Tony DeAngelo needs to prove Hurricanes were right to give him yet another shot

The news began to spread over the weekend: The Hurricanes were planning on signing Tony DeAngelo when free agency opened. Carolina fans quickly exploded on social media in their response to the reports. On Wednesday, the news became official as DeAngelo was signed to a one-year, $1 million contract.

“We did our research and who this person is beyond what the perception of him,” GM Don Waddell said on a call with reporters after the deal was announced. “There’s no doubt that he has made mistakes. We acknowledge that and, more importantly, he recognizes that he’s made mistakes and he knows he’s got to continue to work and grow as a person.”

The words by Waddell, who also mentioned that he talked to DeAngelo’s teammates — assuming that includes ex-Rangers Brady Skjei and Jesper Fast, who are now with Carolina — and coaches, sound eerily similar to Jeff Gorton’s words last February.

On Feb. 1, the then-New York GM announced that the defenseman had “played his last game for the Rangers” after clearing waivers. DeAngelo never skated again for the Original Six franchise after he and netminder Alexander Georgiev got into a physical altercation outside the locker room following an overtime loss to the Penguins on Jan. 30.

“We did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people about Tony prior to acquiring him (from the Coyotes in 2017),” Gorton noted at his presser. “Everything went into it when we did that. We did our homework, we felt comfortable.”

DeAngelo was bought out by the Rangers a few days ago, making him a free agent.

“A lot of the stuff that’s happened in my career has been emotions from being competitive,” DeAngelo said Wednesday, speaking to the general media for the first time since January. “There’s never been any off-ice problems or anything like that. It just comes from having a high level of compete for the game and passion for the game. I think I’ve made some mistakes along the way obviously, stuff that I regretted. I tried to improve on it. Now I just have to prove it to the Hurricanes. 

“They felt comfortable to bring me in. I told them I’m not going to let them down and I’m a man of my word. So that’s what I plan on doing.”

The incident in New York wasn’t a standalone moment. 

He was suspended three times in juniors — once for abuse of officials and twice for violating the league’s policy of keeping “homophobic, racist and sexist language out of the game.” He also took to social media to voice his political views (he tweeted “what happened to COVID-19?” after the 2020 U.S. presidential election) and has criticized and argued with fans (he challenged one to a fight). He was asked during his Wednesday Zoom call whether he supported the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, to which he responded: “I don’t think anybody in their right mind would support that, so obviously I didn’t support it.”

One incident, OK. Multiple ones? That’s a clear pattern.

Waddell said the team, including coach Rod Brind’Amour, felt comfortable with the decision. He mentioned that DeAngelo has been “working with people to try to help him understand what his actions meant to people,” although neither he nor DeAngelo would go into specifics. 

“Obviously I’ve kind of had some down time since the beginning of February after leaving New York,” the New Jersey native said. “It’s just trying to control your emotions the best you can and not let the emotions get the best of you and making mistakes from it. So we’ve done a lot of work. . . . I think there’s been a lot of progress.”

Progress or not, this is definitely an interesting move by the Hurricanes. There’s no argument that DeAngelo is a good hockey player. The 25-year-old blueliner scored 53 points in 68 games in 2019-20 and is expected to play a key role on Carolina’s power play. He did only receive $1 million (an easy contract to bury, if needed), and as Waddell said, his value is more than that on paper. This is the ultimate “show me” deal — and it’s not about point production.

Fans aren’t too keen to think about just DeAngelo’s on-ice actions. A number of them have brought up no longer supporting the club, a club that envelops itself in “Hockey is for Everyone.”

“I’ve said some stuff and done some stuff that stemmed from being on the ice that I regret, and I’m not going to sit here and say that I haven’t done it, but I regret it and I’ve got to move on,” DeAngelo said. “You’ve got to become a better person and control it. I’m not going to act like it never happened. I think once they [the fans] watch me play, they’re going to see me on the ice more than anything.”

“I would hope that they don’t cancel their season tickets,” he added. “There’s a lot of great players on the team, it’s a great organization. Stick with us, give me a shot and I’m going to make the best for you guys.”

Well, Tony, as Waddell said, “The proof is in the pudding.”

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