In a very unusual move, the Carolina Hurricanes seem to be setting free their pending UFA star defender a few weeks early by allowing him to discuss a contract with other teams. Free agency begins on July 28, so this is more than an month ahead of time. There are some reasons why the team wants to do this, and do it so early, beyond merely giving their player who’s done well for them the opportunity to get a good deal elsewhere.

In order for a team to sign Hamilton before July 28, they have to trade for his rights, so Carolina will get something out of a UFA they’re likely going to let walk. While Friedman’s second comment that the Hurricanes could end up signing him anyway if he doesn’t find a better offer is interesting, it’s impossible to imagine someone won’t beat what the budget-conscious team will offer.

The reason to do this so early is the Seattle Expansion Draft and its effect on the schedule this offseason.

There is a trade and signing freeze that goes into effect on July 17. It doesn’t lift until July 22, which is the day before the Entry Draft — the biggest trading day of the offseason. During that period, Seattle gets an exclusive three-day early access to free agents who are not protected, and they are allowed to sign them.

For a team not Seattle to really have time to make a deal with Hamilton on a contract and trade for his rights, they have from now to July 17.

This sort of deal is not all that common, although it’s how the Leafs acquired Frederik Andersen, and how the Avalanche got Devon Toews last year. The main reason is, there’s usually not a lot of incentive for a team to make a deal this way unless the player is an RFA and they need the rights. For a UFA, the motivation is more likely to be that getting the big-ticket defender early gives a team prime trading days around the draft to move out players to make room. Having a star suddenly appear on a team might change their Expansion Draft plans as well.

What it doesn’t do is give the acquiring team the right to sign the player for eight years. Only the Hurricanes can do that.

Update: in the interests of being completely accurate, this is possible:

In which he’s referencing a literal sign and trade where Carolina signs him to eight years and then the trade takes place. This is a clever scheme beloved of pundits that has never been done, to my knowledge.

Evolving Hockey forecast Hamilton to get about $8.5 million on a seven year deal.

Someone is going to sign Hamilton in the next month. The only question is who will it be?