EDINA, Minn. – Jake Gardiner is hungrier than ever to start an NHL season.
The 32-year-old defender had to give up the 2021-22 season after undergoing hip and back surgery. His last game with the Carolina Hurricanes dates back to May 10, 2021.
Gardiner was given the green light to play in early June and he is taking part in Da Beauty Leaguea 4-on-4 summer hockey league that was created for NHL, American Hockey League and Division I players living in Minnesota.
“It’s been tough,” Gardiner admitted of all that time away. I worked hard and did countless treatments and rehabilitation exercises to be ready to return to the game.”
The Hurricanes certainly won’t complain about the return of the veteran of 10 seasons – the last two with Carolina after starting his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2011-12.
“Barring a turnaround, he’ll be in camp and we’ll see from there,” Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said at the 2022 draft in Montreal on July 7.
Gardiner has one more season left on the four-year, $16.2 million ($4.05 million annual average) contract he signed on Sept. 6, 2019.
Video: CAR@PIT: Gardiner shoots a laser in AN
The Hurricanes have made several changes to their defensive squad since Gardiner’s injury, and it remains to be seen what use Carolina will make of the return in 2022-23.
The Hurricanes got their hands on the defender Brent Burns on July 13 in a trade with the San Jose Sharks. Winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2016-17, Burns had 54 points (10 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games last season. The 37-year-old veteran has 777 points (227 goals, 550 assists) in 1,251 games with the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild.
Burns will help make up for the loss of Tony DeAngelo, who was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers on July 8. DeAngelo had 51 points (10 goals, 41 assists) in 64 games in his only season with the Hurricanes, including 20 points (two goals, 18 assists) on the power play.
The Hurricanes also said goodbye to defenders Ian Cole (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Brendan Smith (New Jersey Devils), who have come to terms with new formations in the free agent market.
Last summer, Carolina lost the services of Dougie Hamilton while Gardiner was on the disabled list. Hamilton had signed a seven-year contract with the Devils after recording 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists) in 55 regular season games with the Hurricanes in 2020-21.
“We lost Tony DeAngelo, who was a very important player on our power play,” the defender noted. Brady Skjeiwhich also participates in Da Beauty League. But I think ‘Burnsy’ or [Gardiner] can make up for this loss.
“We know what Jake brings to our team and it’s great to have him back, but I think having a guy like Burns who’s had an amazing career and can play big minutes, that’s going to be really fun to watch. I think he’s going to have a very good season. He will fit perfectly with us. »
The Hurricanes have been busy this offseason after being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
They also acquired the striker Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights on July 13. Pacioretty had 37 points (19 goals, 18 assists) in 39 games last season. He averaged 29 goals in his previous eight campaigns.
Carolina also lost forwards Nino Niederreiter (Nashville Predators) and Vincent Trocheck (New York Rangers) through the free agent market, but Skjei and Gardiner are confident the Hurricanes remain Stanley Cup contenders.
“We’re close, but we haven’t reached the end goal yet,” Gardiner said. I think we have a very good team, it’s just a matter of execution. »