We've been kind of expecting it for the past few weeks, but any remaining hope that Noah Hanifin might return next year has been snuffed out: it was officially announced Hanifin has signed an entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Hanifin's deal is a three-year, two-way entry level contract worth $832,000 per year at the NHL level and $70,000 at the AHL level. Based on the quotes from Hurricanes GM Ron Francis, it seems as though Hanifin has shown enough to demonstrate he can compete for NHL playing time this year. That seems to have been (obviously) the driving factor for Hanifin in his decision—the ability to play in the NHL right away. And if he's been told he's likely to do so, then it's hard to blame him for signing the contract.
First things first, obviously: Hanifin should be congratulated for getting his deal, making excellent money and achieving his dream of making the NHL. There aren't many 18-year-olds good enough to accomplish that, especially 18-year-old defensemen. I thought he'd need another year of college, but obviously people smarter than me felt he was ready now.
Since this is a BC blog, though, we have to look at the BC perspective. This is a tough blow to a team that had (and still has) the potential to challenge for national hardware this year. Most projected Hanifin to be the best defenseman in Hockey East this year. Down the stretch last season, he was playing huge minutes in all situations.
The loss of Hanifin and Mike Matheson means the loss of the two defensemen who had the most playing time last season, and it also means BC's blue line, which was by far its strength, will be significantly worse. However, all is not lost. Casey Fitzgerald will come in on the blue line and should help. Teddy Doherty, who was (inexplicably, in my opinion) forced into a forward role down the stretch, will be probably permanently moved to the blue line, where he thrived last year. In addition, Steve Santini was arguably playing at half-strength down the stretch, and he'll have an offseason to recover and gain strength.
Team defense should still be a strength, especially with Demko recovering from surgery nicely (reportedly) which should hopefully help him take the next step.
There are now two big questions for BC fans: 1) will Jeremy Bracco come to BC, and 2) will the coaching staff have time to use the now-freed-up scholarship money to replace Hanifin with another blueliner next year?
The other discussion will likely center around one-and-dones. This is BC's first since Chuck Kobasew, who departed after a monstrous 2000-01 season. Of course, Kobasew spent much of his '01-'02 season in the WHL. Let's hope that's not what happens here.