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Mrazek, McElhinney top targets for Hurricanes before free agency

Carolina hoping to sign both goalies; Aho contract talks to start soon

by Kurt Dusterberg / NHL.com Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes will try to sign goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, each of whom can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"We're under the feeling that we would like to have both of them back," Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said Tuesday. "Saying that, they both have the right to be unrestricted free agents. We will begin shortly talking to their representation, but our goal would be to bring them both back if we could."

Mrazek, 27, agreed to terms on a one-year, $1.5 million contract July 1. He went 23-14-3 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 40 regular-season games.

 

[RELATED: De Haan could miss start of next season for Hurricanes]

 

McElhinney, 35, was claimed on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 2 after an injury to Scott Darling. In 33 regular-season games he went 20-11-2 with a 2.58 GAA and .912 save percentage.

Mrazek started Carolina's first nine games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs but sustained a lower-body injury in Game 2 of the second round against the New York Islanders. He returned at the start of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins but was replaced again by McElhinney for Game 3 after allowing 10 goals on 52 shots. McElhinney allowed five goals on 53 shots in the final two games as the Hurricanes were swept in the best-of-7 series.

Video: CAR@BOS, Gm2: Mrazek turns away Nordstrom

In 11 playoff games, Mrazek went 5-5 with a 2.73 GAA and .894 save percentage. McElhinney was 3-2 with a 2.01 GAA and .930 save percentage in five playoff games.

Waddell said no decision has been made on Darling, who has two years remaining on the four-year, $16.6 million contract ($4.15 million average annual value) he agreed to May 5, 2017. Darling played 14 games this season with Charlotte of the American Hockey League before being granted a personal leave of absence in February.

Waddell indicated that Carolina will not pursue forward Micheal Ferland prior to him becoming an unrestricted free agent, but said the Hurricanes might stay in the mix after July 1. Ferland, who battled injuries during the regular season and playoffs, had 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 71 games but didn't score in the final 17 games of the regular season. He had one assist in seven playoff games.

"Micheal missed a big portion of the year and the playoffs and we didn't really miss a beat," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "We've had other guys who stepped into that role and it's something we will try to continue to get."

Forward Sebastian Aho, 21, who led the Hurricanes with an NHL career-high 83 points (30 goals, 53 assists) in 82 games, can become a restricted free agent July 1 after completing his entry-level contract and previously has said he would like to sign a long-term contract with Carolina.

"In the next days there will be a conversation with his agent," Waddell said. "The end goal, we're going to get him signed. I hope it's not something that we're talking about in August and September. I think you've got a (player) that wants to be here, and from our end we want him here. I truly believe we should be able to figure this out relatively in a short time frame."

Aho made a successful transition from left wing to center and improved from 65 points and a plus-4 rating last season to 83 points and a plus-25 this season.

"I've got to be able to play him against the best players," Brind'Amour said. "He's got to be able to play against (Boston Bruins forward Patrice) Bergeron. That means there's a little more mental approach, he's got to be tougher to play against. He knows that."

Defenseman Justin Faulk will be going into the final season of a six-year, $29 million contract (average annual value $4.833 million) he signed March 24, 2014. Faulk, the longest-tenured Hurricanes player, improved his defensive game and had 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) in 82 games. He's eligible to sign a contract extension July 1.

"I actually put a call in to his representation this morning," Waddell said. "We will talk to him and see what he is thinking. He had a great year for us this year. He was solid back there. We'd like to extend him."

Brind'Amour believes the young Hurricanes must take responsibility for improving next season. They went 46-29-7 (99 points) and earned the first wild card in the Eastern Conference. It was their first time in the playoffs since 2009.

Video: BOS@CAR, Gm3: McElhinney denies DeBrusk, Carlo

"We have to get better," Brind'Amour said. "At the end the day we had a pretty nice year but we barely made it (into the playoffs), playing about as good as we could have. I don't know where else we could have gotten more out of that group. That means Don (Waddell) has got to get us better, but the players we have have to get better this offseason too."

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