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Luke DeCock: Hurricanes signing Tony DeAngelo shows they really do want to be a 'Bunch of Jerks'

Luke DeCock, The News & Observer on

Published in Hockey

These are your Carolina Hurricanes. Get used to it.

Six days after popular and affable goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was shipped out to the Detroit Red Wings, the Hurricanes on Wednesday (partially) replaced Dougie Hamilton with perhaps the least likeable player in the entire league.

Even as the Hurricanes underwent what appears to be a complete makeover in goal, adding Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, among other unconfirmed moves, it was hard to get past the free-agent signing of recidivist power-play specialist Tony DeAngelo, who at 25 will be joining his fourth NHL franchise, having burned many bridges behind him.

By a rough count, this is at least his fifth chance, the kind of repeated indulgence only raw talent can buy you. He’s signing a one-year deal for $1 million, the kind of contract you sign when you have nowhere else to go.

The Hurricanes deliberately chose to bring into their fold a player who was suspended in junior hockey for violating the Ontario Hockey League’s harassment, abuse and diversity policy against his own teammate. A player with a history of abusing officials. A player who the New York Rangers told to go pound sand in the middle of last season after reportedly instigating a fight with a teammate. A player whose behavior has remained consistent for more than seven years.

This isn’t even about DeAngelo’s politics, as much as he has indulged those whims on social media. A healthy locker room can absorb just about any amount of factional friction, even a player who defended himself to the New York Post by saying “I’m not a racist, I’m not an extremist and I’m not an insurrectionist.”

(There’s an Internet meme for that: My “I’m not racist, I’m not an extremist and I’m not an insurrectionist” T-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.)

It’s part of a very disturbing trend. The DeAngelo signing comes on the heels of the Hurricanes’ flirtation with Slava Voynov last spring, the defenseman banned from the NHL after he was charged with beating his wife. It comes amid their rumored interest in forward Jake Virtanen, bought out by the Vancouver Canucks after he was accused of sexual assault.

The Hurricanes are making it clear there’s no column for character on Tom Dundon’s spreadsheet. “Bunch of Jerks” went from a clever marketing tagline to a cynical roster strategy.

They will spin the DeAngelo signing until everyone’s dizzy. He’s a talented player who deserves a second — or fifth — chance. Rod Brind’Amour will set him straight. At the price, he’s a bargain who will help fill the void Hamilton leaves and allow the team to use its cap space more effectively and make the Hurricanes a better team. Some of that may even be true.

Either way, it’s a serious grass-is-always-greener moment. After more than a decade when the Hurricanes wouldn’t pay any cost at all to be competitive, they now have an owner who’s willing to do just about anything to win. Even sign a polarizing player no one else would touch when he went through waivers twice last season.

 

Of all the changes — Hamilton is apparently gone, Nedeljkovic and Petr Mrazek out, Andersen and Raanta in, Warren Foegele dealt for defenseman Ethan Bear — the DeAngelo signing is by far the hardest to swallow.

The Nedeljkovic trade, while unpopular, was certainly defensible. Fans and front offices don’t always agree on what should be done, and most of the time they probably shouldn’t. The right move isn’t always the popular one. Whether cutting bait on Nedeljkovic was prescient or premature is open for debate, but whether fans liked it should not be one of the criteria.

The Hurricanes probably needed a shake-up in net, and now they’re going to get one. Andersen and Raanta are, at worst, competent NHL goalies with considerable upside. It was time for a change.

Same for the departure of the unquestionably talented and influential Hamilton, who will absolutely be missed: He didn’t cost himself any money with his playoff performance, but he cost himself a chance to play for a contender, whether that was here or somewhere else.

As for the rest of it? Foegele just didn’t produce enough, especially in the last two postseasons, and Bear is a useful piece on defense. So is reliable veteran Ian Cole on a one-year deal. Re-signing Jordan Martinook helps solidify the culture in the dressing room, and when healthy, he can be a wrecking ball. The Hurricanes swapped Brock McGinn for Josh Leivo -- more production, better analytics, although McGinn certainly created the chances to score more -- for $2 million less.

DeAngelo is different.

The Hurricanes are bringing in a player whose past actions are reprehensible, someone who even in the most neutral light doesn’t represent what Hurricanes fans believe (or believed) their team to be. The bond between fan and team is always emotional, but at its core there’s a belief — delusional though it may be — that everyone’s pulling on the same rope.

With their social-media presence and Storm Surge and willingness to make a self-referential joke out of just about anything, the Hurricanes have played into the belief among fans that they’re not merely a hockey team but the gravitational center of an entire community. Winning, while essential, is part of a larger, holistic environment.

The appalling cynicism of the DeAngelo signing puts the lie to all of that, casts a shadow over all of the great and commendable things the Hurricanes do for their fans and for the community.

To borrow from (the other) Hamilton, if you stand for nothing, what’ll you fall for?

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