a Caniac. The franchise spent years and years being ignored and the NHL, overall, wasn’t especially worse off for it. The dirty secret here is that, even if they aren’t acting like it, the Canes need fans more than fans need the Canes. Plenty of other teams can be your second-favorite.