The Hurricanes pretty much got exactly what they paid for by signing the veteran Cup champion.
Ian Cole: 2021-22 By the Numbers
- Age: 33
- NHL Seasons: 11
- Scoring: 2 goals, 17 assists, 19 points in 75 games
- Playoff scoring: 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points in 14 games
- Advanced statistics: 57.96 CF%, 54.37 SCF%, 56.48 xGF%, 54.22 GF%
- Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
After seeing their season end at the hands of the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning in the past two seasons, the Carolina Hurricanes realized that Justin Williams wasn’t walking through that door – at least, not as a player. For all the playoff experience they had gained after wandering the wilderness for a decade, they were painfully short on grizzled veterans with Stanley Cups on their resumes. Jordan Staal is a superman, but even he can only do so much on his own.
Enter Ian Cole, the well-traveled defenseman who won two Cups with the Penguins and was universally regarded as one of the better locker-room guys in the NHL. The Hurricanes signed Cole to a one-year deal to do pretty much exactly what he delivered: anchor the third pairing, play with an edge, and gobble up some minutes to allow the likes of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce to catch their breath without being a total horror show.
Through the season a three-way rotation developed among Cole, Brendan Smith and Ethan Bear to make up the third pairing, when all were healthy. Cole was the constant, only missing seven games as a scratch.
Let’s talk about that “penalties taken: lots” notation for a second. Cole was the team leader in penalty minutes with 83, topping second-place Andrei Svechnikov by four PIMs. That’s the second-highest PIM total of his 11-year NHL career.
He was regularly used to kill penalties when he was available to do so, and he wasn’t bad at it: power play goals against with Cole on the ice were 3.53 per 60 minutes, second-lowest among Canes defensemen behind only Bear, who killed penalties much less frequently.
Cole wasn’t signed to score goals, so it’s little surprise that he was not the most prolific creator of offense. That made it even more surprising that it was him who knuckleballed a puck past Igor Shesterkin to give the Hurricanes a win in Game 2 against the Rangers:
Would the Canes bring Cole back for next year? Perhaps, if the price was right. But with Joey Keane and Jalen Chatfield waiting in the wings on minimum contracts, and Cole having been paid nearly $3 million last season, there’s a significant chance that some team will be willing to ante up for Cole for well more than the Hurricanes can or would be able to match.
It’s probably not fair to say that Cole didn’t live up to expectations. In fact, he’s exactly the reason why the grades are listed the way they are, and not just a “good season”/”bad season” continuum. Relative to what was expected when he signed, he met the mark. He wasn’t signed to be Jaccob Slavin, and he wasn’t. But for what the Hurricanes needed from him, he fit the bill pretty successfully.