The dust has settled on the NHL Entry Draft and free agency is on the precipice of being three weeks old.
With that, the Hurricanes have answered a few lingering questions, while other uncertainties remain.
Will they extend star left winger and alternate captain Sebastian Aho? Is there a trade imminent for Karlsson or another impactful defenseman? How will they spend their estimated $3.4 million remaining in cap space?
As the calendar inches towards August, general manager Don Waddell and the entire front office can certainly balance many tasks at once, but where should they put the majority of their focus?
One word: Aho.
Six years spent in Raleigh and Aho has led the Hurricanes in goals in all six. The soon-to-be 26-year old netted 36 goals in 75 games during the regular season and was second on the roster with 67 points, just four behind center Martin Necas.
In the postseason, he was just as impactful, scoring five goals and tying Jordan Martinook for the team-lead with 12 points in 15 games.
There is no denying the impact Aho has had on the ice and it seems like a no-brainer for the Hurricanes to turn their attention towards keeping him in Raleigh.
Sure, there may be some urgency to strike a deal with San Jose, as Elliotte Friedman has indicated it’s a two-team race between Carolina and Pittsburgh for Karlsson.
Carolina will not be worse off if they never acquire the 33-year old defenseman and there seem to be multiple hoops that need to be jumped through to come close to a conclusion.
Friedman reported that the status of Brett Pesce and the amount of Karlsson’s salary retained by San Jose are two major hurdles on the road to the finish line.
At the moment, the Sharks are on the hook for four years of Karlsson at $11.5 million AAV.
Not to be mentioned, is the fact that the Hurricanes are Stanley Cup contenders as is. Winning the Metropolitan Division once again and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals without Andre Svechnikov is a reason for excitement in Raleigh.
They are hoping to get Svechnikov back sooner rather than later and they have added the likes of Dmitry Orlov and Michael Bunting, two big names in free agency.
On the contrary for Carolina, the roster will unequivocally be worse if they are unable to extend Aho and let him walk in free agency.
While that may seem obvious, Waddell and company appear to agree, as NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti reported that the two sides are getting close to a new contract.
“We’re working on it, getting close,” Waddell told Gulitti. “Not there yet, but we are talking on a regular basis, almost daily, so I’m hoping that we can get this to the finish line here in the next week or so.”
Aho’s future in Carolina looks to be and rightfully is a major point of focus for the Hurricanes brass.
The Karlsson sweepstakes may end in the coming weeks without Carolina’s involvement, but the sky-high expectations heading into Rod Brind’Amour’s sixth season are not contingent on the addition of the former James Norris Trophy winner.
Putting pen to paper on an Aho extension should be the primary goal for the Carolina Hurricanes.