The Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday defended the signing of controversial defenseman Tony DeAngelo, after facing backlash from fans.
The Hurricanes signed the puck-moving defenseman to a one-year, $1 million free-agent contract on a busy day for the franchise.
"We did our research on who this person is, beyond what the perception of him (is). There's no doubt that he has made mistakes," Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said. "We acknowledged 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."
DeAngelo, 25, was bought out of the last year of his contract by the New York Rangers earlier this month. They kicked him off their team after six games last season due to his disruptive behavior, which included a physical altercation with goaltender Alexandar Georgiev after a game.
"I think as you get older and more mature ... a lot of the stuff that's happened in my career has stemmed from emotions, from being competitive. There's never been any off-ice problems or anything like that. I've made some mistakes along the way, obviously, stuff that I regretted," DeAngelo said. "And now, I have to prove it to the Hurricanes. I told them I'm not going to let them down and I'm a man of my word."
DeAngelo has a history of disciplinary issues. He was suspended twice during his junior career in the OHL, including for violating the league's policy covering "homophobic, racist, and sexist language" and abuse of officials. He also was suspended for three NHL games in 2017, while with the Arizona Coyotes, for physical abuse of officials.
"It's never happened again. I was regretful of it," DeAngelo said of the slur. "I'm still friends with that guy and took the time to apologize to him. I did what I had to do there, went to some [sports psychology] counseling classes back then. It was in the heat of the moment of the game, and I wish I could take it back. It hasn't happened again and it will not happen again."
He was also known as a combative presence on social media, as an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, and as someone who questioned if the COVID-19 scare was a product of media coverage ahead of the election.
DeAngelo said that reports online that he had supported the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the election were erroneous, saying "I don't think anyone in their right mind would support it, so I didn't support it."
Before the Rangers removed him from their roster, DeAngelo was one of the most productive offensive defensemen in the NHL. He had 53 points in 68 games in 2019-20, 19 of them on the power play.
He said that he had multiple teams engage in talks with him as a free agent, but that many of those conversations stopped with the coach and the general manager because "there were some ownerships that didn't want to face the backlash, like we're seeing right now. Some fans are upset."
DeAngelo was referencing the fervent criticism directed at the Hurricanes by fans online, some of whom went as far as to threaten to give up their season tickets because of the signing. Black Girl Hockey Club, a non-profit organization advocating for Black women in ice hockey, called out the Hurricanes, who had made a pledge with the club.
"Reminding the [Hurricanes] of their commitment to disrupt racism on and off the ice. This includes not rewarding racist behavior with a shiny new contract," they wrote on their Twitter feed.
Waddell said the team was aware of the backlash.
"It's something that we're fully aware of. Putting Tony into our locker room with our culture and talking to all the people that he's been involved with here in the last year or so, we all got comfortable that he's a different person," he said.
DeAngelo said that he detailed specific incidents from his past during conversations with Carolina owner Tom Dundon, but was less candid on Wednesday. Waddell said that DeAngelo was participating in a group in New York to help him understand the mistakes of his past. DeAngelo declined to give specifics about that group, except to say that it was through his agency.
DeAngelo spoke with two former teammates on the Hurricanes in defenseman Brady Skjei and forward Jesper Fast before signing with Carolina. The Hurricanes spoke with them and others before signing DeAngelo.
DeAngelo may fill a glaring need in Carolina now that star defenseman Dougie Hamilton has left the franchise. The coveted free agent signed with the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, as the Hurricanes reshaped their roster on the fly. They also turned over their goaltending position by adding Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta in free agency.
But no Carolina move made more noise than that of DeAngelo.
"We're not taking that risk without knowing what's involved. This decision wasn't made in a vacuum, it wasn't made in a short period of time. It was made over a long period of time. And sometimes you look at situations and you find that people learn from their mistakes and get better," Waddell said. "There's a risk when you sign any player. But the value of this player is a lot more than $1 million. We all know that [he] can be a top player. We believe it's gonna all work out."
So does DeAngelo.
"I'm hoping that people get to know me, and if they do, they're going to like me," he said.
Carolina Hurricanes replenish defense with controversial veteran Tony DeAngelo on one-year deal